India Inc. has been red-flagging the lack of communication skills in the Indian workforce for many years now. Recent surveys and reports also show that an overwhelming majority of Indian employees are not good at communicating in the workplace, particularly the new workers joining the workforce. As the demand for candidates well-versed in soft skills increased over the past decade, organizations were forced to set up internal learning programs and development courses to help employees strengthen their abilities to learn, communicate, set goals, provide feedback, etc.
Why communication skills are back in focus
Cut to 2021, when a big part of the workforce has been working remotely for over a year, there was no escaping the paramount importance of clear communication. As employees started working from home, the challenges of miscommunication compounded and they instinctively prioritized the time spent on calls and meetings; even to the point of experiencing Zoom exhaustion.
Abhiram Vishnu, Head - HR, Global IT & Transformation Hub, Reckitt, explains, “Communication in our context is pivotal to how we run our business operations. More so, in a virtual setting as most of the key stakeholders are spread across geographies. So navigating through cultural aspects and maintaining transparency on deliverables required very strong communication skills at all levels in the organisation.” Thus, communication in the modern-day workplace, and particularly in a remote work setting, requires a unique set of skills for several reasons:
Rapid digital transformation
The expedited pace of digitization, especially over the past year, has disrupted many established workplace norms and processes. As workers went remote almost overnight, it took a while for organizations to figure out how to streamline processes and communication. These developments increased the desire for communication skills significantly over the past year, and this trend is expected to sustain in the near future as well.
Flexible hiring and partnerships
The relationships that organizations cultivate with employees and partners are increasingly fluid and flexible, with an expectation of quick results. Whether it is hiring a remote freelancer for a specific project or availing the services of a SaaS solution, the nature of partnerships has changed significantly. This leaves no room for miscommunication or unrealistic expectations, and the tolerance for communication gaps has shrunk dramatically. These changes necessitate strong and clear communication skills from both the employee and the employer.
Working across time zones and geographies
New start-ups and enterprises today have a truly global workforce with teams working across time zones and geographies. The decreasing cost of operationalizing a remote team through co-working spaces or virtual offices means that having a team spanning across nations is no longer an exclusive feature of large organizations. However, this trend of having small international teams also means that new ways to communicate and interact have been set up to optimize productivity.
Increased desirability of communication skills
As the demand for soft skills increases, communication has become one of the top-most coveted skills for organizations across the globe. This is because it has a direct impact on the job performance in today’s digital-first workplace. Improving communication is no longer a one-off activity or workshop, but must be continually worked upon. As a matter of fact, communication today also encompasses mindfulness and empathy.
Add to the fact that communication learning needs to be deeply rooted in the context of the individual and the organisation. This has led to a departure from the conventional mindset of 'course/curriculum' based thinking and given rise to more holistic approaches to understand and build communication. It isn’t just another ‘good-to-have’ skill in the competency matrix, but a ‘must-have’ ability to achieve success. The conversation has moved beyond proficiency in a language or mastering the art of presentation; today, communication entails purpose, platform, and context.
As explained by the communication experts and leaders at Vyakta, a personalized and outcome-oriented learning platform, “Concept learning accounts for barely 5-10% in developing communication capabilities. To bridge the gap between, the learning solutions need to offer contextualised practise, preferably under supervision of an expert.”
Communication fitness: The changing face of what it means to converse in the workplace
Dr. Rajiv Sinha, Head - Business Excellence, Corporate HR, Learning & Development, Larsen & Toubro, says, “Effective communication is a lifeline in the professional world. While for individuals, it can make or break one’s career & aspirations, it is equally important that an organisation should be able to effectively communicate its vision across the ranks and file. In this context, equipping its people for proficient communication is one of the topmost priorities for any organisation.”
Broadly speaking, all business communication can be divided into internal and external forms. However, to understand the true scope of how communication impacts all our workplace relationships and dynamics, we must let go of obsolete theoretical terminologies that tend to have a limited scope. Understanding communication in the modern workplace requires looking at them as a set of capabilities that can be applied over different mediums, context, settings, platforms, and purposes. Here are three new lenses to rethink the importance, applicability, and utility of communication in the workplace:
- Purpose: Before the exchange of information takes place, there must be a capability to streamline and disentangle thoughts, ideas, and notions before they are spoken. Understanding the purpose of communication goes beyond being fluent in a language or having impeccable grammar. This involves giving them structure and working on articulation, reasoning, and deduction to simplify and clarify thoughts within so that they are relayed most effectively.
- Platform: This aspect focuses on understanding the different mediums and platforms of communication, and how to pick the most appropriate one for different purposes. It is essential to look at communication from the lens of the platform it is carried on, as the variance between them can be significant. Imagine the difference between how people communicate over emails and Slack to fully embrace this concept. What’s more, these platforms are evolving and keep changing as well. It is vital to learn how to choose the best platform and adapt the best message as per its functionality.
- Context: Finally, the most crucial piece of the puzzle is how information is contextualized for the maximum impact. The choice to contextualize communication is a very conscious one and can be improved based on the intended purpose, chosen platform, and content. Once the purpose and platform of the communication is clear, expressing it successfully requires shaping it in the most palatable, understandable, and receivable format. Thus, ably contextualizing communication impacts how individuals perceive and process information, and how well they can perform in their roles.
This new perspective to understanding communication must be applied at the individual, organizational, and platform level for maximum impact. Instead of looking at communication as a 100-metre dash to complete, think of it as preparing for a marathon or a relay race, that requires consistency, practice, and sustained effort. Thus, communication fitness requires employees and individuals to keep learning, and working on their ability to exchange information.
