10 Business Challenges You Can Solve With Improved Communication Skills

10 Business Challenges You Can Solve With Improved Communication Skills

When you think about what it takes to solve big business challenges, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s reevaluating strategic goals. Or maybe it’s undertaking big, bold initiatives like organizational redesign, reengineered workforce planning, or even merger and acquisition assessment. And, business is also chock-full of challenges that can be solved much more quickly and incredibly efficiently if you have one critical tool: good communication across your organization.

Think about all the ineffective meetings that waste everyone’s time. Consider all of the poorly executed change initiatives that cost money and damage employee engagement. The fact is, many business problems can be remedied or even prevented with better communication.

The best of intentions are more likely to fail without good communication

We’ve all been there. We’ve all struggled to stay focused during a meeting that’s covering so much ground we’ve forgotten what the presenter really wants us to know (if they ever clearly told us in the first place). We’ve all been overwhelmed by a mountain of facts and data that only confuse us and add nothing to our understanding of the challenge we’re being asked to tackle.

According to the Project Management Institute:

  • The best of intentions are more likely to fail without good communication
  • Those project failures cost U.S. businesses $75 million for every $1 billion spent
  • High-performing organizations “distinguish themselves by excelling in all quantified aspects of project communications” — specifically in communicating business benefits and identifying company trouble spots

Think about all the missed opportunities and wasted time and money that result from poorly communicated emails, one-pagers, high-stakes presentations, quarterly reports, product updates, program pitches, change-management initiatives, business process updates — anything said, sent, delivered, or presented.

Those communications and their goals may seem widely divergent and unrelated. Think about a fancy video and snappy brochure designed to generate excitement around a new product. That’s a whole different animal from an all-hands-on-deck presentation from the C-suite intended to address the FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) amid a company merger or acquisition. Now think how badly both of those initiatives can go if they’re poorly communicated.

But what is “good” communication?

If poor communication is the most common factor among business problems and failed programs, then we have to ask: What is good business communication? In a nutshell, it’s organizing ideas into a cohesive, audience-centric message that tells a compelling story.

Of course there’s more to it than that. You need to know how to build an authentic narrative and limit your charts and data to the ones that really matter. If you use visuals to humanize your message, you need to carefully select them so they bring your story to life but don’t get in its way. In the end, good communication in business is telling a story that inspires your audience to act and moves the business forward.

10 common business challenges that great communication can help solve

From improved change management to greater shareholder return, here’s how great communication can have an impact on your business.

  1. Change management that meets its goals

According to McKinsey & Company, 70% of change communications and programs fail to achieve their goals, “largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support.” Failed change management costs an organization more than just money. Short- and long-term impacts have direct and indirect costs that include wasted time and people resources, drops in morale, loss in confidence of the leadership, resistance to future change, and an increased likelihood that future change initiatives will stall or fail.

On the other hand, “change is 30% more likely to stick if people are truly invested.” Great communication can get people invested because when it’s done right, it tells a story in a way that gives the audience a reason to care. It considers the topic from their perspective and appeals to what they care about the most.

  1. Innovation that doesn’t get blocked and dropped

A 2019 study by Harvard Business School found that 95% of new product and service fail. The reasons innovation fails are as varied as the mountains of surveys and research into the topic. Some explain why projects fail internally (e.g., lack of coordination among key stakeholders). Other reasons explain why products fail after being launched (e.g., failure to clearly tie the product to the company’s brand).

But somewhere on every list is at least one — and usually more — explanations that are the direct result of failed communication. What else could explain failing to get buy-in and coordination among key internal stakeholders or failing to attach your new product to your company brand in the mind of your market?

Great communication can make those connections. When a story is built and presented in a clear, compelling way, you have a framework for developing communications to different audiences and for different outcomes. In other words, you are better able to support every step of an innovation initiative, from early collaborative brainstorming to final go-to-market messaging.

  1. Big data that actually provides insight and wisdom

Far too often, more data is confused with good communication. No wonder Gartner research predicted in 2019 that through 2022, only 20% of analytic insights will deliver business outcomes. As with unsuccessful innovation projects, big data fails to achieve its desired outcomes for varied reasons. Again, the lists of reasons share a common denominator.

Analysts, consultants, and anyone else relying on mountains of data to drive their audience to action fail to use their data in a way that, in the words of one consultant and author, builds “a shared understanding” with their audience.

With the right communication training, anyone can use data to create a shared understanding with their audience. It’s about learning to transform data into stories. For example:

  • Focus on the right data to make their point, not just more data.
  • Humanize your data — find the stories it tells — because data alone won’t tell an audience how the numbers affect them.
  • Go beyond your data and take the time to find the story you need to tell for the audience you’re hoping to influence; not every audience will receive your data the same way or have the same need for the story you’re telling.
  1. Faster, better project alignment

Research from the Project Management Institute shows that 56% of project risk comes from ineffective communication. Having a sophisticated project plan with elaborate documentation does not guarantee a successful project, especially if the people responsible for executing it aren’t in sync from the start. As Verne Harnish , founder of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization says, “The consensus is clear. An aligned team is an efficient team that can move faster, think faster, and grow faster.”

Getting teams in sync and moving, thinking, and growing faster can be solved with communication training that teaches people how to:

  • Use a story structure to focus their ideas and clearly articulate what your audience should know and do with the information
  • Deliver a story centered on one big idea they want people to remember or act on
  • Humanize their message to cut through the noise and address audiences’ needs
  • Organize and prioritize facts, data, and ideas in a way that — science has proved — helps human brains digest information quickly
  • Save time by using a common framework across teams and functions
  1. Faster, better project collaboration

Research shows that 81% of people believe collaboration is critical, and 71% think their managers are making it a priority. So why is collaboration often so painstaking? It’s typically because leaders assume their direct reports are aligned with their vision, expect everyone to collaborate by default (or have an idealized view of cooperation), or expect every collaboration to be conflict-free.

