Heard It Through the Grapevine


Have you ever played The Operator Game? You know, the game where one person makes a statement in the other player’s ear. They can only say it one time, only to that person, and the player who is on the receiving end is not allowed to question it, but must repeat what they heard to the next player. The same rules apply to the next player and so on and so on. By the end of the game, this statement has been passed along 5 or 10 or more times depending on the number of players.

What started out as a perfectly normal statement turns out to be nonsensical at the end. It’s a funny game, but not so funny in business when a message gets interpreted incorrectly and still passed along. This is how the dreaded company “grapevine” is formed.

Is this happening in your organization? I have had the opportunity to assess several companies who were not maximizing their growth and have found a common theme among most of the organizations, large and small: employees are not clear on the vision, the strategy and/or the purpose of the company and how their role matters. I am talking about every employee and particularly the front line employees; customer service representatives, account managers, sales personnel that interact every day with clients.

The cause of this is not the void of a strategy or purpose in the organization; rather it is a matter of less than perfect communication. Communication is the glue that holds an organization together. In high performing organizations, employees on all levels are a link in the communication chain and information is passed freely and quickly up and down the organization. Whether you are a first-time manager or the CEO, communication skills are one of the most important skills you need. How well information is transferred and how well it is received will make or break your growth.

Here are five steps to better communication:

  1. Clarify your purpose for the communication: What do you want the receiver to take away? What is the message you are trying to send and why? Ensure your receivers understand why you are communicating and believe that what you are saying matches what you want them to hear. For example, if you want your team to hear that they need to place more focus on a particular customer segment, be sure you also tell them why and what it will mean to the other customer segments. If you stop short, the intended outcome could surprise or frustrate you.

  2. Select the appropriate channel(s): Selecting the right channel is vital for effective communication as each communication channel has different strengths and weaknesses. The average person receives over 50 emails a day at work and countless personal emails. A typical team of 10 people writes, sends, stores and deletes over 76,000 unnecessary emails a year. Is email really the way you want to communicate your vision and expectations? It might be how you reinforce a message, but perhaps a town hall is a better avenue. Assess the number of people who will be receiving the message, the message itself and the emotion it may carry along with the demographic of the audience before you choose the channel.

  3. Compose the message for maximum clarity: Keep your message simple, easily repeatable (think operator game) and one that leaves no doubt in the listeners mind about the intended message. You know you have hit the mark when you hear the front line employees repeating your message word for word!

  4. Transmit as clearly and as often as possible: Once is never enough. Think about your turnover. How does every new employee get exposed to the strategy, vision, purpose of your organization and how their role impacts it? There must be a process in place that allows for key messages to be communicated by every manager, every day to all employees

  5. Request feedback to check for understanding: Never assume you’re on the same wavelength – ask various members of the organization for their opinions and perspective. If they don’t seem to get it, go back to #1 and begin again, making the necessary adjustments.

Consider John F Kennedy's address on May 25, 1961, before a special joint session of Congress, where he communicated the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade. The decision involved much consideration before making it public, and NASA's overall human spaceflight efforts were guided by Kennedy's speech; Projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo were all designed to execute Kennedy's goal.

There was complete alignment with everyone at NASA. It’s been said that everyone from engineers to the janitors, when asked what their job was, replied "I am helping to put a man on the moon." On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong safely stepped off the Lunar Module's ladder and onto the Moon's surface.

What would your employees say when asked what they do?

At Butler Street, we help companies grow by creating complete alignment of strategy, vision, mission and purpose. Whether its organizational change or acceleration of success, we can help.

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