Strategic Communications, Pt 25: Establish a Culture of Communication

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(This is the 25th in a continuing series on strategic communications. Click here for earlier segments)

By Owen Eagan, The Saint Consulting Group

Just as communication is a core competence of managerial leaders, it is also a critical element of every company’s corporate culture.  Corporate culture is best defined by Edgar Schein, an MIT professor and a leading scholar on this subject, as “the learned, shared, tacit assumptions on which people base their daily behavior.”  He claims that it is popularly thought of as, “The way we do things around here.”

So important is corporate culture that many executives consider it to be a source of competitive advantage.  In fact, a Bain Capital survey of executives at companies defined as high performers found that 54% identified “culture” as one of their strongest attributes, which was only second to “vision and priorities” (“Culture as Competitive Advantage,” Meehan, Gadiesh & Hori).

Executives at Bain Capital went on to identify the six attributes of a high performing culture.  They are summarized as follows:

  1. High performing companies know what winning looks like.
  2. They look out the window and focus on customers, competitors and communities.
  3. Employees think and act like owners, taking personal responsibility for business results.
  4. High performing companies invest in individuals at all levels and help them develop to their full potential.
  5. They encourage innovation so that measured risks can be taken and mistakes can be made.
  6. They allow team members to engage in conflicts around ideas, although in the end common plans must emerge.

Each of these attributes is contingent upon leaders modeling these behaviors and values and strong organizational communication, or a culture of communication, to raise awareness and reinforce their importance.  In addition, they should be incorporated into every aspect of the organization from hiring to employee evaluations.  For example, while pay and benefits are useful in getting people to the door, people choose jobs and become engaged in their work based upon how well their preferences and aspirations align with the organization (Erickson and Gratton).

Therefore, along with developing the right attributes, you must communicate them regularly so that you can ensure their practice and embed them in your activities wherever possible.  Establishing a culture of communication will help you get the right people on the bus, will keep your employees motivated and productive, and will enhance your competitive advantage.

Owen Eagan is a Senior Consultant for Saint Consulting, an international management consulting firm specializing in land use politics.  He is also an adjunct faculty member at Emerson College, the nation’s only four-year institution dedicated exclusively to communications and the performing arts. Email eagan@tscg.biz

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