In my experience…there’s not enough of the right communication
Our lives are filled with communication, yet that communication seems incomplete. I see this all the time in organizations. They have meetings, voicemails, emails, newsletters, blogs, tweets, Slack, IM’s, hallway conversations, press releases, documented processes and methodologies, etc. and the people in the organization still want more. What’s missing?
In my experience, there’s not enough of the rightcommunication. When thinking about communication we tend to focus on channels, timing, type, messenger, audience, content, frequency and tone. All of those are important, especially when contemplating a formal communication plan, but even the best and most thorough plan may not actually be effective.
I’ve found that effective communication clearly answers one or both of two basic questions people will always have:
1) How do I fit?
2) How am I impacted?
How do I fit?
Most people work. While they may or may not enjoy the work, they need and want to understand their place in the organization. Human nature is such that when we know where we fit, we’re generally more satisfied. Put this in the context of organizational communications about nearly any topic, such as growth, decline, new products / services, restructuring or M&A and it’s easy to see how quickly people can get concerned about where they fit.
As the communicator, if you can address the question of fit within your communication, you accomplish two things. First, you proactively address inevitable follow-on questions (saving you time) and second, you alleviate concerns sooner rather than later, likely helping morale and productivity from take an unnecessary dip.
How am I impacted?
Organizations seem to be in perpetual states of change, which could include new systems or processes, benefit changes, leadership changes and so on. The first thing anyone wants to know is how they’ll be impacted. Many times I’ve observed communications about these types of major changes and the glaringly obvious piece missing is about impact to the people. This makes me cringe because I know that means future pain for the communicator and lead team.
Communicating change without addressing impact is a recipe for trouble. It reflects poorly on leadership when only half the story is told, especially when the missing half is about the thing the audience cares about most.
Addressing these two questions sounds simple enough. However, organizations typically treat communication as a one-size-fits-all exercise. The issue is audiences are comprised of many unique individuals with different perceptions, motivations and goals. While it’s not scalable to tailor every communication to each individual in an audience, it’s important to understand the audience beforehand in the context of the two questions, and pre-emptively address them. Look at your organization’s communications over the last month, consider the audience, and ask yourself if these questions were answered for that audience.
Although you may not think about these two questions when you personally communicate, you may still address them (however unintentionally) because you’re an effective communicator. One-on-one communications are usually more on-point and effective than organizational communications when it comes to fit and impact.
Sometimes as leaders we assume that others understand things the same way we do, but that can’t be farther from the truth. When I work with senior lead teams in organizations, I find that even at that level, effective communication is often missing.
A little planning and consideration of audience goes a long way toward how communications are received. There are many tools intended to make communicating more efficient, which I can attest to positively with first-hand experience. But the tool is simply a delivery help. Communication value and effectiveness are in the hands of the leader and / or messenger. Addressing the two questions outlined above in your communications will ensure you’re delivering the right communications.
Special thanks to Michele Brown, from whom I learned the value of the right way for leaders to communicate, and Samantha Lane, who built a business (or two) around ensuring clients know where they fit and how they’ll be impacted.