communication – noun – the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium. (source: Oxford Dictionaries)
As leaders, communication is a key tool in the toolbox. Not every leader will be the archetypal charismatic communicator, but every leader needs to understand how to communicate well, what to communicate and what method of communication to use.
“The less people know, the more they yell.”
Leaders need to understand the communication culture of the organisation and seek to foster a positive and open communication culture that tries to improve on the current position.
I suspect that in every organisation there is a group who complain about the organisation’s internal communications. Communication issues are often a classic case of being someone else’s problem. Those at the top blame those in the middle for not communicating up or down effectively. Those in the middle blame those above them for not telling them anything and those below them for not listening. Those at the bottom may well be the least dissatisfied with communication, but they do know that, if there is a problem, it’s not their fault!
As a leader, one has both the power and the responsibility to effect change in the organisation or team. Whether or not we think the current communication issues are our fault, it is our responsibility to do something about it.
Ultimately, everything one of our team members complains about is down to us as leaders. We may choose to do nothing about the issue, choosing to live with the issue or complaint can be a valid tactic. If that is your chosen course of action, at least be honest about it, recognise your position and explain it publicly. If your team feel they have been listened to they will be happier to go with you.
The worst tactic is that of the ostrich. Not addressing issues or complaints and putting your head in the sand hoping it will go away is, with few exceptions, bound to fail. Hopefully this is self evident without further exposition.
I think this tells us that if there are complaints or resentment about the communication in our organisation or team, then we need to do something about it. Other types of issue, you may choose not to do anything about, but at least you should acknowledge the issue and explain why the status quo is the strategy you are sticking with. In the case of communication issues, acknowledging the issue is communicating and can be the start of a change for the better.
When I started work, a leader thinking about communicating a message to the whole organisation had fewer options. They could call a company meeting or a series of small meetings to communicate the message face to face, or they could write a memo which would be printed out and distributed for all to read. These are clearly not very efficient ways of communicating compared to today’s cornucopia of communication channels. The one benefit they did bring was to make the communicator stop and think about what they were communicating and how to get their message across in the most effective way. The cost of communication acted as a natural barrier to unnecessary communication and also made the communicator think long and hard about the content and delivery of the message.
In today’s hyper-connected world the marginal cost of communication to the sender is effectively zero and this has led to very low quality and high quantity communications – as our spam-filters loudly testify. Many people complain about receiving too much e-mail. This equation of marginal cost fails to count the hidden cost to our organisations of these unnecessary messages. Unnecessary communication is costing our organisations and teams time and money.
Email overload is such a common complaint nowadays that it almost goes without saying. There are some good strategies for dealing with this from the reader’s perspective which I may write about in the future, but the responsibility for effective communication lies mainly with the sender. I have a number of bullet points that I think about when drafting email communications to try and ensure my emails are well received:
- Consider your audience.
- Is email the right tool for the job?
- Use a relevant and descriptive subject line.
- Could you do more to answer the question yourself?
- Review your email before hitting send.
- Be clear about what action is required.
- If you can respond to a message quickly, do so.
- Turn off desktop alerts.
- Use the email expiry and importance options.
Please let me know in the comments what your strategy is for effective communication in your organisation. I’d also love to hear about any good tips you have for helping emails to be relevant, get the message across and not become a burden to the reader.