Communication skills – whether it’s verbal, face-to-face interactions, conference calls or emails, leaders today spend 80% of their time communicating, according to recent studies. In fact, communication is so integral to the job that, if you’ll forgive the pun, it almost goes without saying. Every professional is expected to be able to communicate effectively. We all need to influence, inspire and collaborate productively to meet internal and external client needs, get things done, and achieve business goals.

The problem

But a quick look at the statistics reveals that this expectation isn’t matching up with reality. In fact, 86% of employees and executives surveyed by Salesforce.com cited a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures. What’s more, according to a survey by Adecco, 44% of senior executives believe employees lack necessary “soft skills” like communication, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration.

The price

These so-called soft skills often get back-burner treatment. Especially when we’re trying to get people ramped up quickly and able to master the technical aspects of the job. Ultimately, organizations are paying the price for this gap in development around communication skills. And it’s a price that can quickly add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars or more every year.

According to an SIS International Research study, the cumulative cost per year due to productivity losses resulting from communication barriers is more than $26,000 per employee. Not only that, but the study also found that a business with 100 employees spends an average downtime of 17 hours a week clarifying communications. Translated into dollars, that’s more than $530,000 a year.

As the authors point out, “Consider that 40% of the working week is lost to these communications inefficiencies. Most importantly, the majority of respondents are in customer-facing and decision-making roles. The negative impact on critical business processes, new revenue, and customer satisfaction becomes painfully apparent.”

The need for change

With more business professionals having to collaborate, influence and inspire diverse groups of people both inside and outside the organization, the need to sharpen this soft skill has never been more urgent. If organizations don’t take action, communication barriers and breakdowns could threaten productivity, engagement and retention, customer loyalty, profitability and more.

Many top-level leaders are recognizing that there is a need for communications training. 89% of executives in the Adecco survey said that training programs could help bridge the communication and collaboration skills gap. However, the problem persists. Organizations not only need to get serious about addressing the skills gap; they also need to make sure they’re investing their time and money in development efforts that will really pay off.

In today’s workplace, productivity and communication go hand in hand. Technology offers more ways to opt-out of or side-step human interaction.  So leaders and professionals will have to develop an even deeper level of sophistication in the way they connect, persuade and motivate others to action.

The bottom line is, this isn’t a “soft” issue; it’s a real business challenge with significant business consequences.

By Rod Way