Let’s face it: just about every organization out there is full of opportunities to improve communication. The only real difference between them is that some realize it, and some don’t. For every organization that has acknowledged the issue and is actively working on it, there are many more that either have a case of “deer in the headlights” or are in full-blown denial.
If you belong to an organization that realizes it has opportunities in effective communication and you are willing to be part of the solution, I have a few suggestions that you would be wise to take into consideration. Keep in mind, no one is perfect, and you will not implement all of these tips flawlessly the first—or second or third—time. I was not born as an expert communicator, so don’t make yourself wrong for not knowing it all already. In fact, the only reason I can share these tips is that I graduated with honors from the School of Hard Knocks, made a lot of boneheaded mistakes, and figured out how to do things the wrong way many times. Luckily, I lived to tell the tale so you won’t have to do the same.
Before I get into my specific suggestions, I’d like you to try on some of the insights I’ve gleaned from my experience, and see if they apply to yours as well:
· Inadequate communication in an organization is always an indication of inadequate commitment. When we care enough about making sure people have the information they need, we figure out how to communicate. When we don’t care, we don’t bother.
· “I don’t know where to start” may be where you are, but you can’t stay there! If you don’t know where to start, the only thing to do is find out! And if you don’t know how to find out, then find out how! Start somewhere. Anywhere!
· Communication skills are important, but there are many other factors that must be taken into account when it comes to the results and morale of an organization. For instance, if integrity is lacking, no amount of communication skills will be able to make up for it.
· Communication is not a one-way street. It requires interest and effort on both sides. Both parties must accept the responsibility to either request and intentionally receive the communication, or provide and ensure communication has been received as it was intended. If one or both parties refuse to do this, there are bigger issues at work.
· The best starting point for fostering effective communication in an organization is to role model the behaviors yourself. This is true no matter where you are on the organizational chart. Be the transformation that you want to see, and others will follow.
· Communication must be receiver-based, not sender-based. It doesn’t matter how much communication you are putting out there, and how awesome you think your message is. If it is not being received as intended, it is your responsibility to make adjustments to get your message across more effectively. As I mention in my Culture Transformation Guide, this is especially true if you are a leader.
· There is no finish line. Going for overnight perfection will only result in disappointment and frustration. It may take time for people in the organization to adopt these new behaviors, especially if they have been burned by similar “initiatives of the month” in the past. Remain committed to the process, and the results will come eventually.
Provided you are willing to entertain the above, if you are truly serious about putting an end to the overwhelm and confusion caused by poor communication in your organization, you need to devise your strategy based on the needs of those requiring or requesting the communication. I’m not suggesting a long and drawn-out process of surveying people to have them tell you what you already know, or having strategic planning meetings that end in analysis paralysis. I’m talking about an exercise that you can personally go through in 30 minutes that serves two primary purposes: figuring out how to speak your people’s “language” by communicating in a way they find most effective, and deciding on a few high leverage changes you can implement to move toward adopting that language.
Find out how and when people want to be communicated to, and what specific information they are asking for, and then figure out what steps to can take to make it happen. For example, let’s say people prefer to have in-person meetings rather than email blasts that they are currently receiving, the most obvious next step would be scheduling regular informative meetings, perhaps the first of which would involve asking people what information would be most helpful to them and by when they would like it to be communicated. I would encourage you to begin implementing your ideas immediately. Don’t wait for the beginning of the month or until you are 100% sure you’re going to get it right. Get started and perfect it as you go.
To guide your thinking, I suggest you examine the following factors and be intentional about making decisions on how to change your approach to communication:
Motive – Before you do anything else, check your motivation for improving communication. Is it just because you want to get something from people, or that you want to better serve others? Although everyone, including you, will be the beneficiary of more effective communication, your main motive cannot be about personal gain. For one thing, most people can smell that a mile away, and your efforts will probably get nowhere. Even if they do, if it is all about what you’re getting out of it, you will give up when it gets hard. If you are motivated by a greater purpose in terms of the difference it will make in the lives of others, then you’ll be more likely to hang in there when the going gets tough, and more likely to reach a successful outcome.
