At least twice today when I have been listening to Radio 4 (yes, I am getting very grown up) I heard problems being attributed to poor communication. In the first instance it was about the problems on the trains that happened around Christmas and New Year. In the second report I can’t remember what the issue was but it was blamed on ‘bad communication’.
It isn’t something that surprises me. Often when things go wrong or something isn’t implemented properly communication is the first thing that gets singled out for blame. Anyone working in communication, and particularly in the public sector, is used to this being the position and of the need to be able to identify the positive work that was done. In many cases I have witnessed it is not communication that is to blame but a failure in the system or procedures, or a poorly thought out change. It is vital for communicators to feel able to challenge the development of the service or product if they feel things are not being carefully considered.
For the last five years many communication teams have shrunk. In the public sector most teams are smaller than they were in 2010 and are still attempting to do more work. Some things are achievable through maximising the opportunities of new technology. But it has to be recognised that smaller teams will not deliver the same level of service and in some cases this means that things are not given enough support, or things go wrong. That is when it is easy for communication to be the first on the list for blame.
How can communicators deal with this? For me, we need to be really clear about what we are doing and what can be delivered. It is no good continuing to absorb work and seeing teams stretched to breaking point without highlighting this to senior leaders. We need to show them what we can deliver and also to demonstrate the impact that effective communication can have. We need to raise awareness of the need to invest and provide support to communication if they want to achieve results. Without this there will be a lot more news reports blaming something on poor communication from organisations or businesses.