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July 23, 2012
Communicate Effectively to Lead Effectively
 
The world of work has certainly changed many times over in the past few years. What once were impractical or rarely seen business practices are now common and practical business applications (i.e., the increase in remote-working employees, concierge work environments, and cloud computing). These changes are indicative of advancements in technology along with the demands of younger generations in the workforce. These advancements have created work-life balance, lessened travel time to and from work, and added a level of needed communication that presents a challenge for everyone with an extra burden on the leadership role.
 
Defining Leadership
Without a doubt, strong leadership is being called upon more than ever to step up and bring it’s A game. Today, leaders are required to have certain qualities that blend into the vision of the organization. This has become more critical, partly due to how the transparency of social media has accelerated the transference of information. Qualities like honesty, integrity, supportiveness, dedication, adaptability to change, and loyalty have always been important when defining the role of leadership; however, the divergence of today’s workplace has placed an added burden on leadership to better hone and convey these qualities.
 
Communication
Most people appreciate and prefer the benefits of face-to-face interaction. Being able to identify facial expressions and body language makes communicating an easier interface. The added complexity of including technology in our list of communication modes has created a challenge for many people. Leaders are required to adapt, adopt, and promote technological communication in support of the company’s mission. The difficulty here is that different people favor some forms of communication over others and, in large part, these preferences are driven by cultural and generational choices. The variances in these choices have forced leadership to reexamine traditional communication (i.e., email) and consider newer and faster communications that deliver messages at a speed in line with the fast-paced nature of today’s workplace.
 
Generational Demands
In addition to having four generations in the workplace, each has its own mores that drive and define the way in which they want to work, learn, train, and develop as employees.
  1. Matures. Born before 1945. Most accustomed to traditional communication methods: face-to-face, phone, USPS, and “snail-mail.”
  2. Baby Boomers. Born between 1945–1964. Comprise the largest group of people still in the workforce. This group is accustomed to face-to-face, phone, USPS, and email communications. “Late Boomers” are comfortable with social media, instant messaging, video conferencing, and mobile devices.
  3. Gen X. Born between 1965–1980. This group is very comfortable with all forms of communication with emphasis on social media, mobile devices, instant messaging, and video conferencing, along with email.
  4. Gen Y. Born after 1981. This group comprises the next-largest employee population currently in the workforce. This group, more than its predecessors, expects communication that is instantaneous, social, and mobile. Video is a preferred communication mode.
So as we consider the many and various communication modalities and the preferences of each group, leadership has some hard decisions to make in regards to how they will convey information. Obviously, the larger the organization, the more options will be at leadership’s disposal, but for a smaller company that may not be able to afford a multitude of communication modalities, the challenge of meeting the demands of its workforce without displaying preferential treatment for one generation versus another has the potential to become a management nightmare if ignored. 
 
Global Business and Diversity
As demand for products and services increases, so does the need for organizations to be nimble and adaptable in today’s business world. This has presented company leadership with the challenge of being able to communicate a single message using various communication modalities, along with crafting their messages using cultural considerations needed to appeal and relate to employees across all geographic locations and backgrounds. Examinations of culture, ages, communication preferences, and the messages themselves have forced some companies to hire people who can oversee this function and who have an understanding of global diversity.
 
Summary
The one thing that will remain a constant is change. As technology advances and people become more connected through the various communication channels, company leadership will need to stay ahead of the communication curve. It’s imperative for organizations to understand their internal (employee) and external (customer) audiences and how these two groups define effective communication. That will entail continuous inquiries and reacting appropriately to the feedback provided. Great communication is a gift when delivered effectively. 

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Cyndy Trivella has multiple years of media planning, employment branding, and human resource communications strategy experience at a management level from both the media and agency sides. She has managed the human resource communications function for many clients including the IRS, Applebee’s, Merrill Lynch, GE Capital, Corning, Colgate Palmolive, Helzberg Diamonds, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Lowe’s, LensCrafters, and Home Depot. You can connect with Cyndy here, here, and here
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