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Poor Internal Communications: Why Many Leaders Lose Touch

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10/23/2014

Failure of internal communications is the main reason leadership teams lose touch with employees, according to a survey of more than 300 executives and managers conducted by AMA Enterprise, a division of American Management Association.

One-third of those surveyed reported that their organization’s senior team operates within a “leadership bubble” most of the time, while half indicated it occurs at least on occasion. Just 18% said their leadership has not, to some degree, lost touch with the organization.

Moreover, three-quarters of respondents said they had worked at an organization where the leadership team seemed to carry on as though it was stuck in a bubble.

When asked the main cause of the problem a majority of the respondents cited poor internal communications or the corporate culture.

32%    Failure of internal communications
28%    The corporate culture
23%    Too many “yes” men and women advising the CEO
16%    Personality of the CEO

“Interestingly, most respondents did not use the survey to blame the CEO,” observed Sam Davis, Vice President for AMA Enterprise, which provides organizations with assessment, measurement and tailored training solutions. “In fact, only 16% said the problem was due to the CEO’s personality. The survey found a consensus that the challenge is more systemic and the bubble won’t necessarily go away just because there’s a change of leadership.”

“A key dimension of the ‘leadership bubble’ metaphor,” Davis said, “is not so much that employees don’t think top management knows what’s going on. It’s that the leadership doesn’t even realize it has lost touch. Indeed, asked if they’ve experienced out of touch leadership, 90% of respondents said the leadership team was usually or sometimes not even aware of the problem.”

The bottom line, according to Davis, is that whether the leadership bubble is a reality or merely perceived as such, employees tend to feel that the senior team hasn’t paid attention to their concerns or to what’s really going. “And when leaders appear cut off from the everyday reality of the workplace their plans and edicts won’t be taken seriously. Leaders will lose credibility…and that’s not a good place from which to operate.”

Davis advised senior management to examine their corporate culture and how they communicate with employees. “After all, effective communication includes listening. Sound organizational relationships develop through continuous two-way communication. Senior leaders who find themselves surrounded with ‘yes’ people may not be open to feedback.”

The survey was conducted March 8 to March 24, 2014. Respondents consisted of 316 senior-level business, human resources, management professionals and employee contacts drawn from the AMA database of contacts.

With more than 90 years’ experience and headquartered in New York, American Management Association is a global leader of comprehensive talent development. AMA Enterprise, a specialized division of AMA dedicated to building corporate and government training solutions, transforms enterprise-wide talent to fuel a culture of innovation, high performance and optimal business results.