Organizational Communication, Ten percent Never Get the Word, One-Half of Information is Wrong; Seven Rules for Communication



Gossip, by Norman Rockwell

Ten percent never get the word, Army cliche.

Alert Readers know Your Business Blogger(R) teaches management at the local college and trains leaders to develop teams that can take appropriate action in the absence of orders.


Most of the time the managers are more concerned with having the direct reports do what they are told. Simply to do what the organization needs: compliance to directives.

The CEO’s directives get lost in translation.

Norman Rockwell’s painting, Gossip illustrates the chain of custody of information as data moves between people. As the reader can well imagine, the tidbit of info at the start of the exchange is very different from the last transaction. Note that the lady who starts the linkage is also seen in the final conversation.

From her expression, The Alert Manager will sympathize: The direction that was first given is not what s/he may now be hearing down deep in the corporate hierarchy.

The Manager’s initial order was not what was received by the troops in the trenches.

This is why managers make and deserve so much money– dealing with the imperfection of the crooked timber of the human condition.

Even technology has this challenge seen in dropped cell phone calls and packet loss on the internet. However, technology can be improved much faster than human interaction. This is why we need higher education and continuous improvement (which is, in fact, assured continuous employment for consultants, thankyouverymuch).


IBM recently ran a print advertisement on a study on data. It showed that some 43 percent of the information on which managers base decisions is wrong. [citation needed] IBM was correctly selling the pain of working with incorrect information.

So. Managers, ten percent of your team will never get your commands.

Data will be garbled in transmission.

The information will be wrong.

The team will execute the directive wrong.

And the manager will make the wrong decision about half the time.

How on earth can organizations get anything right…?

Let us return to IBM (an unpaid endorsement).


From IBM, click to enlarge,

It’s 1940 and these 22 young men are operating an electric accounting machine installation somewhere in IBM. We know it’s an IBM installation because visible in the photograph are an IBM job time recorder (for logging the start and end of various accounting jobs), one photo of Thomas J. Watson, Sr. and five THINK signs. Can you spot them?

So what do managers — even today — want most from their teams, including outside vendors?

To simply,



How to get people, indeed the organizational organism, to think, to anticipate, to learn?

To communicate effectively?

Following are seven rules for effective (note: not efficient) communication:

1) A real Effective exchange of information is done in real life in real time. IRL. A direct conversation is Effective. See indirect Gossip above. This is not efficient: In-person is effective.

(The Alert Manager is Effective; s/he may not be Efficient)

2) An Efficient exchange of information can be done on email. But it may not be Effective. Imagine the errors and misunderstandings. Fast, but wrong, because,

3) 85 percent of all communication is non-verbal.

4) Communication is a sales pitch. In every transaction in office politics someone is selling and someone is buying. The highest close rate in sales is face-to-face.

5) If an in-person-pitch is not possible, write out the missive and have it hand-delivered by a trusted messenger.

6) Teach Completed Staff Work emphasizing the Commander’s Intent.

7) Keep it short. Winston Churchill and Proctor & Gamble are legendary for keeping memos to a single page. War and Marketing. Sometimes hard to tell the difference… Think Napoleon’s Corporal.*


Finally, a short story from our British brethren on communication across large organizations.

Friend, the story is told of a Colonel who issued the following statement to his executive secretary:

Tomorrow evening at approximately 2000 hours Haley’s Comet will be visible in this area, an event that occurs only once every 75 years.

Have the men fall out in fatigues, and I will explain this rare phenomenon to them. In case of rain, we will not be able to see anything, so assemble the men in the theatre and I will show them films of it.”

The executive secretary passed the order on to the company commander: “By order of the Colonel, tomorrow at 2000 hours, Haley’s Comet will appear above the battalion area.

If it rains, fall the men out in fatigues, then march to the theatre where the rare phenomenon will take place, something which happens only once every 75 years.”

The company commander passed the order on to the lieutenant: “By order of the Colonel in fatigues at 2000 hours tomorrow evening, the phenomenal Haley’s Comet will appear in the theatre.

In case of rain in the battalion area, the Colonel will give another order, something which happens once every 75 years.”

The lieutenant told the sergeant: “Tomorrow at 2000 hours, the Colonel in fatigues will appear in the theater with the phenomenal Haley’s Comet, something that happens every 75 years.

If it rains, the Colonel will order the comet into the battalion area.”

The sergeant gave the following orders to the squad: “When it rains tomorrow at 2000 hours, the phenomenal 75-year-old General Haley, accompanied by the Colonel, will drive his Comet through the battalion area in fatigues.”

From Steve Myers, and


Thank you (foot)notes:

* Napoleon’s Corporal, is described by James (Jim) E. Hall, cited in his Keynote Address to the 7th International IEEE Conference on Intelligent Transportation Systems, Monday, October 4, 2004. Mr. Hall was President Clinton’s Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board.

[T]he tale of Napoleon’s corporal. The story goes that Napoleon would always have a corporal at hand who was judged to be the stupidest man in his entire army. Every time Napoleon wanted to issue an order, he would first read it to the corporal and then have him explain what he’d just heard. Napoleon would not issue the order to his entire army until his dumb corporal could understand it. The point is that we must never underestimate the human ability to misunderstand and to fail, for accidents to happen.

I don’t need to remind you that 80 percent to 90 percent of all transportation tragedies are the result of human error.

Aviation maintenance documents are written at a third-grade level – not because mechanics are illiterate – but to ensure that the instructions can be easily understood. However, the same approach is not being used in regard to the computer systems designed to fly the planes. As a result, we are seeing more and more aviation accidents caused by a failure in the interface between human and computer.

Be sure to follow Your Business Blogger(R) and Charmaine on Twitter: @JackYoest and @CharmaineYoest

If the sales pitch/communique is important, show up in person. There are three events in life that demand, command a person’s presence:




Jack and Charmaine also blog at Reasoned Audacity and at Management Training of DC, LLC.


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