ENGAGE SERIES: Communicate - Include


We're talking today about the need to communicate with your team. The larger topic we're covering, is how to engage your people for greater productivity and we have covered the need for collaboration, and how to coordinate, but collaboration and coordination are worthless without true communication, and need to include a diverse and broad group of stakeholders.

Take any engagement survey in any organisation regardless of how great they are, the top issue is always, always communication, or the lack of it. The more you communicate the more people want; you literally can’t over-communicate. Equally you can’t spend all your time communicating hence the need to plan, and coordinate as we’ve talked about previously.

How and what you communicate will very often determine the success or otherwise of your endeavours. It’s that important! At the core of all great communication is an ability to build trust. Trust comes from transparency and authenticity.

Building trust quickly is essential. You will need people to respond quickly and effectively if you are to move fast enough to react to the rapid pace of our digital revolution.

I’ll say it again, transparency builds trust, and a willingness to be open, vulnerable, and authentic goes a long way to building the currency of trust. Trust me, if you want to be effective, you’re going to need it.

A wise person once said that “the problem with communication is the illusion that it’s taken place”. Just when you’ve repeated your message yet again, and you’re thinking surely, I can’t need to say this again; it is just starting to land with those who need to hear it.

More frequently is better; be succinct and clear yes, but it’s hard to over communicate. What you communicate is also important, be genuine, open, and transparent; no secrets, or ‘need to know’ policy, which often becomes weaponised in the hands of power orientated bureaucrats. Go broad in your reach, include those not usually included. Keep it super super simple, keep it honest, keep it focused, and keep it coming.

I recently watched an interview with Elon Musk. Certainly, he has been successful at least in a commercial sense, but I would imagine he is very difficult to work for. Yet he has an ability to create a simple galvanising vision and communicate it consistently and to great effect. Then he has the belief, the passion and the determination to overcome and see vison become reality. If you listen to how he describes his companies, it’s all very accessible, ridiculously simple and yet profoundly compelling. About SpaceX he says, “We want to open up space for humanity, and in order to do that, space must be affordable.” This drove reusable rockets and the subsequent NASA contracts. This simplicity engages a wide range of stakeholders.

A broad and diverse group of people bring a wide variety of different perspectives, giving you a more wholistic view of your issue or challenge. There’s a greater chance of success when you lead a team who are very different to you. Harder to manage yes, but an opportunity for a significantly better outcome.

Be transparent and truthful even when the news is negative. People always fill a gap in communication with assumptions, and they usually assume the worst. So, you might as well be open. What is it about bad news? It sells well, travels fast and seems to catch our attention. Our 24-hour news cycle is unfortunately built on it. Despite all the views to the contrary there is nothing wrong with communication in most companies. Bad news will get around a team at the speed of gossip.

Talk confidently, but not definitively if there is genuine uncertainty. You can talk to capability and actions taken or decisions made but definite outcomes are rarely predictable and that’s OK. It’s OK to not to know, or to try something and it didn’t work, or to change your mind when circumstances dictate an alternative. If you make over definitive statements, you’ll paint yourself into a self-imposed position you may regret.

Abraham Lincoln said, "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts." His life was not without its challenges! So, include and trust those around you. Include them not only with good news but also with some of the challenges you face. You may well be surprised with the level of loyalty and commitment it engenders.

Take the time to explain the why behind the what. It’s amazing what people will take on if they know why. Treat all with respect, regardless of their position and role. Keep it simple, be genuine and show some empathy.

The principle here is that to communicate well, we must include a broad range of stakeholders regardless of seeming status. One message with clear organisational priorities can bring alignment and focus: two drivers of productivity.

Imagine if a coach only talked to half the team. It would be chaos.

Complexity doesn’t imply capability or competence, despite what you may hear from consultants. Simple is always better and harder work. Mark Twain said, "I would have written you a shorter letter, but I didn’t have time”. Don’t underestimate simple.

When Team New Zealand won the Americas Cup after 132 years, credit was given for the level of communication across the team and the galvanising question, “will it make the boat go faster”. Super simple but repeated endlessly until it became the always asked question and part of the culture.

OK where to from here? When was the last time you communicated to the whole of your organisation in a transparent, authentic way? Why not now? Don’t wait for everything to be rosy, include all your team and see your productivity and commercial outcomes grow.

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