To avoid falling into these collaboration traps, leaders can leverage the power of business storytelling to develop executive presence. It’s a sure path to better communication between leaders and their teams, and — get this — it’s learnable, by anyone. Executive presence requires preparation in three crucial ways:

  • First and most important, deeply think about the needs of your audience.
  • Get clear on your main points — the ones that directly address those audience needs.
  • Finally, use a storytelling framework to better navigate these points.

Because anyone can learn these skills, collaboration can go faster and more smoothly within teams, as well as between multifunctional teams, and between teams and external groups.

  1. More shared expertise, credibility, and content

Shared learning with internal or external leaders and experts is a great idea — in theory. It can let people work as a team to achieve a common objective. It allows subject matter experts to share their explicit and tacit knowledge and complement each other’s skills. Shared learning can help teams hit their goals faster and prevent or at least reduce the loss of knowledge and soft skills leaving the organization.

But shared learning can’t do any of that if all of that great knowhow and insight ends up piled into decks that no one reads, emails no one cares to open, and presentations no one is inspired by.

Instead, with the right communication training, anyone can learn to structure data and facts into a narrative that follows the classic arc of storytelling — including setting, character, conflict, and resolution — to take any audience on an emotional journey of any topic, and making shared learning more memorable and more effective.

  1. Enhanced company culture

How do you know your company culture is at risk? What are the warning signs? Very often a toxic or broken culture is, in fact, a confused culture. And, as an article in HR News points out, a culture is confused when employees receive conflicting messages, when sales guidelines are inconsistent with performance objectives, or when leaders’ behavior does not match expected employee behavior.

What do all of those warning signs have in common? Poor communication. With training, companies can prevent having a confused culture by building a culture of storytelling — a proven way to share ideas and move them into action. It starts with leadership inspiring and propelling the practice of storytelling from the top down.

With training, the ability to weave ideas, data, and insights into a strong narrative — and mitigate culture confusion — will seep into day-to-day business communications.

  1. Better communication across the organization

There are innumerable ways communication can fail within an organization. Often it’s because communication is siloed or compartmentalized. Usually, it’s simply because the information being delivered is misunderstood (or worse, ignored completely). The impacts range from an unpredictable work environment to less effective collaboration.

Among the many causes of poor communication across an organization, two that are on every list are:

  • Uninspiring leadership
  • Unclear objectives and goals (especially from managers)

Imagine the difference if your leaders and managers had the skills to deliver communication that’s not only crystal clear but inspirational. Imagine if they could effectively drive better action toward goals in any department or function, and were encouraged to communicate more frequently. Everyone would have one trait that is common among high performers everywhere: They are more effective communicators who also communicate more often across a range of topics. Great business storytelling yields those results.

  1. Better customer experience (CX)

Gartner research has shown that although 48% of leaders claim their CX efforts exceed management’s expectations, only 22% report the same efforts exceeded customer’s expectations. Why the disconnect? Research shows three common reasons customer experience strategies fail are because they:

  • Fail to link to clear and relevant business goals or strategies
  • Are siloed and lack the backing of leaders, departments, and employees
  • Fail to innovate, evolve, and improve through collaboration

Think of the best experiences you’ve had as a business customer or client. What made them good experiences? The business probably helped you form solid strategies based on the goals you set for yourself. They likely set good expectations, including timelines, metrics, and processes. The process was efficient because everyone on both sides was well-informed and on the same page. And at each step, the business probably communicated with you about what was happening and what was expected of them.

Boil it all down and it’s clear that your great experiences as a business consumer all resulted from great communication.

Many missteps with customers are forgivable, and many customers are all too willing to accept that things change. However, what customers don’t forgive is a failure to communicate what’s happening or why things have changed. In other words, clear, transparent communication can make up for and prevent many mistakes.

  1. Greater shareholder return

Failing to communicate effectively quite simply destroys shareholder value. Companies with highly effective communication skills in their business practices see 47% higher total returns to shareholders compared with firms that are the least effective at communicating. Volumes have been written about what makes some companies profitable year after year. But they all share one attribute. You can guess it by now — good communication.

This only makes sense when you consider the two factors that most affect shareholder return: a company’s value and the expectations of how that value will perform going forward. Both factors can be greatly influenced by a company’s communication practices.

Regarding value, clear communication can help companies generate cash faster (which is one of the most important value drivers in business). When GE made its legal contracts shorter, clearer, and written in plain language, the company significantly reduced its sales and procurement time and costs, which brought cash into the business much more quickly than before.

As for expectations, consider the critical role of leadership in communicating guidance for the future of the company to investors, suppliers, and other stakeholders. That includes emails, presentations, and memos for internal staff, the supply chain, and many more, before communication even goes to shareholders. The good news is that these skills can be learned to help people communicate better inside and outside the organization, which ultimately influences shareholder return.

Are you ready to embrace improved communication?

Leaders attack business challenges from many different angles. However, good communication is an often-overlooked solution because it’s seemingly hard to quantify, train, and implement. But only seemingly.

The skills that will dramatically improve employees’ communication and boost your business performance are learnable. In fact, they’re all part of learning how to tell a great story. And because our brains are wired to remember stories, great storytelling remains the single proven path to achieving the right balance of logic and emotion to generate the action you want an audience to take.

Regardless of the form of communication or whether you’re communicating to the C-suite, team members, managers, customers, or prospects, strong storytelling can mitigate and prevent many of the challenges that hamstring business every day.

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