Is Inconsistency the Hallmark of a Small Company? Or is Consistency The Enemy of Real Communication?

Much has been written of late about customer centricity and mass customisation as growth trends in the business world. But while those concepts seem to focus on individual and varied (and therefore inconsistent) needs, the question of whether consistency is still central to the growth and functioning of large organisations remains with us.

In some organisations, particularly those that attract technical or artistic talent, there is often a resistance to process or as its opponents more frequently call it, “bureaucracy”. Companies which promise less of such “interference” can often attract talent away from more rigorous (or, perhaps, more rigid) competitors, who then reinforce the burgeoning resistance.

Such resistance becomes problematic when these organisations attempt to grow. Growth by acquisition becomes difficult, as the acquisition of a more organised company may force the acquirer either to adopt the acquired company’s systems and processes, effectively resulting in a reverse takeover with serious personnel as well as procedural implications, or to deal with the acquisition as a stand-alone division without much benefit from financial or social synergy.

It also becomes problematic when organisations aim to grow organically. Operating practices centred around unwritten precedents exclude new or uninitiated staff. Reinvention of common tasks becomes mistaken for innovation. Leaders who move between locations have to spend an inordinate time learning “how we do things here”. Scalability becomes impossible in the face of this kind of inconsistency.

To be sure, from a communication perspective, it is pivotal not to place all on the altar of consistency. In a previous role – an SAP implementation within a massive US-based conglomerate, there was intense pressure to make all communication consistent, at the cost of exposing audiences to irrelevant or insufficiently complete information. The “Top-Down-One-Size-Fits-All” approach to internal communication takes consistency to a brutal extreme, stifling dialogue and muffling any real employee sense of participation or influence.

Perhaps a healthy perspective is to look at the way cars are built these days–with a number of large automakers building common, consistent platforms, and where the customer-specific customisation is integrated with the consistent platform. What is consistent are certain parameters (size and shape and basic structure) and what is customised is what the customer genuinely values (comfort and safety features, brand name, alignment with local legislation).

Similarly, consistent communication processes and structures–combined with customised content and appropriate, real tone–offer a scalable approach that in turn, supports the business as it attempts to become more scalable as well. Consistency is not the enemy of reality–it is a platform for growth.

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2 Comments

  1. Mike,

    good question. I find your “solution” to the balance of rigid structures/processes (“consistency”) and individual communication tempting. Are the “certain parameters” which remain constant – in the automotive example size, shape and basic structure – comparable to principles, values and processes in communications? Messages and channels are then the customization?

    Best,
    Alexander

    Reply
    • Good surmise, Alexander. But I’d actually go farther to say that any one of those things that remains constant – principles, values, processes – or even other things like regular publication dates, fixed formats and common practices like avoiding the unattributed use of “we” is helpful in some respect. Moreover, a strong background of consistency gives the selective use of inconsistency an appropriate surprise factor.

      Content is the big place for customising – the imperative of relevance demands it anyways. But other things can be customised within consistent formats and contexts – tone, use of visual versus written messaging, word choice, language choice, and above all, the selection of sources and voices who are credible with the target audience as well as with the Corporate Comms department.

      Reply

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