If Your Company Can’t Communicate, What Can It Do?

Obstacles to communication
Nothing but hurdles. (Photo via Wikipedia)

All corporate annual reports should come with a disclosure notice on the inside cover, detailing the amount of staff hours invested in creating the report and the number of drafts/rounds of approval it went through on its way to completion.

That, more than the financial statements or the chairman’s letter or the glossy spreads inside, would tell shareholders everything they need to know about the organization’s competence and ability to execute.

After all, let’s be real: among basic corporate functions — like integrating systems, acquiring and divesting assets,¬†managing the supply chain — communication should be one of the simpler ones.

But too often the process of putting out an annual report or other publication looks like this:

  • It takes a committee to write — not just approve, but get down in the weeds and¬†write — a 500-word letter.
  • Hours are spent debating issues like the difference between “will” and “shall” or “foster” and “encourage.”
  • The draft sits for two weeks in the inbox of a SVP who is both “too busy” to look at it and “too indispensable” to be left out of the approval process.
  • The chief counsel doesn’t like the looks of the lower-case “g” and a whole new type font has to be chosen.
  • The designer is on overtime and the printer is shuffling his schedule to find a slot for in his print run.

When companies spin their wheels like this over something as simple as a publication, it’s an indication of some larger dysfunction — in leadership, personnel, culture or strategy. It doesn’t have to be this hard.