How to get the message over

Effective communication has long been identified as a key skill for an executive. Indeed it is tempting to see a correlation between the importance accorded to it and managers' limited success in mastering it.

But why is communication seen as so important? Surely actions speak louder than words?

Well, up to a point, they do. But it is also the case that for plans to be translated into actions, people need to know what is expected of them. Research recently published by the Aziz Corporation, a communications consultancy, suggests that good communication "may be the key to improving both client and employee relations".

The study, carried out for the firm by the Survey Shop, was conducted at random among directors of British companies with more than 100 employees. It found that company directors attributed higher employee morale, reduced staff turnover, closer relationships with clients and more successful new business pitches to the rising standards of communication in their companies. The greatest perceived benefit of improved spoken communications was its positive impact on staff motivation. The emphasis is on "spoken".

Khalid Aziz, chairman of the Aziz Corporation, says that executives who speak to their staff, rather than - as increasingly happens - just sending them e-mails, have "a much better opportunity of influencing and creating an impact". Mr Aziz added: "Even a telephone conversation can be more impressive than e-mail."

Of the directors who claimed to have seen an improvement in communications throughout their organisations, 92 per cent felt that it had led directly to increased staff motivation. Further, 74 per cent of directors reported that higher standards of communication had reduced staff turnover. The effect of worsening communication skills was even more noticeable. Of those who had seen a deterioration in such skills, 93 per cent believed it was reducing staff motivation in their organisations, while 79 per cent felt that deteriorating spoken communication was causing increased staff turnover. Mr Aziz said the results showed that, while many people in business had traditionally seen communication skills as a bonus, rather than as an essential business tool, "in fact the opposite appears to be true".

For all the attention on communication, many senior executives were "still woefully bad" at it, said Mr Aziz: with promotion still based largely on technical excellence, executives tended to "pop up at the top expecting to have all these clubability skills".

Fortunately, though there was a lot of resistance to learning them, such abilities could be developed with little investment of time. And organisations boasting improved spoken communications were feeling the positive effects in all areas of business.

"Improved communication aids morale, on the one hand, because it means management are more inclined and better equipped to talk to their staff, but also because being able to communicate effectively empowers the individual and enables them to be more successful in the workplace," said Mr Aziz.

"As customers and, indeed, employees become increasingly demanding, those organisations that recognise the importance of being able to get the desired message across and train their staff accordingly will reap the benefits over those who still perceive effective communication as an added extra."