Communication, Mission, and A Great Sandwich

On the road again, waiting for a delayed flight – but still able to work, thanks to Skype and wireless internet at the airport.

I’ve spent the last two days working with a 17 person executive team, focused on breakdowns in communication – why and how they happen, and how to avoid them.  Each team member took the MBTI a month ago, and we began the management retreat by discussing their MBTI profiles and exploring their individual preferences with regard to communication.  I reminded them that communication occurs in the mind of the listener, not the transmitter, then had them present some typical situations of “bad news” and “good news” to people with similar MBTI profiles, and those with different profiles.  We discussed how much harder it was to communicate with those who had different profiles vs. those who were “just like me”.  It was an eye-opener for them.

Team members identified a number of reasons for communication break-downs.  Sometimes it was a structural issue – departments that were not properly staffed to be able to respond to requests.  Sometimes it was a process issue – they didn’t have standard operating procedures to routinely develop proposals and presentations.   Other times it was because people were trying to avoid conflict by escalating problems to their boss rather than solving problems at the source.  But a big “Ah-ha” was the realization that different people have different preferences for receiving information and different ways of making decisions. Overall we made great progress building trust and establishing new communication protocols.

But near the end of the two days we discovered a deeper problem:  there was no shared understanding of the company’s mission. This is not the first time I’ve encountered a company without a written mission statement. Usually the founding CEO thinks everyone knows it, therefore doesn’t bother to communicate it.  And while the initial set of employees “used to know it”, over time they become less certain about what it is.  The second and third wave of employees are usually confused about the mission because they hear different versions  from each person they talk with, so they aren’t sure which one is the “real” mission. In the absence of clarity about a company’s mission, it’s not surprising that the majority of employees (some studies say 80%) don’t have a clue about whether and how they help their company achieve its mission. But when the CEO communicates the mission verbally, in print, in public and private (i.e., takes into account individual preferences for receiving information), it has an incredibly positive impact on performance.

Although I am sitting 20 feet away, I can read a big framed poster on the wall of the airport.  It says Mission Statement: To provide state-of the art airport facilities and related services which are efficient, safe, convenient and user friendly, while being a good neighbor. I can’t comment on the good neighbor part, but I’m impressed by the free internet service, the helpful staff and the delicious sandwich I just finished!  Do you think it has anything to do with the fact that the airport has communicated its mission statement?  I sure do!