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EOM Dong-Wook

How to Dismantle Communication Walls

EOM Dong-Wook

Apr. 13, 2011

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It is hard to overstate the importance of sound internal communication at workplace. Smooth, effective communication instills solidarity, creates an atmosphere for innovation based on mutual understanding and cooperation, builds trust between colleagues and for the organization as a whole, and raises employees' job satisfaction and loyalty.

In East Asia, communications is traditionally top-down; the boss at all levels makes decisions with little or no discussion and information is not readily shared. Obviously, the hierarchical social structures and cultural norms reinforce this system. Nevertheless, there is now a growing recognition that the workplace would be better served if those norms are softened, that a freer flow of ideas and opinions is essential to navigating a more and more complex business environment.

Some Korean companies get it. They have made a concerted effort to shift from the top-down system. Others say they recognize the value of input from employees but remain slow to change quickly or effectively enough.

Workplace communication can be categorized in three ways: 1) work-related, such as meting out tasks and information sharing; 2) creative, generating new ideas by offering a vision and collaboration; and 3) emotional, prioritizing mutual understanding, personal interaction and relations between individuals.

To gauge how well Korean companies behave in the categories of communication, Samsung Economic Research Institute conducted a survey and interviews with 935 individuals from management and employee ranks.

The results indicate communication is highly constrained and regimented. Both CEOs and employees realized the importance of communication within an organization but two-thirds of employee respondents said that they don't think they have smooth communication at their workplace. Quantifying this, Korean companies scored 54 out of 100. The three types of communication all received low evaluations. Work-related communication scored at 54; creative communication, 55; and emotional communication, 53.

A top-down chain of command, departmental and individual egotism, excessive emphasis on short-term results and indifference to individual needs were the obstacles most named in the survey.

In questions of problems of work-related communication, respondents blamed their bosses' inadequate work-related information sharing. Other problems were vague work directions; one-sided communication; insufficient feedback from bosses at reporting; bosses ignoring subordinates' ideas. Of particular note, CEOs as well as employees said meetings dominated by bosses without any real discussion as one of the worst practices in Korean corporate culture.

In creative communication, information sharing and cooperation between departments was viewed negatively at 49. In terms of emotional communication, it was found management pays little attention on employees' difficulties and weak determination to resolve their difficulties. Leader's encouragement and compliments are also insufficient.

Respondents also said that a lack of creative suggestions is due to the heavy burden placed on the person who made the suggestion. In Korean workplaces, if an employee's proposal is approved, he/she has to bear full responsibility in implementing it.

Lastly, in terms of emotional communication, it was found management pays little attention to employees' difficulties and weak determination to resolve their difficulties. The question pertaining to an ease in informing management about problems and difficulties received the lowest score at 45.

To improve internal communication and maximize the growth potential of a company, every level of a workplace should be addressed.

First, CEOs should minimize their communication to a core message. That is, they should concentrate on the quality and conciseness rather than quantity. Also, when there is a sudden change in the company, management needs to be accurate and straightforward with employees to maintain their trust in the company.

Second, accentuate positive feedback. This communication helps reinforce strengths of employees and motivates. The appropriate combination of positive and negative feedbacks would be 5.6 to 1. When giving negative feedback, direct criticism and attack on the person should be avoided. Focus should be placed on the problem, not the person.

Third, present a mutual goal to tackle departmental egotism. Too many companies suffer from a "silo" structure in which departments have little interaction. Thus, inefficiencies and redundancies emerge. A shared objective would help promote inter-departmental collaboration, which will improve overall performance and enhance information sharing. For constructive collaboration, all employees should have an equal footing in discussions.

Fourth, listen and make cautious judgments. One of the main tasks of an effective leader is to listen and mesh various views into a coherent action plan. By their very nature, innovative ideas contain unfamiliarity. Leaders should listen courteously and with even more patience to unfamiliar ideas. In this way, they can boost innovation.

Fifth, learn about employees' difficulties. This is where effective problem-solving starts. In addition to site visits, meetings and one-on-one chats, social networking services like Facebook to gain familiarity. Also, regular surveys should be employed.

Sixth, spread positive emotion with compliment and encouragement. If employees hear nothing but criticism from management, positive emotion diminishes, and that eventually has negative effect on an organization's performance. Compliments and encouragement inspire better work.

Related Reports:
How to Bolster Workplace Communication

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