Relevance – This is the most fundamental factor in communication. We live in a world where we are inundated with an abundance of information and we are forced to constantly make choices about what to focus on and what to ignore. The cornerstone of productive communication is to understand what information is relevant and helpful and make sure it is delivered in the most timely and effective fashion. On the giving side, it is your responsibility to provide information that your audience finds relevant and useful, lest they tune you out as just part of the noise. On the receiving end of communication, your responsibility is to assist others in figuring out what information is relevant to you and how best they can communicate it to you. Is the information you are sharing relevant and helpful to the people you are communicating with? Are you communicating what information you need from others? If the answer to either of these is “no,” then you have serious work to do.
Timeliness – The next question to ask yourself is, “When do people need to have the information that is important to them?” If you know the answer, your task is to act on it. If you don’t know the answer, your task is to find out! I’d encourage you to be intentional about the kind of information that needs to be delivered on a regular basis and establish a cadence where people can count on receiving that information regularly. The frequency is up to you, based on your understanding of their preferences, but whatever you decide to do, do it consistently. In addition to the formal mechanisms you set up, make it a point to share information on a spontaneous and as-needed basis.
Easy Access – Another important consideration is to identify the point of use that relevant information should be delivered to, such that people have the right information at the right time and in the right context. What makes the information easier to access for those who need it? Should the information be placed on a bulletin board or posted on the company intranet site? Should it be sent via email or text message? This will depend on how in tune you are with the preference of those requesting the communication. You may have the timing and content of the message down, but if no one knows where to find it or how to access it, then nothing else matters.
Push or Pull – No matter how effectively you anticipate and meet the communication needs of the organization, it is essential to make provisions for sharing information on a “pull” basis. In other words, there must be mechanisms put in place for people to voice their needs for information or make it known that they are not getting the information they need, so you can respond to those needs and close the gaps that you had not previously anticipated. The more opportunities and motivation you can provide for those on the receiving end to request the information they would find most effective, the more serious progress you will make towards improving your organization’s communication. This way, even if the leadership team is not sure what steps to take to meet the needs of their people, their people will let it be known and no time and effort will be wasted on frustration and miscommunication.
Misinformation Control – In the absence of accurate information and, in some cases, even when there is an abundance of information available, misinformation can spread. The key preventing this is to have mechanisms by which you become aware of the misinformation, why people are buying into it, and actively provide the accurate information in response. Having an open, transparent process whereby people can voice their concerns, ask questions and receive clarity from leadership is one of the best ways to achieve this. Silence, confusion, and lack of trust are the tinder that allow misinformation to spread like wildfire. Do everything you can to address each of these.
Remember: The need being met by a system is always more important than the system put in place to meet it. Don’t get so attached to any one approach that it defeats the purpose it was intended for. Be willing to change up things as necessary to suit your unique situation.
All of this may seem too simplistic an approach to solve a seemingly complex problem. Even if it seems that way to you, remember that a thousand mile journey has to start with a single step. This isn’t an exhaustive roadmap to solving every communication dysfunction, but it is a place to get started, and a guide that will keep you on the right track once you are on your way. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, because each approach has to be tailored to the needs of your specific organization and situation. Since you know the unique needs of your organization, there is no one better suited to get started on solving whatever issues you have identified within it.
I have been in your situation before, where I saw the problem, and looked for the perfect solution, all to no avail. Once I realized that there was no perfect solution “out there,” however, I got started on doing whatever I could to address the communication issues I saw. That meant winging it at first, because I wasn’t following any prescription, but eventually as I saw things were working, I threw myself into it completely. I have done this several times in my career and have found it to be so much more effective than just doing a little here and little there. In one of the more challenging roles of my career, I devised a 13-point communication plan that I executed religiously, and the results were phenomenal. There’s no reason to think that you can’t do the same.
Are you willing to take a few steps using the above guidelines to begin to increase your effectiveness and that of others in your organization? Even if you have concerns, I would ask you to put them aside and get in action anyway. Experience is always the best teacher, so if you are ever in doubt, just give it a try; the worst thing that can happen is that you fail and you learn to get better. And if you need a little more guidance with intentionally planning and executing your communication transformation plan, I suggest you check out my free 5 Step Culture Transformation Guide to help you get started.
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About the Author: Amir Ghannad is an international keynote speaker, author of The Transformative Leader, leadership consultant, culture transformation champion, and founder of The Ghannad Group. He has made it his life's work to guide leaders and equip them with the tools, skills, and the mindset necessary to create extraordinary workplace cultures that deliver breakthrough results. Download his free e-book, titled 5 Practical Steps to Make Your Culture Transformation Stick by clicking here.
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As always, have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary!
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