Do you remember that childhood game of telephone? Someone whispers a phrase in another’s ear and that person is supposed to repeat back what they were told to the next person? After this continues down the line, the last person stands up and repeats the phrase they think they heard. The phase given by the last person is always different than what was said in the first place.
This is a lot like what happens at companies. But in the workforce bad communication results in a larger-scale game of telephone, and unlike kids laughing at the repeated phrase being wrong, it’s not a laughing matter when company communication breaks down.
Examples of external company communication breakdowns
Let's look at some companies for examples. The following real-life case studies will demonstrate bad communication and the negative results that were caused because of it.
1. KFC coupon fiasco = angry customers
Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) wanted to partner with Oprah Winfrey when they needed to promote their new chicken. Because we know just like, “Oprah's favorite things,” people buy what she promotes. The issue? KFC didn’t estimate properly the number of coupons that would be downloaded from the Oprah website. This led to a lot of mad customers who never received their free chicken. KFC then had to backtrack and reimburse these customers.
2. New Coke = lost sales
Coke and Pepsi have always been in competition with each other. So Coke decided to launch New Coke as a way to be innovative and draw customers away from Pepsi. The issue? Coke’s customers didn't understand this new version of their beloved drink and didn’t buy it. This led to a loss in profits and wasted money on product creation.
3. Cartoon Network’s bomb threat = lost jobs
The Cartoon Network decided to create a new campaign in the Boston area. This campaign was meant to promote one of their new t.v. shows. It involved placing LED lights around the city. The issue? Residents thought they were bombs. The campaign obviously fell flat, but even worse, employees were let go from this bad campaign decision.
4. Phillips Morris promotes death = lost customers
Ever since it came out that cigarettes have been linked to cancer, cigarette companies have been scrambling to figure out how best to promote their products. Phillips Morris decided to launch a campaign in the Czech Republic that said cigarette deaths were actually good because it saved governments on costs like healthcare and pensions. The issue? Not only did they offend their current customer base, but most of the population resulting in lost customers.
5. Toyota downplays faulty breaks = tarnished brand
Toyota once had a line of faulty brakes. Instead of recalling them when they first knew about this issue, they waited. In the meantime, Consumer Reports took cars with these faulty breaks off their report of recommended cars and stated why these cars were left off the list to their readers. Toyota was then forced to admit their wrong doing. The issue? The damage was already done to their brand.
Bad internal communication leads to consequences too
This is just a few examples of the importance of workplace communication externally. Now let’s take a look at internal communication and why that’s equally as important. Here are some reasons you need good communication throughout your departments and company.
Relying only on one form of communication
As technology has advanced, the importance of workplace communication has become tougher. Gone are the days people get up and walk to a desk to ask a question. More often than not they will send a quick email or communicate through a company app. The problem is email or apps are great for some forms of workplace communication, but not for others. Companies that only use one form of communication will experience breakdowns. Diversification and creating a communication plan are key.
Training is lacking
Companies who don’t fully utilize their learning management system won’t have a cohesive company message. Think about how often employees search the Internet at work looking for answers to project questions. Instead of this company time wasted, why not add more training so that employees will have the necessary tools to do their jobs effectively? Focusing on training ensures the entire company is on the same page.
No employee interaction
Employees usually start the job running and give little time to the big picture. This mistake creates no common company goals and employees’ unhappiness. And for companies, this equates to profit losses and gaining no new customers. If companies took the time to train across departments then each employee would see how their role benefited the company as a whole. This training can take place in a blended environment with some interaction online and also some face to face time in a classroom setting.
Everyone wants to feel valued. Employees want to know what’s going on at their companies. For example, if your company has a new product rollout, a huge write-up in a major publication or an unexpected sales year, employees want to know. The issue is more often than not, employees are kept in the dark and only made aware of new information if it directly impacts their job duties. This mistake creates employees who don’t trust their organizations, feel underappreciated, and confused as to the overall company goals. That’s why creating training objectives should not be overlooked to properly communicate these types of company information.
There is a hierarchy in every organization whether intentional or not. So, employees often feel if they speak out of the chain of command, they will be reprimanded or even lose their jobs. The importance of workplace communication is key to creating innovative ideas that may come from unlikely sources.
For example, take Elon Musk. He sent an email to employees telling them they are free to talk to whomever they want to in his organization if they have an idea or feedback of any sort. This free form of internal communication leads to empowered employees. Plus, you never know which of your employees has that company changing idea!