Corporate Personalities and Channels of Communication

Waaaaaaaay back, like 200 years ago, there were only a couple of channels of communication: either face-to-face, or by letter. So if you ran or worked for a company, a boss communicated to you or a supervisor (the idea of “manager” would come later in the 20th century), and/or you had scriveners who copied important documents and transcribed important numbers and events. All manual. Tedious by our standards today due to it’s limited replication abilities and smaller audience reach. There was no meeting recording, and the pace was accordingly slow.

Add 50 years, and the new tools in the arsenal included a typewriter, carbon paper, telegraph, and possibly a telephone.

200 years ago…

By 1875, you could type a document—type copies of it—and telegraph information to someone across the country. You could actually have a sales force which didn’t reside at your corporate HQ. And by 1877, there were 49,000 phones in the US, and nearly 600,000 phones by 1900. If you’ve ever seen adoption curves for technology, its adoption only gets faster and faster. But for phones, when you think about the infrastructure which had to be installed to have a phone which actually connected to someone else, I believe its adoption rate tops all others, although the graphs don’t support it.

You may be asking, “Why all this history? What are you getting at?”

The point is, many things we take for granted, things like phones which we have incorporated into our lives and have no idea what it is or was like to not have a phone, have shaped our communications and our expectations for our communication. My children have never known what it’s like to not have wireless connectivity. Even worse, they have no idea the difference between cellular or wireless and simply expect to always be connected. The youngest is the worst about this.

For Instance, if you grew up in the 1970s, you probably had one phone in the house for the whole family. This meant you negotiated and shared—working with the members of your family to determine use. By the 2000s, a single landline is archaic and everyone has an individual number. Anymore, worrying about sharing the single landline phone never crosses anyone’s mind. (Recently, my son was on our home phone line and the person on the other end asked if he was on a landline—he had to pause to think about it.) With the prevalence of texting, now families communicate from room to room—no longer is it necessary to yell up the stairs, “Time for dinner!” For that matter, families which dine together are decreasing in number like landlines.

In the end, communication styles have changed. And companies have adopted particular communication paths based upon culture, legacy or mandate. But usually, it is a result of culture.

But this is where I ask you to pay attention as this is important: That culture determines how people inside and outside the company communicate. If a culture is a voicemail culture, then leaving voicemail which is succinct, on-topic and information rich will be much more important than “look at me” voicemail.

As an example, my wife worked for a law firm which segmented how it communicated by the virtue of the information being transmitted. If it was case related, it was in an e-mail. If it was business or day-to-day process related, it was voicemail. For example, if someone had research completed which was pertinent to a case, they put it in an e-mail. If an associate had an update as to where they stood on that research, they put it in a voicemail. (“Still going through documents on the Rictus case. Not smiling—could be several hours more.”)

What they frowned upon was cluttering the voicemail box with updates which didn’t add either. One intern loved to leave a voicemail to her managing partner showing how long and hard she worked: “Hi Jerry, it’s Erica. It’s 2:30AM and I’m just leaving for home. I’ll be back tomorrow morning to continue my 15 plus hours efforts to tease details from the Brownsnoser case.”

Jerry, not surprisingly, didn’t find these voicemails informative, but more annoying. There was no information pertinent to the case, and a simple knock on Jerry’s door, stopping by his office the next day would have sufficed. In the end, Erica brought more negative than positive attention on herself by leaving these pigeon droppings.

A large technology company used e-mail as it’s primary communication path at a time when e-mail was not really an adopted method across their industry. But here is where abuse crept in as well—people would record voicemails and send them via e-mail. And soon, the recipient’s inbox was full because of voicemail—not e-mail!

And, when communicating internally or externally, think about the what of your message. Data intensive? Use text. Emotionally sensitive? Use voice. And if the culture of the company with whom you’re communicating leans in the opposite direction of what you are sending, then leave them a  little memory jogger in their preferred medium. Long, emotional voicemail? Send an e-mail pointing the recipient in the direction of the voicemail (and saying no more than that). Important, data-filled e-mail? Leave a voicemail (or a text) which tells them to make sure they read your tome.

Last, make sure you use the different channels as they are intended. I (reluctantly) mentioned texting in the previous paragraph. Sometimes a text is just the ticket, but remember, just like e-mail, it is asynchronous communication (NOT real-time) and two, it is called Short Message Service (SMS) for a reason. The first rule in texting is don’t expect a response. Rule two is keep it short. If the texts get too long, switch to an appropriate mode of communication. Rule three, be aware the recipient’s physical location is unknown to you, so be sensitive to where your fellow texter could be. If you are blowing up their phone while they (or you) are in an important meeting, then back off. If the recipient is responding during same said meeting then shame on them.

So in the vein of Smart Sales Operations, why emphasize all these points? Because efficient communication is smart communication. Getting your message across is difficult in a world which has increasing amounts of static. Be clear. Be concise. Be EFFICIENT.

Thinks, Inc. is a consulting firm which specializes in Smart Sales Operations. If you’d like for us to come and assess your chaos, drop us a line at