As a manager, one of your most important jobs is being an information conduit. For each piece of information you learn, you need to figure out who on your team needs that piece of information to do their job.1 You are the one most connected to the rest of the organization, and your team relies on you to keep them informed about what’s happening. Things that seem obvious to you may be completely unknown to them or tragically misunderstood.
Confusion is one thing, but missing information can be even more insidious. In the absence of information, people create their own.2 Imaginations run wild. Crazy rumors get started. Before you know it, you’re doing damage control and reassuring your team that their jobs are safe.
To avoid the confusion and uneasiness caused by bottled-up information, try defaulting to over-communication. As much as you think you’re sharing information now, chances are you aren’t doing it nearly enough. In fact, according to Patrick Lencioni, employees won’t believe a leader’s message until they’ve heard it seven times.3
How You’re Failing
There are three big ways to self-sabotage being a strong communicator for your team.
One is relying on your brain as a to-do list. When I was in my early 20s, I didn’t need no stinking notepad. I was able to remember what I needed to do and I couldn’t understand why my colleagues were always going to meetings and scribbling notes. As I got older my memory became less sharp. Distractions, responsibilities, and the number of meetings I had to attend increased.
Now I don’t go anywhere without a notebook. I consistently refer back to it and am reminded of tasks and items I need to communicate. You should do the same.
Throughout the day, as things come up that you think your team should know, write it down. At the end of the day, decide if you want to send out an email, wait for a team meeting, or discuss the info in 1:1s. Do not rely on your memory. You will forget things. Trust me.
A second pitfall is assuming your communications are a distraction to people. You worry their eyes will glaze over in boredom. But in my experience, people would much rather you err on the side of communicating too much than too little. It’s easy enough for someone to skim something or tune out if they feel they’ve heard it before.
Meanwhile your team will appreciate sensing that you want them to know as much as you do about what’s going on – and what isn’t – in the company.
The last act of communication self-sabotage is expecting people to read your mind. Be crystal clear. Simply forwarding emails without context is not enough. If you expect something to be done with the information you’re providing, or have a particular reaction to it, spell it out. Add context for your team. Forwarded emails with no context or one-word quips are not helpful and will eventually lead to confusion and misinterpreted actions.
Strategic (Consistent) Messaging
Now that you have a handle on what to do with one-off communications, let’s talk about larger, strategic ones. Remember, people need to hear a message seven times to believe it. But it’s not enough to communicate a message a lot. If it’s flowing from leadership down to the rest of the organization, the message also needs to be communicated consistently across your leadership team.
One way to ensure consistency is to close important leadership meetings by aligning your “cascading messages.” The idea comes from The Advantage, and is really simple. At the end of the meeting, discuss what you want to communicate and its most important aspects. Write this all down and share within the leadership team so everyone is on the same page. Then instruct them to communicate that message to their teams and ask for feedback. That feedback should flow back up to the leadership team. Simple as that.
The cascading messages process keeps the information moving with consistency and integrity. So when Sue in Engineering talks to James in Product, they’ve heard the same message. An added benefit is that by actively soliciting feedback from the teams, you get a quick pulse check from the frontlines.
Keeping your team in the know prevents confusion, rumors, and inefficiency. Being in the know and tapped into the organization is a great way to make sure your team feels secure. That security and understanding helps people stay focused, productive, and moving forward.
A final word of warning. Communicating just enough will often feel like over-communication. Feel that fear and do it anyway.
1, 2 Lopp, Michael. Managing Humans. New York: Apress, 2016. Print.
3 Lencioni, Patrick. The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012. Print.