Sometimes it can help to look at how others mess up to remind us of what we should not do.
A current City of Toronto infrastructure project in our neighbourhood provides a good example of bad communication – and what can happen as a result.
Let me set the scene by pointing out what effective communication is supposed to do: facilitate engagement, build trust and enable us to achieve goals.
The principles of effective communication are: treat stakeholders as equal participants. Be inclusive. Be respectful. Be accessible. Be honest. Be accurate. Be clear.
What did the City of Toronto not do when consulting and communicating with residents? From our perspective, it didn’t follow any of these principles.
An infrastructure project that will ultimately provide our post-WWII neighbourhood with clean water pipes, better water pressure and rut-free roads is normally an occasion to celebrate.
But the best of plans – when poorly communicated – can have destructive consequences.
In our case, the City informed residents of its plans for our roads and properties through a notice delivered as “junk mail.” Which means that many residents didn’t receive it or see it and therefore didn’t know that our roads and ditches and driveways and gardens and lawns were about to be ripped up over several months. Until dozens of construction vehicles started rumbling their way through our streets.
Treat stakeholders as equal participants? x
When the project started, we received a notice in our mailboxes with an innocuous message to the effect that the work to be carried out over the next four months would consist of “road and driveway culvert replacement… regrading of ditches where needed…shoulder surface treatment and the recycling of the existing asphalt pavement followed by final asphalt overlay.”
As the project got underway however, each day another road was demolished, another driveway pulverized, another front lawn bulldozed. There was never another notice. Or e-mail. Or even a knock on the door to announce that today, the end of your driveway will disappear. And a fire hydrant will be moved onto your front lawn. And we’ll be digging a crater in your front yard. And we’re moving your stone walkway. And we’ll be blocking your road with construction vehicles for a few hours.
Clear, accurate, honest, respectful? x x x x
Instead of feeling like allies engaged in facilitating the success of this project, residents have ended up feeling like adversaries subjected to the “shock and awe” rapid dominance military strategy.
The result? Rather than efficiently and effectively achieving its goals, the City has to deal with questions, complaints and protests from uninformed, alienated, angry residents.
This is a good reminder for all leaders that ineffective communication promotes antagonism.
Effective communication, on the other hand, promotes cooperation. Treat stakeholders as equal participants. Be inclusive. Be respectful. Be accessible. Be honest. Be accurate. Be clear.
And you’ll be successful.
Meanwhile, I think you can guess what organization receives my award for Worst Communicator of the Year…