Leaders know that communication is one of their key roles. In fact whenever I work with a leadership team or group the subject of communication always comes up. People want to know how to communicate more effectively, and why people don’t always seem to hear what they are saying when they do communicate.
In those very same organizations, employees wish the leaders would communicate more often and/or more clearly. They often feel “in the dark” about decisions, plans and future direction.
In defense of the leaders, most often they do communicate, but usually not very effectively. In fact, by definition, if the followers are not clear about what they have read or heard, then the communication hasn’t been effective.
One of the areas where the gap is widest is in communicating decisions. Decisions are made (or followers think or assume they have been made), but the communication of those decisions is ineffective or incomplete.
In working with a Management Team recently we examined this challenge and found a document that outlined some things to consider when communicating decisions. What follows are seven questions (with some commentary) to help you successfully communicate decisions within your organization (and beyond).
What are the key points or major messages you want to share when communicating the decision? Outline these points ahead of time. If each member of a leadership team is communicating individually, creating a common list of key messages is even more important. What do you really need to communicate about this decision?
How is this decision connected to/in alignment with our strategies, vision, mission and values? As leaders you (hopefully) have made decisions taking your strategies, mission, vision and/or values in mind. Since you may have struggled through the decision from these perspectives, or because you understand the strategies so clearly, these connections may seem obvious to you. They won’t necessarily be as obvious to your audience. Help them see the connections and the relevance of this decision to the long-term picture of the organization.
Have we answered the “why?” to this decision? People need to understand why. Too often leaders describe the what, but never address the why. Knowing why helps people hear, understand and accept a decision.
Who will provide the communication? Is one executive making the announcement or sending the email to everyone within the organization? Is each individual manager sharing the message with their groups separately? Is there some combination of both? Purposely decide who will be communicating.
How will it be communicated (what is the best medium)? The how (email, team meeting, voicemail, newsletter, you get the idea) will be different in different situations. Consider the message, its implications and the audience before automatically determining the approach or doing what you always do.
When (or by when) will it be communicated? Chances are the sooner the better. Even if you don’t have complete information, give people what you do have as soon as possible. If communicating separately, some agreements on when the communication will be completed are important – to make sure some pockets of the organization don’t have the information far ahead of others.
What will be the process to check for understanding? Communication is a two–way process. A complete communication plan makes sure that people have gotten the message and that they understand it. This implies that an email alone may not be enough. To be most successful, you need to create some sort of feedback mechanism or dialogue.
As you can see the biggest key is not to make sure we communicate, but to make sure we communicate the right information at the right time in the right way. When we communicate this way our communication will be deemed more complete and therefore more effective.
For your future decisions use this checklist to help make sure you are communicating completely and therefore powerfully.
Potential Principle – When we communicate the right information at the right time in the right way our communication will be more effective.