Tuesday, September 27, 2022

An important COVID fallout: Communication skills put to test

‘Work from home’, zoom meetings and a drastic cut down on physical interactions across the table have compelled business organisations to search for a ‘hybrid model’ of running the enterprise, resetting the paradigms for performance evaluation and maintaining the efficacy of human resource development.
Both in India as also in the developed West, organisations are said to be facing a situation where the employees have got used to not going to place of work so much so that they often allow their personal convenience to prevail over the requirements of their organisations.
Employees could even choose to ignore the call from above for a physical or virtual meeting. Evolution of the ‘new normal’ for organisational functioning is work in progress, but many testing points for leadership are already cropping up, demanding a revised strategy for business management and productivity enhancement – in the scene left behind by the Covid onslaught.
Flexible working hours, participative supervision by leaders at various levels, who earlier just gave orders and looked for compliance reports, and a changed framework of boss-subordinate relationship in which the senior would now be required to have some idea of the challenges an employee could be facing on family front, are some major reforms that the organisations have been made to adopt for their own good.
The HRD people in any organisation have found their tasks multiplying and becoming onerous on account of the new-found importance of upskilling and re-skilling, revision of methodology for performance evaluation and the need for working out ways and means of preserving confidentiality of information exchanged by employees on line.
A very crucial test of leadership in a situation of dispersed and distant location of the work force is the effectiveness of communication sent top down on digital media. The days of lengthy letters and notifications despatched in hard copies are over and online communications are the norm now, but this is precisely the reason why a senior today is going to be judged for his or her ability to choose the right words and expressions in organisational communications.
It is important that the messages are concise, to the point and clear in their intent. It is said that if you can speak on a subject – as in a conference across the table – you are a master of its content and that if you can write about it, you are the close second best.
Online communications are, therefore, an indicator of a certain perfection of knowledge and the ability of the sender to impart that knowledge to the person at the other end.
Apart from communications primarily meant for exchanging data, anything that a leader conveys must be meaningful, must have connectivity with the larger objectives of the organisation and must evoke interest of the reader.
The communication should be drafted so as to show that it has a purpose. Limitation of space in a tweet or a short WhatsApp message cannot be the excuse for arid, arrogant or incomplete communications.
A paragraph can be condensed into a line by a competent communicator. Poor communication skills devalue leadership, while good messaging enhances the image and respectability of the leader. Covid is a reminder to all organisations that flawless communications are a must for keeping up productivity.
Importance of communication also comes out in the formulation of an organisation’s mission, drafting of the ethical framework and defining of the parameters for performance evaluation. These functions all connect with the leadership and logically make the quality of communications a hallmark of the latter.
It is not adequately realised that communication is a product of the individual’s education and innate wisdom and also a measure of the leader’s ‘emotional quotient’ – considering that all business is ‘human activity’. Therefore, it becomes the prime mover of the organisation’s success.
One of the earliest business advertisements – ‘Lipton’s means good tea’ – remains the benchmark of brief, intelligible and complete messaging.
Three principles of good communication which will be always relevant are – ‘brevity should not be at the cost of clarity’, ‘it should not lend itself to more than one interpretation’ and ‘the communication should not hurt human sensitivity’.
Success of a senior today depends a great deal on participative supervision, which basically allows a free two-way communication with the juniors, discourages buck passing and establishes an internal transparency that keep the working environ free of favouritism.
Hierarchy-driven organisations often bred the malady of seniors avoiding the responsibility of taking a decision and pushing the ‘files’ up to their superiors – Covid intervention has on the other hand further strengthened the progressive trend of successful organisations becoming ‘flat’ in the sense of delegating the power of decision-making.
A welcome upshot of the Covid era is the greater hands-on involvement of seniors in work as team leaders and a greater recognition of merit of the individual as the centre of all productivity. This is going to stay as a learning from the past. At the base of all these reforms is the skill of all round communication.
As already mentioned, it is the HRD leaders who face the challenge of reframing the strategy of recruitment, continuing with in-house training in the new environ and changing deployment of the personnel in keeping with the demands of Covid contingency.
Remote handling called for new protocols, new modes of communication and special measures to prevent security breach in a situation of wider online sharing of information.
Programmes of re-skilling for multi-tasking, enhancing organisational loyalty and strengthening quality controls have to be reframed as Covid proved to be a great ‘equaliser’ for business organisations on one hand and putting the focus on competition built around ‘quality’ of product and service on the other.
Communication skills again are central to Social Media Marketing (SMM), which uses the digital outreach to intelligently use personal data to cater to the choices of customers.
Preserving the confidentiality of proprietary information of the organisation requires security orientation programmes for the employees working from remote locations, framing of instructions that were easily understood and a new methodology for conducting the security audit.
HRD-related communications will test the leadership in a more demanding, way but once the organisation gets them right, it would also stand to gain substantially.
Information is the anchor of communication. In an environ of declining physical interactions within the organisation, difficulty about creating a common information grid for employees dispersed in remote locations and the paucity of reliable information itself because of the rise of the phenomenon of fake news on social media, importance of business intelligence has increased manifold and the function of analysis has also gained momentum.
Leadership of the organisation has to measure up to the maxim ‘imagination is more important than knowledge’ -given by no less a thought leader than Albert Einstein.
The capacity to look beyond what the facts in front indicate would set a new benchmark of success for leadership in all spheres – more so for those who are heading business enterprises in the Covid era of uncertainties of both demand and supply and the challenge of ‘delivery’ facing them.
Technology that has brought a new kind of success to global players handling retail, is essentially about meaningful and timely communication.
Broadly speaking, Covid restrictiveness has put a premium on communication and since good communications are a product of intelligent minds, it has ultimately brought overriding importance to the intellectual qualities of farsightedness, total devotion to the mission at hand and – what is equally crucial – compassion, in the leadership guiding the enterprise. It has proved once again that a good leader is a good communicator too.
D.C. Pathak is former Director of Intelligence Bureau