Food for thought about communications

Quite often of late and by many we have had opportunity to discuss the "communications skills" of Holy Mother the Catholic Church in its "official" voice.

I found this interesting entry at

Some of the language is a little less than dignified, but it sure does communicate.   I won’t edit it out.  

I’ll pick it up in medias res.

My emphases and comments.


Six secrets of global communication
By Jim Ylisela

We are humans dealing with horrific approval processes that destroy clarity and timeliness, and with executives who insist on abstract, jargon-filled “visions” rather than bold and direct leadership. Humans trying to connect with an audience through one good sentence, image or sound bite.

In our consulting work, we’re lucky enough to meet communicators from all over the world. And while every organization has its own distinct culture and peculiarities, the real secret is that they are all so very much the same.

Whether it’s an old-line American behemoth, a European startup or a new Middle East conglomerate, crap is the great uniter. Who’s got time to fight about politics when we’re so busy trying to keep the boss from going all mumble-mouth?   [Sound about right?]

Here’s a sampling of the crap that binds us together:

1. All organizations have initiatives that no one can comprehend. They have strategic pillars, three-legged stools, key drivers and abstract concepts that never quite sink in with employee audiences.

In the western world, these initiatives come about when executives hold an “off-site meeting,” which most employees associate with golf, lots of booze and expensive dinners at exotic resorts.

In South Africa, they do the same thing, but they call it a bosberaad, an Afrikaans term that describes bearded men going off to a wine farm, drinking themselves silly and deciding how to continue oppressing the masses “for their own good.” Sounds very familiar.

2. Their intranets blow. Nearly every organization has an intranet these days, and with a few noteworthy exceptions, they are poorly organized, difficult to navigate and stunningly boring.

“We can’t get anyone to go there, and no one can find anything when they do,” was the lament I heard from more than one conference-goer in London. Boy, if I had nickel for every time I’ve heard that one.   [Sounds like the Holy See’s website, how they deal with these modern tools of connectivity, and those of nearly every other diocese in the world.]

3. Their organizations are, dare I say it, “silo-ed.” Everyone gets caught up in their own work and their own departments, and nobody, but nobody, understands the big picture. This leads to confusion, wasted resources and, at times, people working at cross-purposes.

This is as true about communications as any other department. Despite all the good reasons to do so, internal and external communicators often never share information or tactics.

During a recent focus group with one of our clients, an engineer told me she didn’t realize she was working on the same project as a fellow employee until she talked to him—at home! They happen to be husband and wife.

That is some sexy pillow talk!

4. Executives are cut off. Employees want to hear from their leaders. They want to know the strategic direction of the company, but they also want to know that their ideas and suggestions are getting heard.  [In the case of the Holy See, I suspect the top has been cut off from the rest by a few of the folks in between.]

But the executives can’t seem to get out of their offices and just walk around. They never ask for ideas, only impose decisions. And then they wonder why people aren’t fired up about that goofy initiative.

5. Managers are even worse. They do talk with the employees who report to them, but not very well. They do a lousy job of communicating the big picture from the chiefs (if they even understand it themselves), and they do an even worse job of letting executives know how the rank-and-file thinks.

Most managers say they don’t have the time to communicate. What they really mean is that they don’t have time to sift through all the crap to find something meaningful (and believable) to share with their folks.

6. Organizations have way too much communication, poorly applied. Once upon a time, employees complained they didn’t get enough information and didn’t know what was going on. No longer. Now people scream about getting buried in information, most of it irrelevant.

They’re incensed by e-mail, have given up on the intranet and find nothing relevant in print.

How much of this list applies to your organization? Congratulations. You are a true citizen of the world.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. “They’re incensed by e-mail, have given up on the intranet”

    Sounds about right

    “find nothing relevant in print.”

    Our Diocesan newspaper

    This is why we need you Father and others like you, yes, even Fr Longnecker ;>)

  2. tertullian says:

    This story,and Father Z’s comments, begs the question: How different will the Catholic church be after we receive a tech-savvy Pope? I (presumptuously)assume the Holy Father doesn’t have a laptop with wireless connectivity to provide independent contact with the world beyond the Vatican gates,but that day will come.
    Then what?

  3. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    How much of this list applies to your organization? Congratulations. You are a true citizen of the world.

    “My kingdom is not of this world…” Uh oh.

  4. John Penta says:

    I’m not sure that could happen, Tertullian, until the age of the Pope dips below 60 – no offense to my elders, but there are few in the over-60 age bracket who are really conversant with technology.

  5. Cygnus says:

    If I had a nickel for every parish website on which I had to dig through pages and pages just to find the parish Mass schedule . . .

  6. John Fannon says:

    Two useful terms that I picked up years ago are ‘rice bowls’ and ‘stovepipes’. The bigger the organisation, the quicker that these emerge. Ricebowling is akin to empire building; create some sort of bureaucratical niche task (it is best best if it looks superficially useful) and persuade management that all initiatives have to pass through your office. You are then in a job for life. Stove-piping – the same as silo-ing; don’t talk to anyone else, you might find that they have done it before, and you will have to redefine your own job.

    From time to time, there is a radical reorganisation to smash the rice bowls and knock down the stove pipes. But they always get recreated. It’s a question of human nature

    It’s fun to spot these in all types of organisations

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