“Nobody ever tells me anything.”
“We need to improve communications around here.”
“Our biggest problem is we don’t communicate.”
“Our leaders treat us like mushrooms — they keep us in the dark and feed us lots of… (manure).”
Does your organization need to improve communications? Would you like to get more texts, posts, or e-mails?
Almost every hand goes up when I ask that first question in a workshop. Rarely do any hands go up when I ask the second question. But what do most managers do when they hear people in their organization want more communication? They increase texts, posts, and e-mails.
Are you over-informing and under communicating? Many managers confuse information and communication:
|Speaks to the head||Engages the heart|
|Quick and efficient||Reinforces mutual interests|
|Impersonal and tone-deaf||Builds emotional/personal connections|
|Convinces with facts and analysis||Inspires with stories and examples|
|Easy to send negative/angry messages||Addresses tough issues with courageous conversations|
|Broadcast to large groups||Strengthens teamwork and engagement|
|Provides background and updates||Builds involvement and ownership|
Information Technology is critical today. But too often, it’s dehumanizing. We need both IT/E-Tools and emotional connection/communication. Like management processes and people leadership, it’s about balance.
A Few Communication Pathways and Principles
- Get out and talk to people. Strong emotional connections/communications are two-way conversations. This is vital during times of major change. Fill your conversations with imagery, stories, and metaphors. Talk with people through one-on-one discussions, meetings, and group discussions.
- Continually connect your organizational purpose to the hearts of people your organization is serving. Bring in their stories and examples. Bring them live into your meetings, calls, conferences, videos, etc., to share how what you do/make has helped them.
- Build a repertoire of teachable stories. Collect and catalogue the best examples of your organization’s key principles in action. Circulate those stories inside and outside your organization through social/mainstream media (where appropriate). Write up collections of case studies illustrating tough decisions, trade-offs, outstanding performance, dealing effectively with changes, etc. Embed the stories in training, orientations, and leadership team communications, and so on.
- Incorporate storytelling into your meetings. Devote a section (usually best at the start of the meeting) to having participants relate examples of successful change, values-based decision-making, heroic performance, etc. Capture those stories for your repertoire.
- Develop a strong cause and case for change. Make it “logic on fire” that appeals to the head and the heart. Speak in their terms of experience and what’s in it for them. Connect to your organization’s values and past successes.
- Work with your leadership team to agree on your major talking points. Your key messages start from the core of your desired culture; where you’re going, what you believe in, and why you exist. This provides the foundation for your strategies, priorities, changes, etc.
- Regularly get teams together to review, refocus, and reenergize. Find ways to condense information dumps/updates so you can truly communicate — talk to, not at, each other.
- Develop highly visible scoreboards and continuous updates on progress toward team and organizational goals.
- Share key performance metrics (including “confidential” financial, and operating data) with everyone in your organization. Treat people like full-fledged business partners, and they’ll act that way.
- When you’re sick of repeating the same messages is about the time that people in your organization are just starting to hear you. First, they didn’t understand. Then they didn’t believe. If you stop repeating yourself now, they’ll conclude that you weren’t serious after all.
- Reward and thank people who bring you bad news before it’s festered into a catastrophe.
- Build continuous feedback loops from your customers and internal/external partners on your communication systems and practices. Are they clogged or working well? What others could you be using?
From their research with people in more than 100 companies, Harvard professor, Boris Groysberg, and communications consultant, Michael Slind declare that Leadership is a Conversation. “Traditional corporate communication must give way to a process that is more dynamic and more sophisticated. Most important, that process must be conversational [their emphasis].”
Managers talk at people; leaders talk with people. How’s your information-communication balance? How do you know?