Ever notice that managers and others are quick to blame “communication” when the problem is poor performance or a dismal failure to understand, meet, or manage expectations? The common refrain is “we’re just not getting our message out!” Why does this occur? Often because those in charge refuse to accept responsibility for actions or for their failure to accurately read the tea leaves. So they kill the messenger. Experience shows a few wicked questions can help create both focus and alignment. The Triangle of Truth seeks answers to three questions: Is this an Expectations Gap wherein client/employee expectations are simply unrealistic and no level of performance will make folks happy? If so, expectation gaps can be addressed by improving communication so that expectations are moderated by reality. Which means that poor communication is likely the cause of ballooning expectations in the first place.
But you can also have a Performance Gap where expectations are reasonable enough, but performance is simply not good enough due to a variety of factors ranging from workplace and supply issues to poor leadership and management and employee engagement. All the communication, spin-doctoring, and snappy re-branding in the world won’t fix a performance gap when the expectations are reasonable but performance is unacceptably sub-par.
And then we have the ubiquitous Communication Gap. It can rear its head when performance is not only meeting expectations but exceeding it–and yet it’s the biggest secret in town. In this case you are in fact “not getting our message out.” I’ve found that the gaps are not always well understood and that alignment of expectations, performance, and communication is often very off-kilter. For one thing, communication departments are usually lower on the pecking order than strategic planning and executive performance so the “communications people” make easy targets. And of course, how many senior managers are willing to admit that organizational performance isn’t meeting expectations due to their own personal performance?