IN MY OPINION, the single biggest determining factor in whether a change initiative is successful or not is communication. Communication across the leadership team, communication from leadership to managers and employees – and communication from people on the front lines back to management.
The challenge is that good communication is never a one-way street: It requires that everyone in the chain have good communication skills, from the most junior intern right up to the C-suite heavy-hitters.
You may not be able to change everyone in your organization, but you might be surprised to find that improving your own communication skills can have a positive effect on those around you. Here are some tips:
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Communication tips for everyone, no matter what their role in the organization:
- Be respectful
- Be a great listener (and acknowledge that you’re listening)
- Remember that communication is two-way (listen and respond)
- Speak so others can hear you (put it in terms your audience will understand and appreciate)
Tips for Recipients (individual contributors):
- Ask questions to get the information you need
- Communicate as positively with peers as with those above you
- Speak so others can hear you (and pay attention to the channel they respond to best)
- Listen so others will want to talk to you
Tips for Translators (supervisors/managers):
- Listen – so your employees will talk to you
- Take information from above and convey it clearly to those below you
- Use positive communication to build teams (both the one you manage and the management team you’re part of)
- Don’t overload your team – be concise, not overwhelming
- Learn to ‘hear between the lines’
- Understand company direction and help your staff understand it
Tips for Synthesizers (directors/vice-presidents):
- Listen for clarity from above
- Listen with compassion from below
- Synthesize information into a ‘narrative’ or ‘story’ that helps you move your teams toward their goals
- Use the right filter for what you’re hearing (understand the subtext)
- Communicate so your boss will hear you (be strategic)
- Communicate so employees will want to listen to you (be engaging)
- Communicate to strengthen alliances with your peers (be a valued source of insight)[/message]
Sounds simple when it is presented bullet points, doesn’t it? But great communication really requires reflection and a conscious effort to understand the person (or people) to whom you’re communicating – it’s really about getting in the habit of making that effort on a day-to-day basis. This ideally starts when you are young in your career so that it becomes a habit and a skill that you build on as you and your career mature. But no matter where you start, these skills and habits aren’t hard to learn – they just require your attention.
Often when I speak about this topic I get a question from the audience about critical mass – meaning isn’t it useless to do this as an individual when what we really is need is a critical mass of leadership doing it? My answer is always the same. Didn’t Lao Tzu say ‘the journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step’? The same goes for this kind of change. It starts with one person taking a single step, then another will join and then another. And before you know it you will have a critical mass. It is that simple. And of course, that complex.