Almost all communication departments in small, medium, and large enterprises fail in truly ensuring clear and consistent communication.
Maybe it’s because they are not aware of what communication is actually about. Maybe because the management fails to align the corporate strategy and corporate communication. Or maybe because they simply don’t feel responsible?
Are you shocked by my statement or even a little outraged? You are right because these circumstances are in urgent need of improvement.
Talking about clear and consistent communication, I want to take a closer look at verbal communication. What is the smallest element of our verbal communication? What is the basis for exchanging information or even knowledge in a company? Have you ever thought about it?
– To put it in a nutshell, these are the terms (words to name concepts in a specified field).
We use specific terms to form sentences, to create content for marketing, to write contracts, to generate metadata, to create product-related documents, and more. We also use these terms to talk to each other in meetings or in emails.
Now, as most of the communication departments don’t consider to harmonize or to standardize a company-wide terminology, also known as corporate terminology, in collaboration with all stakeholders and technical experts, the companies suffer.
Do they suffer, you might think now. Why do the companies suffer?
They are suffering in many different aspects. I will mention shortly three of them:
As every department, every person, every application uses different terms for exactly the same concept, a lot of visible and hidden costs arise.
Companies pay significantly more money for translations, for correction loops, and the measurement, that the technical documentation, for instance, is avoiding any misunderstandings or complies with customer requirements or legal requirements. At the same time, as the process takes longer the time-to-market extends as well.
They also risk incorrect orders and faulty production. Due to internal and external misunderstandings, they waste a lot of time in unnecessary discussions. This time is usually assigned to some cost center without having a hunch that it was caused by unclear terminology.
These are just a few examples, the list of economic losses is much longer than I could ever describe here.
A company is legally liable, for example, if inconsistent use of terminology causes product damage, personal injury, or even death.
In such a case, the court not only examines the internal processes or the product but also the communication tools. In the case of a machine that would be all relevant technical documentation. If the court finds inconsistent terminology, which has led to an accident due to a misunderstanding, the company is liable.
Did you ever think about this huge communication failure?
Every company has a strategy which has to involve also the communication – consequently.
We see many corporate mergers and acquisitions. At the latest, this is where the communication department has to wake up and do something about a “common” corporate language.
Another strategic problem is that the lack of clear and standardized concept-oriented terminology work hinders any kind of efficient knowledge management and thus knowledge communication*.
The reputation suffers as well: a company that does not communicate consistently and clearly throughout its entire operations gives the impression of being inefficient and disorganized.
In this blog post, I have by far not mentioned and described all the issues caused by the lack of centralized and company-wide terminology work.
I see this sort of communication failure in almost all of my consulting projects. The appropriate unit – communication department – usually does not address this communication issue. As a consequence, the problem seeps so deeply and to such an extent into the processes of individual departments and teams, that they start making a difference at the very lowest level of the company hierarchy.
Anyone who knows a little about change management and corporate organizations will recognize that terminology standardization is actually a complex top-down process. If the communication department and the management do not care about it, who else should do so?
In case of further questions, please send me a message or let’s talk.