Communicating Through Strengths – The Road to Success

Why is actualizing excellent communication systems such a challenging issue for most organizations?

All organizations generate, receive and use data- accounts about information which become accomplishments when arranged in meaningful patterns.  Members of organizations communicate because they must receive and transmit information to coordinate their activities and to carry out their respective missions. All messages that pass through a system must be comprehensible to intended recipients.

 The original meaning intended by the sender may also become distorted when intermediaries at various levels of hierarchies reframe the information in line with their prejudices and preferences or when new information is combined with what is stored in organizational memory.  No matter what systems are used, communication content must be defused through the organization effectively.  Even with technology enhancing communication, people find understanding and consensus is often lacking.  With the wide array of communication methods – email, telephonic systems, instant messaging, etc., the ability to send and receive messages has never been easier or faster. However, method and messages are not necessarily communication. This is especially true when the essential success of communication is imperative such as in a hospital.  
Recently, at the conclusion of a successful surgery for my daughter, I found myself sitting in the recovery area of a major hospital. With the stress of the surgery gone, I began observing the activities going on around me.  As I watched, it became apparent that hospitals are a hotbed of communicative activity.  It occurred to me that, by necessity, hospitals have almost mastered the art of organizational communication. There are large screen monitors chocked with data, computers at every station and patient monitors beeping as physiological data is being recorded.  Then there are the less technological devices like white boards to write notes which, by the way, include magnetic tokens that say “Stop” and “Go”.  And, of course there is the all-important face-to-face dialogue that takes place between the patients and medical staff.  Even the physical layout of the hospital setting is designed to facilitate productive communique; nurses’ stations are usually centrally positioned, and open for all to observe. In addition, there are a cadre of directional signs to keep you on the right path.  Successful communication in hospitals is literally the life blood of the organization.  A misguided or inaccurate message can mean life or death in a hospital setting. 
The flow of communication is essential to success and the decision making process in any organization if they are seeking to excel at performing their missions, serving their customers and being the best in their industry. As demonstrated in the hospital environment, communication is an essential element in organizational culture.  Organizational culture, according to Professor of Communication at the University of Illinois, Marshall Scott Poole, “represents the linkages between the organizational situation and members’ cognitions, feelings and behaviors.”  Most important to organizational life, it affects job satisfaction and performance.  Political Scientist, James Q. Wilson defines it as a “persistent way of thinking about the central task of and human relationships within an organization.”  Hospitals have a
distinctive organizational climate that tends to uniquely provide opportunities for people to work in their strength.  It’s mission, to provide excellent care to patients is clear-cut; policies and procedures are meticulously documented; and personnel is afforded the opportunity to use their communication strengths at a high performing level.   

How does knowing and working in your strengths help enhance communications in an organization?  

In a previous article, “A Language to Excel”, I highlighted how the faculty at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) used StrengthsFinder® in their leadership programs to help students find a common language that enhances their leadership skills. It is one example of how StrengthsFinder® teaches that each of us has talents that are meant to be used and that we use these collective talents to meet life’s challenges. 
Achieving excellence in any area isn’t easy; especially in the area of communication.  Organizations which establish a foundation to maximize team performance have a distinct competitive advantage.  In my personal experience managing and working with teams, I have seen that the best way to succeed is to encourage all staff levels to identify and work in their talents. When one plays to these talents they become confident in their strengths and create an environment of focus and engagement. Individuals feel better because they are growing and developing and teams collectively elevate higher levels of innovation and creativity.  Organizations who promote and allow their teams to work in their talents and strengths are using this important key to success. 
Based on over 40 years studying human strengths, the Gallup organization created a language that identified 34 themes derived from multiple natural talents that naturally exist in individuals.  The development of these talents manifest strengths.  Most strengths are not rooted in just one talent, but two, three or more.  Using themes that overlap, helps you to contribute your best role in a variety of circumstances.  The interaction of themes is called, “theme dynamics”.  It is through these interactions that we draw from our talents to maximize our efforts in areas like communication.  For example, in the hospital scenario, let’s say that nurse Emily’s strongest talent is “Achiever” which naturally pushes her to get things done and to do more.   She also has “Learner” talents which drive her to master new skills that make her more effective in her work.  And, if she has “Strategic” talents included in her top themes, then she is always interested in knowing the options that the she can use to best communicate her messages.  While the “Communication” theme may not have been identified to be one of Emily’s top talents, she is using her primary talents to execute effectively in the area of communication which is key to being successful in her job.

Is communication in your organization consistent and effective?  

Using a strengths-based approach uniquely positions managers to build a strong communication network within their organizations.  There are multiple advantages to this method.   The first includes the formation of a common language that provides all team members with a consistent way to communicate among themselves.  This brings clarity and continuity in sharing information.  Also, teams that consistently work in their strengths are more confident and self-assured in their informational exchanges.  And finally, organizations that are operating in a strengths culture espouse their values to the constituents that they serve.  Communication is vastly enhanced when stakeholders clearly hear and understand the missions and goals of an organization when they are articulated definitively and confidently from members of the organization. When in the hospital, one takes great solace that any communication related to their specific case or that of a loved one is being executed accurately, effectively and timely.  It is imperative that the right information be communicated so that the best possible outcome is achieved.  In this setting, it is extremely important that those responsible for the medical care are working at maximum aptitude and efficiency.  When organizations communicate effectively, progress is made, employees stay engaged and service delivery is optimal.  Those that master communication systems by developing strengths-based, interdependent teams, where communication throughout the organization is at the forefront, consistent and effective, will succeed and prosper. 
Larry Hammond, Sr. – Certified StrengthsFinder Coach and Principal with V1H Consulting.  Find out more about strengths based workshops and training at