Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Alleged Importance of Communications

On every side you hear the cries of people claiming that communication is essential for the job market. If you don't believe me, Google it. But since I always supply some indication of support for my opinions, you can look at this Forbes article, where number one on the list is "Top Notch Communication Skills."

And TheHackerCIO agrees with Forbes! Communication Skills is crucial for project and career success.

Why, then, does the title to this article include the word "alleged?"

Because I seriously question the valuation companies give to communication skills. If it were high on their list, I would not attend meeting after meeting where I strained to puzzle out every word from a strong accent. I'm not a Xenophobe, by the way. I was quite happy to have good hard workers from foreign countries on my project. In the UK, I noted & discussed with my wife how it was the foreigners who stayed with me late into the night to get a presentation deliverable done for a tough deadline. The Brits went home. The Union Shop representative left exactly at quitting time (6pm).

For you Americans, that wasn't a slip. Yes, a lot of companies in the UK are Union Shops. Their technology professionals are unionized. And they have a Union Rep, to make sure that no exploitation of the working class -- if, indeed, programmers are the working class -- takes place! And the Union is the kind of place where Stalin is still viewed rather sympathetically. I'm pretty sure it would be easy to get a stirring defense of him out of some of the denizens of the Union facility. But we've gone on a rabbit trail here. It was fun, and TheHackerCIO likes to open up people's perspectives by hitting them with conditions in other places, so it was useful. But now we need to get back to the problem of communication.

As I said, I'm happy to have foreign workers on a project & I've had very positive experience with their work-ethic. But over the years I've found that poorer and poorer communicators have come into the work force. At present, I have to ask people to repeat themselves in virtually every meeting. The other day I was distance chatting with a foreign colleague. I was amazed to hear him complain about exactly the same thing! I can understand him at the 100% level, but he can't even understand most of his fellow countrymen!

This could not have happened if companies really valued communications. The proof of what you value lies in the results you achieve and tolerate.

Outsourcing, too, is an example of a wide-spread practice which impedes communications. I could list a half dozen reasons:
*  time zone differences
* cultural differences between differing countries
* language differences & accent problems
* corporate divisions resulting in company cultural differences
* lack of non-verbal clues
* inability to "just drop in" at someone's desk

I bet, if I tried I could come up with another dozen. Again, if companies *really* valued communications ability, they would avoid outsourcing like the plague. That is not what they do. There has been a slight pull-back in the management world. But it's mostly like a stupid child pulling his hand back from the stove after being burned for the twentieth time.

Just this year I overheard one client conversation about their outsourcing effort. With hundreds of cookie-cutter deliverables coming from the off-shore team, EVERY ONE was unusable! Just like what I've seen. But what is far more remarkable, is that this client's senior management team were *from* the country where the outsourcing took place. They visited the offshore team regularly. They were in constant contact and direct personal oversight, often in-person. Yet they were unable to avoid a debacle of this nature. That's because communications is hard. And any impediment AT ALL has to be stripped out of the way.

But that's assuming that you value ... and I do mean value ... *truly* value .... communications skills.

I Remain,


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