The benefits of building communication skills in the workplace
Better delegation and collaboration
Leaders can delegate tasks better when they understand the communication patterns of their team members and facilitate higher levels of collaboration between employees and departments. A culture of strong internal communication keeps all team members and departments apprised of each others’ goals and helps identify opportunities for collaboration. Leaders that understand how their teams communicate can utilize the talents of their team members, achieve a higher buy-in, and undertake more strategic team building as well.
Higher engagement and productivity
With better communication, there is greater trust, understanding, and confidence between the team members which results in active participation and engagement. By helping employees vocalize their goals and needs better, clear communication helps people connect better, align with workplace values and objectives, and cultivate a culture of transparency. Improved communication also has a very real impact on the time and savings of an organization. Imagine the cost to a business if the communication between functions, leaders, and employees is unclear and requires constant oversight, correction, and moderation. Thus, communication leads to a better work environment, higher efficiency, and productivity.
Improved public relation and brand building
Employees that can communicate effectively will be able to service clients and customers better by understanding their needs and making them feel heard and understood. Similarly, as communication with external stakeholders becomes strong, so does the public perception and brand of the organization. This has a positive impact on the organization's ability to attract top talent, the bottom line, and overall growth. Simply put, an organization that can communicate clearly fosters better relationships with all its stakeholders and is in a better position to control the overall direction of the narrative.
Conflict mitigation and higher trust
Almost all forms of workplace conflicts can be attributed to miscommunication, misunderstandings, or a perceived notion of being disregarded. Better communication helps everyone in the organization express their needs and expectations better and be more cognizant of the needs of their colleagues. Thus, the room for miscommunication to snowball into larger conflicts reduces significantly. This has a measurable impact on team performance, customer satisfaction, and cross-functional projects. Open and transparent communication, thus contributes to a trusting and healthy work environment that encourages innovation and creativity through collaboration.
Due to the heightened need to improve how we communicate in the modern world for different purposes, Vyakta uses a 5-level communication framework to help learners decode the fundamental tools and practices to elevate communication in all forms. This framework has been empirically derived through 12 years of stakeholder consultation with more than 5000 line managers and business leaders. One of the key focus areas in the framework is to help learners cultivate a habit of practising communication as a part of their daily routine. This is done in a contextual and personalized manner to ensure that the learning doesn’t stop after the ‘official’ training engagement is complete.
Vyakta’s 5-level communications framework
- Convey: The ability to organize one’s thoughts and articulate them with accuracy directly impacts job performance. Conveying requires language proficiency and high levels of confidence in one’s communication or else employees will rely on others to express their perspectives clearly.
- Stand out: Making an impact with powerful ideas to make your presence felt in front of the audience. This could be applied externally (like sales, service, or branding functions) or internally (like feedback, or conversations with the top management).
- Connect: The ability to understand, empathize, and connect with others demands high levels of interpersonal communication skills and understanding how our beliefs and assumptions are shaping our perspectives. Building interpersonal skills to connect with colleagues can enhance persuasion, simplify handling difficult situations, improve conflict resolution, help listen with empathy, and increase cross cultural communication.
- Lead: The ability to inspire action, and to direct attention when needed forms the core of leadership roles. Failure to communicate with leaders can derail even the most well-crafted strategy to execution journeys. Communication for leaders is so vital and tricky, that even the dominant use of passive voice can impact how leadership decisions are perceived and acted upon.
- Influence: The ability to shape your external environment through communication and engagement. This involves mobilizing opinions, impacting change outside the organization, advocating for issues, rebuilding industry practices, etc.
How Vyakta’s Vani can help individuals and organizations improve how they communicate
Based on the 5-level framework, Vyakta has developed Vani, a learning experience that helps employees understand the core of communication, learn how to apply it, and improve the ability to connect with others. Vani operationalizes the three core elements of how an individual (or an organization) must approach communication and improve it. Here are the design principles incorporating three needs of learning great communication:
- Communication capabilities: The development of individual communication capabilities such as organisation/structure of thoughts; the ability to articulate in a specific, succinct manner,; being able to establish a strong executive presence
- Media/channels of communication: Learning to adapt to the media over which we communicate; practicing and building agility to communicate over multiple channels; namely, video, audio, short text, formal emails, interactive documents, etc.
- Context: Establishing context in communication with regards to people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, genders, identities; bringing together content and context for maximum impact
The biggest differentiator between Vani and other communication building approaches is integration of over a decade's worth of outcome-based learning programs. The focus remains on using communication to improve job performance through hyper-personalized learning experiences. What’s more, by linking the pricing of the program with the expected learning outcomes, Vyakta not only has skin in the game, but also the confidence in their ability to create a discernible impact.
Communicating at work: Conclusion
If the past year has taught us anything, it is that the future of work is constantly changing and directly influenced by our actions today. With organizations cementing remote or hybrid working models into permanence, new channels and approaches to communication will also need to be devised. As we step into the post-Covid world, clear communication will serve as the foundation of seamless collaboration in a hybrid workforce.
Communication will be a function of both personal skill and organizational ability, and will determine the sustainability of the future of work. Charu Singh, Global L&D Head, Sterling and Wilson, sums up aptly why organizations must focus on communication, “Communication is that powerful central force that determines the impact of all human endeavours. Those who drink deep from this boundless source, create magic both in their ‘being’ and ‘doing’.”