Far too many organizations have so overly-sanitized their communications that these have become devoid of meaning. The effect, whether intended or not, is that messages start to resemble propaganda more than letters among colleagues. The official version of events often fails to acknowledge that, for instance, the firm is not doing well or that some people have been let go, or that there are dysfunctions to be dealt with. It is almost as if these organizations are marketing to their employees as much as they do to their customers.

This situation is exacerbated by the modern obsession with risk, including legal liability, which makes managers careful about what they say and how they say it. Yet the irony is that, person-to-person conversations are less filtered and– as evidenced by recent events– sometimes toxic. This dichotomy creates a false sense of calm while discontent festers beneath the surface.

We would argue that “official communications” set the tone for the culture of the organization. And if these messages gloss over problems, the culture has little chance of developing the characteristics necessary for long-term sustainability.

An incessant focus on “positivity”, productivity and cheer detracts from leaders’ ability to foster honest relationships that can provide early warning of nascent issues, as well as engendering a willingness to address them rather than reveling in schadenfreude.

But how do you create such a culture?  There are probably as many ways of doing so as there are organizations. However, here are a few suggestions– pick from them as you wish:

  • Use plain language– avoid euphemisms and double-speak;
  • Don’t be afraid to admit mistakes;
  • Speak openly about what’s not working in your organization;
  • Constructively criticize your own culture when it is warranted;
  • Encourage  respectful dissent, rather than simply tolerating it.

If the ultimate purpose of an organization is to create long term value for its stakeholders, then the underlying  organism needs to more than merely survive– it needs to thrive; and it is unlikely to do so in the absence of trust.