Internal communications have always been critical, but never more than now. As a leader, the responsibility for improving communications starts with you. The potential benefits include greater efficiency and effectiveness, as well as improved morale, engagement and productivity.
Put simply, better communications lead to better results.
Understand Your Background
Today’s workplace is a rich and sometimes challenging tapestry of generational, gender, racial, religious, ethnic and cultural diversity that must be considered when planning and executing communications.
Within this tapestry are a multitude of differing personalities with different communication preferences. For example, introverts tend to communicate only when they think they have something important to say, while extroverts communicate more fully and often. Objective communicators want to address message content immediately, while personal communicators prefer a personal opening before discussing the core of a message. And some prefer big-picture communications, while others want to know “how the watch was made.”
These are all background factors to consider as you communicate, whether broadly or one-on-one.
Decide on Your Modality
Are you delivering a message to your firm, your team or an individual? If the message applies to your firm or team, deliver it to everyone simultaneously, so that everyone gets the same message (note there are exceptions when information might be delivered in tiers or segments, i.e. leaders, shareholders, staff, etc.). If the information is critically important or out-of-the-ordinary, it would have called for a face-to-face meeting pre-Covid, but now calls for a virtual meeting or presentation.
If your information is routine, perhaps a simple update or announcement that doesn’t require group feedback or discussion, it can be sent via email. However, people working from home are hungry for interaction and their work might be missing the stimulus of workplace discussion and idea-generation more than you or they realize. If in doubt, opt for a virtual meeting and provide opportunity for feedback and discussion.
One-on-one communication should include a combination of email, phone and Zoom meetings. As we’ve long known, email communications are most at risk of misunderstanding, so use phone calls or, better yet, Zoom meetings for more important communications. Follow-up with an email, if appropriate, to confirm your discussion, decisions and action agreements.
Develop Your Message
Start by asking yourself, “What do I want my listener(s) to know? What do I want my listener(s) to do? How might they react? What more might they want or need to know?” Now plan short and clear messaging. Open with a welcome, then quickly grab attention with a title or introductory sentence that states the benefits or relevance to your audience.
Deliver your message content, perhaps using three bullet points, literally or figuratively. Three is arbitrary, but is often the perfect number to provide meaningful substance without meandering or overwhelming. If your event is interactive, you can ask for questions and discussion after each bullet point or ask people to hold their questions and comments until the end of your delivery. At the close, summarize your message and, if appropriate, make a request for action.
This method of messaging will connect with the objective communicators, mentioned above, who want to get right to the meat of the message, and the personal communicators, who want discussion time. You might offer additional written information for those who want to know “how the watch was made” or who need more details for implementation.
Know Your Audience
In addition to speaking to different personalities, consider whether you’re communicating across functions or expertise. You undoubtedly use jargon and make assumptions about background knowledge when speaking with your cohort, but jargon and assumptions can be an obstacle when you’re trying to communicate outside your functional area. Two ways to improve understanding are 1) replace jargon you’re consciously aware of with simple, widely-understood language when speaking outside your group and 2) ask people to tell you if they don’t understand a term you’re using.
You can further improve your communication across functions by checking in frequently to make sure your listener understands what you’re saying. “Do you understand?” isn’t sufficient. Ask questions that will require them to demonstrate their understanding. For example, you might ask, “How will this new development affect your team?” When possible, reinforce your communications with visuals. Stories and examples will further help clarify and reinforce your message.
Open Door Policy
In our virtual workplace, “open door” is a figure of speech, but the concept remains the same and is critical. Be sure your colleagues and staff know they can reach out to you by email or phone, without invitation, to discuss problems or issues as they arise. Let them know you’re available to schedule a Zoom meeting for a lengthier, more in-depth discussion.
Reach out to your colleagues and staff often. Call or email them for no reason at all, just to say, “I’m thinking about you.” Consider adding, “Feel free to give me a call or send me an email any time to talk about a problem, brainstorm an idea or just to chat.” You might be surprised at how much your unsolicited outreach will be appreciated.
Virtual leadership and the virtual workplace call for clearer, more frequent communications. When you communicate more clearly and frequently, whether to inform, collaborate or just connect, you’ll improve productivity, effectiveness and morale.