“If your people aren’t informed by you, there’s a good chance they’ll be misinformed by others.”
From the book, “Powerful – Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord, via the Leading Blog (see full article here)
“Where did we go wrong?”.
I love Patty’s quote. It tells a truth that so many organizations and leaders seem to overlook in the rush to get things done. When the results don’t measure up we examine every possible failure point EXCEPT communication. Ever notice that? We pour over the data, the process, the people, the plan – but rarely do we really dive into the flow of information or how and why a breakdown occurred so we can fix it.
“Why don’t people on front line understand how important this is?”
Too often our communication is disjointed, unclear and littered with inconsistencies. Words are filtered through layers of bureaucracy so that the intended message is lost in translation or never arrives at all. Efforts to limit, control or manage information create unintended consequences and chaos that consume far more energy than would have been necessary to communicate effectively.
“What do you mean you didn’t know?”
It makes no sense. It clearly harms everyone involved. And yet we do it anyway. So often communication is treated as a luxury, not a priority. We don’t plan for communication, train for communication, measure communication or expect communication. It just needs to happen. As if by magic. But it never does.
“How could they be confused, I thought we talked about this?”
We deliver information like social media. Here are a million potential pieces of information to sift through. Some good, some bad. Now see if you can sort out the real story. If you do happen to figure it out, don’t worry, it will change again in the next 5 minutes. In that context what can we truly expect? They will either tune out completely or select only what supports their agenda or beliefs. Sound familiar?
“I thought this was a good thing, why is everyone so negative?”
Where there is a void of information, people fill it with whatever they can find and usually not in the way we would hope. If we provide only bits and pieces to work with, (especially in an environment of uncertainty which is most often the case), they will generally choose the bits that form the most unpleasant version of what they worry might be happening.
“Didn’t we have their buy-in?”
Nodding heads and silence do not equal agreement. Yet, so often we leave meetings with exactly that expectation. Senior leaders are especially susceptible to this illusion. Where two-way communication is invited in words but discouraged by actions the outcome is apathy. Whatever the message it will be simply be added to the pile and acted on only until a new one is added to the top, greatly diluting the value.
What’s the answer?
Yes, this was a bit of a rant. I’m kind of passionate about this topic as a result of not a few painful experiences.
Yes, communication is complicated and there are more layers than I can discuss in a single blog post.
So, here is my listicle of 1 amazing way you can change your communication to radically improve organizational performance and employee engagement. How’s that for clickbait?
- Make communication THE priority.
Not a nice-to-do,
If you have the time.
Not the lever,
It’s the engine.
It takes you where you want to go.
Build it into every level of the organization and into every project or process you create.
If you are not in an organization that prioritizes communication you can still make it your priority to keep your team as informed as much as possible. They will greatly appreciate the effort. Test this and see if it isn’t the case. Even 5-10 minutes a day of two-way communication can make a huge difference.
Too much to do? How many things on your to-do list are a result of poor communication vs. plans for proactive communication?
Too busy firefighting? Ask any first-responder how much they train on communication and the role it plays in a successful outcome.
Struggle with speaking or communicating? Seek training or a mentor who can help you improve the way you prepare and deliver your message.
Worried about over-communicating? Almost never happens. Don’t worry.
If you understand the value of communication and make it a priority, it will positively impact everything else you do.
Your people will be informed, the only question is by whom?