During a recent business trip to Russia I was told a fascinating story about the construction of a famous building. As the local legend goes, Joseph Stalin commissioned an architect and builder but before construction could be completed, Stalin had to sign off on the architectural plans.

To provide him with a choice for the building’s façade, the architect included two options on the same drawing. On the left side of the building he drew a raised window casing with colored insets. On the right side of the building he drew a more subdued version, without the raised window casing and less color surrounding the windows.

On the day the architect came to deliver the drawing for final approval, Secretary Stalin was in a very foul mood. He glanced at the drawing, signed it and sent his aide out the door with the document. Needless to say, the architect was surprised to see the signature on the drawing with no decision made about the façade; however, nobody was willing to walk back into Stalin’s office to ask him to make a further decision.

Ultimately, the architect ordered the builder to finish the building exactly as shown on the drawing, with two different façades. And this is exactly how the building stands today, as the Four Season’s Moscow hotel.

While this exact interaction may not occur regularly, communication issues occur in varying shapes and sizes everyday in business (and your personal life). Some may argue that this is the most destructive element in any business.

Some examples of issues relating to communication include when you are asked for your opinion on a subject only to be ignored or possibly punished for your honest reply; or, a boss who never asks what you think despite having vast experience on the subject; or maybe, as with Stalin, you are too intimidated so you keep your mouth shut.

Steven Gaffney is a global expert on communication in business. He claims that “80% of organizational problems can be traced back to lack of honest, open communication”.

Steven speaks to massive audiences regularly, at some of the most well-respected companies in the world about this important topic.

This is a serious subject and an epidemic afflicting businesses worldwide. According to a recent State of the Global Workplace report commissioned by Gallup, 85% of employees are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. That is sad, but it’s also very expensive for a company of any size.

The negative impact poor communication can have on a business and its employees is really endless. It can spread like a toxic disease with detachment, anger, resentment, lack of dedication to the company, attrition etc permeating the entire company.

Alternatively, open and honest communication can create a firework show of positive energy: employees are more engaged, dedicated to the team and company, new ideas and initiatives are produced to improve the company inside and out.

In my experience of more than 30 years in the CE industry owning, managing and working at numerous companies, I have discovered that some of the quietest people in the company have the best ideas, but how do you get that information to the surface? Many junior members of the team feel ‘inferior’, or intimidated to speak up and share their (valuable) thoughts.

I think there are several key lessons to consider, which may help produce a healthier communication flow in the organization.

Lesson 1: Know what you don’t know

It’s hard to be humble, especially in some business environments where bravado and confidence are part of the culture; however, humility in leadership is important to allow other members of the team to rise up and flourish. I really love to see a leader ask each member of the team for their input, individually. This promotes engagement, encourages creative thought and contribution. Also, provides a podium for some less robust members of the team to vocalize their thoughts – which can be invaluable.

Lesson 2: Encourage honest communication

Give your team a voice and don’t punish candor. Encourage people to constructively shoot down ideas. Ask, what don’t you like about this idea? As those topics are brought to the surface, the team can work together to resolve the potential pitfalls or develop and alternative and less risky solution.

Lesson 3: Hire people who are smarter than you

Steve Jobs once said: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do… we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

Leverage the power of your team members; they all have experience that is different than yours. Make sure you provide the opportunity and take the time to let them share their thoughts. What would have happened to the building if Stalin stopped to ask the architect his opinion? I love this quote from Catherine Doucette: “Every person in this life has something to teach me and as soon as I accept that, I open myself to truly listening.” Or even better, from an unknown source: “God gave us two ears and one mouth, use them proportionately”.

Lesson 4: Beware of e-communication

Communication that happens via email, text and other electronic or written forms are one dimensional and can easily be misinterpreted. When we are speaking through these monochrome forms, we miss the tone, inflection, posture of the person we are communicating with and it can often cause unnecessary conflict, sometimes lasting for several weeks, months or years until it is exposed and resolved.

The responsibility for open communication is not limited to owners, leaders and managers. The employee also has an important role to step up and share their voice, in a respectful and productive manner. Be bold and challenge yourself to put a voice behind some of your thoughts – you never know what could be the next BIG idea that you never contributed.

I vow to improve my communication in the year ahead, I hope you do also.

I would love to hear from you. Please email me anytime at: pete@thebigcorp.com


About Pete Baker:

Pete Baker is a dynamic, sales and marketing professional with over 30 years of global experience, successfully maximizing product sales and driving revenue growth in the CE industry. He began his career as a licensed low voltage technician and contractor. He has worked on thousands of systems. He was the founder and CEO of Custom Home Integration, a leading installation firm that he created and later sold.

Mr. Baker has had numerous successful roles in the industry: President of several leading Integration companies, Licensed Low Voltage Technician, System Designer, Programmer, Keynote speaker, CEDIA Subject Matter Expert, guest contributor for a dozen different publications worldwide, International Sales Manager for several CE Brands, and VP of Sales and Marketing for a major Control System Manufacturer.

Now, Mr. Baker is the President of The BIG Corp, Baker International Group. BIG is a Global Sales Rep and Business Development agency, providing exceptional support to the finest brands in Consumer Electronics. He is also the founder of CE Business Academy, providing quality education to CE Professionals Worldwide.

Think BIG!