Question: What’s the one thing we do more than anything else, but we also do it less effectively than anything else?
Deloitte & Touche conducted a study that found communication was the best predictor of employee commitment. And commitment results in discretionary effort that drives results. So, to get better results, here are seven keys to crystal clear communication:
There are lots of things to communicate about. To ensure you are talking about what is most relevant to your team, answer these four questions for them:
- Where are we going? (Strategy)
- What are we doing to get there? (Plans)
- What can I do to contribute? (Roles)
- What is in it for me? (Rewards)
Ensure that you are answering these questions before communicating about other topics. When these questions are not answered people tend to fill in the blanks with their own assumptions, and their assumptions are typically worse than reality.
The same messages should come from your various communication channels and from all levels of leaders. Your team will sniff out inconsistency like a cat sniffing out a mouse. Provide your leaders speaking points and visual aids about new projects, organizational changes, company values and strategic direction to ensure consistency. Things will change, and that’s okay. Just ensure that everyone’s messages also change. If not, you will start to violate the third key.
It can also be challenging to decide what to communicate to our teams and what to withhold. It’s easy to say (usually to ourselves), “They don’t really need to know all that” or “My team won’t really understand” or “I don’t think they can handle that news right now.”
Remember this: Leaders who underestimate the intelligence of their employees generally overestimate their own. To the extent you can responsibly share information about your business (unless SEC regulations restrict you in certain situations) you build leadership credibility and a sense of ownership to make a difference.
Your communication channels might include: memo/email, video, Twitter, chat groups, newsletter, company Facebook page, town hall chats, training sessions, team celebrations, bulletin boards, running banners on PCs, video conferences, etc. Don’t go crazy adding channels just to add them. Select those that are perceived as most reliable. Keep it simple and stick with it!
Remember, the message is in the medium. So, if you are announcing an important new business unit, sending an email might be perceived as matter-of-fact and that the new business unit is not critical to the business. Alternatively, company-wide or departmental meetings with a presentation and opportunity for asking questions suggest to employees that the time, effort and preparation to hold these meetings is related to the importance of this new business unit.
Speed rules in today’s business. It is often the only competitive advantage that smaller businesses have over the 800-pound gorillas. So real-time updates, feedback and dialog are key. This also applies to the not so fun stuff. Don’t sweep the tough performance discussions under the rug. The issue won’t go away with time; it will only rear its head in uglier ways. Communicate in real-time — in good times and in bad.
Communicate downward, upward and horizontally. This means that listening is just as important as talking, if not more so. Asking questions is the most underutilized, yet most powerful, leadership tool. Excellent leaders listen at least 50 percent of the time. After we listen to peers and employees, we can more effectively communicate a message or idea that is more likely to be well-received.
In addition to scheduling formal meetings and communiques, budget five or ten extra minutes before a meeting to zig-zag your way to meetings, the restroom or lunch. Pop in on your team and ask them how you can help them, what their biggest frustrations are, what big idea they would like to work on, etc. These informal dialogs often yield rich insights.
Joseph Pulitzer (you know, the Pulitzer Prize guy) knew a few things about effective communication, and he reflected several of the seven keys when he said, “Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and above all, accurately so they will be guided by it.”
Apply the seven keys and you will not only communicate with crystal clarity, you will also more fully engage your team and drive better performance.