There's Hope for Business Communication Overload

By Chuck Martin

There’s some hope for those who feel overwhelmed by communication overload.

While the volume of internal communication may be daunting, the overall effectiveness of that communication is on the rise.

And that’s good news, considering just how many interactions busy executives and managers have to deal with hour to hour and day to day.

The majority of senior executives and managers rate communication, such as discussion and information sharing, between departments as effective, based on a global survey by NFI Research.

More than half of business leaders also say that the effectiveness of communication between departments has increased over the past few years.

As might be expected, more people in small companies, rather than large ones, rate effectiveness of communication as being high.

One way to improve the effectiveness of communication is to make sure that those most affected by the communication are most involved, while saving others from wasting their time.

"Meeting formats were changed so that only those that had an active role in the agenda were invited," said one survey respondent. "Problem solving went up dramatically, and those that used to suffer through meetings at which they had no purposeful input were much happier to be excluded."

Without such selectivity, communication effectiveness may go up for some, but overwhelm others with irrelevant information.

The key, of course, is to make sure the right people continually receive the right information, so that they stay connected to the larger business picture.

"I have placed a continual focus on this every year since becoming CEO six years ago," said a respondent. "That said, it is a never-ending work in progress. It is very hard to get people’s heads out of their inbox and to think that there are others who need to know how what they are doing will affect them."

The challenge is that with people moving so fast and such focus on the challenge or crisis of the moment, time is not always taken to share information with those who need it.

"The greatest challenge isn’t directly related to communication. It’s having time to communicate," said one respondent. "Being a global company with teams spread out across the world, the different time zones add an additional communication challenge."

Though it can sometimes get out of control, e-mail has actually helped break down some of the internal communication barriers, since it is so easy to send an e-mail to just about anyone.

"I can get away with communications to my head office direct that would traditionally have had to be filtered by several levels of management, and one of them would have squished it for fear of being thought a troublemaker," said one survey respondent.

"In organizations where technologies are intensively used, communications seem to increase and never cease to increase," said another. "However, I noticed that communication doesn’t increase much in organizations that still rely on formal paper documents to communicate between departments. E-mails are simply easier to transmit."

While four-fifths of executives and managers say they receive too much regular communication, it just might be the price of ending up with getting to the part that is effective. Unfortunately, it is up to the communication recipient to sort through the maze.

Chuck Martin is a best-selling business book author, his latest being , "Tough Management (McGraw-Hill, 2005)," the business fable "Coffee at Luna’s" and the soon-to-be published "Smarts." He lectures around the world and can be reached at chuck@nfiresearch.com.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

Download CIO's Winter 2021 digital issue: Supercharging IT innovation