BY BRETT TYSON
Editor’s note: This is the second part in a three-column series outlining ways to improve your company’s communication methods. The first article ran in our May 2016 issue and focused on implementing mechanisms to correct the issues inhibiting clear internal communication.
Having covered the importance of communication mechanisms, you now know that they not only play an integral role in moving employees toward their best work but also position your organization as a high-performing one.
But just because you’ve established these mechanisms doesn’t mean you can neglect them. You will still need to guide your conversations based on three criteria:
1. Audience and content
3. Emotional impact
If not handled correctly, these areas can quickly lead to demoralized employees and work against both you and your organizational goals and objectives.
Audience and Content
This is an admittedly difficult topic to navigate, as each business owner and manager subscribes to different philosophies when it comes to sharing information—and the employees they choose to share it with. I have seen this “information distribution” play out both positively and negatively in organizations based on very specific decisions by management.
Employees appreciate being kept in the loop and it often helps them do a better job; although not every tidbit about new customers, personnel issues, or sensitive financial development should be announced to your entire staff, most other information can be shared. It may seem counterintuitive to accept this as a good idea when you’re worried about potential damage down the road, but you need to honestly assess the situation before deciding between keeping something to yourself or keeping your employees updated. Just remember that spending a lot of effort to build walls that separate everyone but management from the core of the business will often create a disconnected staff who no longer actively work toward the company’s future.
In short, you need to trust your employees as connected participants. When you demonstrate that confidence, they will adapt to that role so everyone can move forward together—and you can determine the best way to share your vision of where the company’s going and how you plan to get there.
If you’re unsure of how to start, you can modify the following steps to suit your needs and company structure:
1. Establish your vision and mission statement: Begin by discussing your long-term vision with senior team members, and your plan for getting there.
2. Set strategic goals: Start with department heads, then put in place aims for each sub-department and individual goals for their managers. Ensure that everyone is working to support the overall department and executive missions.
3. Communicate goals clearly: Make sure everyone understands their roles, objectives, and deadlines.
4. Measure and discuss goals: With the appropriate staff and utilizing the communication mechanism previously discussed, assess your goals with quarterly reviews. This will let you create new ones and adjust those that are unmet, unreasonable, or outdated.
This process—especially the first two—should also initiate conversations that will yield the content you’ll want to focus on. You can also employ the SMART Model to help each team member take ownership of broader companywide goals by breaking them into Specific, Memorable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound plans of attack. An example would look something like this:
• Broad goal: I want to grow my business.
• SMART goal: I will acquire three new clients within two months by asking for referrals, launching a social media marketing campaign, and networking with local businesses. This will allow me to grow my business and increase my revenue.
• Specific: I will acquire three new clients.
• Measurable: I will measure my progress by how many new clients I bring on while maintaining my current client base.
• Attainable: I will ask my customers for referrals, launch a social media campaign, and network.
• Relevant: Adding clients to my business will grow my business and increase revenue.
• Time-based: I will have three new clients within two months.
There is a big difference in the scope and effectiveness of SMART goals and broad goals. Ask your team to list their goals and then have them rewrite them in SMART goal format. It will inspire great conversation and I guarantee it will refocus the team’s approach to working toward the company’s mission.
The next content item you’ll want to focus on is operational performance. How did we do yesterday? How are we doing today? How are we going to do tomorrow? You must have the mechanisms in place to give you this information so that you can answer the questions above. See how in-depth your answer to each question is, then ask yourself if you think the rest of the team shares your perspective. Primary content topics also include housekeeping issue and decision-making conversations—though, in general, there are only three types of discussions about decisions that should occur within your staff communications:
1. “Let’s put a decision on the table: I am here to gather your input and suggestions to bring to another team that will be making the final decision based on your and other groups’ input.” (We seek your input but you are not the decision-maker)
2. “There is a decision on the table: I am here to discuss it with you so that, as a team, we can come to a decision to manage the issue.” (We seek your input, as you are the decision-maker)
3. “A decision has been made: This is why we didn’t seek your input, and this is what’s happening.” (We did not seek your input, as you were not the decision-maker)
The most important thing here is that your staff understands what kind of conversation you are having with them. You must make these distinctions clear so no one is confused about the impact of their input: Tell them exactly how their input influences and contributes to the ultimate decision. Confusion breeds dissention but clarity builds cohesion.
Not every topic is as important and critical as it may seem at first. You are going to have to filter out less urgent issues and decide when and how they should be dealt with. Timing the use of your communication mechanisms enables you to interact with everyone in the organization while still allowing employees to do their jobs unhindered.
Below is a helpful timing matrix that I have used in the past. This will help you decide how important an issue is and how quickly it needs to be dealt with by ranking it, so that your team makes proactive choices rather than follows reactive impulses.
This tool will ensure that all team members (including yourself) respond calmly, appropriately, and effectively to time-sensitive and urgent communication demands.
We must remember that the goal of improved communication is to empower our employees to present their best work. With this in mind, it is essential that we maintain strict rules of engagement in all our communication mechanisms and that others follow them. You will need to be leader in this regard, serving as a role model demonstrating the behavior to your organization.
We’ve all seen tension and stress unleashed in the workplace through yelling, swearing, sarcasm, bullying, passive aggression, intimidation, ostracizing others—the list goes on and on. If you are guilty of these actions, stop; it’s important to also recognize and end these types of behavior between managers and staff as well as between employees. These behaviors create an unsafe environment that will only hinder your employees from realizing their potential: I have seen these behaviors play out in organizations and nothing positive ever comes from them. But I have also been a key player in establishing new cultures within organizations that did exhibit some of these habits. The primary vehicle to improvement was a strict “no more” rule, and following up with every incident. The results were that each culture shifted away from their previously rampant hostility, allowing employees who were no longer hindered by it to finally take the risks that helped them grow. This kind of about-face relies on a commitment from you, but is more than worth the effort.
Putting It All Together
Now that you understand why audience and content, timing, and emotional impact are the three main categories affecting communication mechanisms within organizations, you need to rely on an organizational structure that optimizes the impact of your shared messages and goals. Delegate communication responsibilities: As the CEO, empower your senior management—such as operations managers, finance managers, HR managers—to deliver your message to the department supervisors they oversee, who can then convey that information to the rest of the staff.
My advice would be to set up a meeting system based on your company’s hierarchy and flow of information. The structure is what’s most important to ensure that information, problems, and decisions are relegated to their appropriate mechanisms, putting an end to employees picking up the phone and dashing off emails whenever an issue arises. Those kinds of reactive communication only ties up your organization and creates an emotionally unstable environment where employees cannot thrive.
Effectively utilizing your communication mechanism model will give you the ability to do so much more with your resources, and your teams will thrive in this environment because there will be a predictable and supportive culture to grow and do well in. [CD0616]