Recently, I was out of town facilitating a Board/CEO retreat. The retreat was incredibly productive. Everyone willing to put tough issues on the table and candidly discuss them. At the end of the retreat, strained relationships had been strengthened, expectations had been clarified and agreed upon, and there was an understanding and appreciation of the value each member of the Board could bring to the CEO. There was an enthusiasm, cohesion, and excitement in the group that hadn’t been present for months. To say that I was riding high would be an understatement.
I called home that night, and was caught totally flat footed by my 10-year-old daughter’s angry and hurt greeting: “You can’t leave town without telling me!!”
Wait, WHAT? My trip had been on the calendar for weeks, and I talked about it in the house repeatedly. Somehow, in all of those conversations, I apparently never told my daughter I was leaving. I’m certain I did. But I didn’t, and Elizabeth, I learned, not only felt left out, but also that she wasn’t important enough for me to tell.
It’s no secret that one of the keys to high performance is effective communication. We see it in Harvard Business Review articles, like How Communication Drives Performance, but it’s hard to make sure everyone is on the same page.
The larger a company, the more important it is to develop multiple communication channels and structure them to reach every corner of the organization. That’s not enough, though. Successful leaders understand how and when to use the communication channels at their disposal for maximum impact. You should have a communications strategy with protocols for each channel that detail the purpose, method, and audience – and then follow up periodically to make sure they are effective.
During a recent organizational assessment, numerous employees reported not feeling informed about what was happening in the company. This seemed at odds with the robust communication strategy described by the CEO, where the Executive Leadership Team was diligent about sharing with senior leaders, who shared with middle managers, who passed the information to their teams. As we followed up in our interviews, one of the middle managers praised the cascading communication strategy, “They tell us everything – and it’s great to have that information in my back pocket in case anyone starts complaining about not knowing something.”
I’m not sure this is exactly what the CEO had in mind!
So, if you are relying on cascading communication, check periodically to make sure the cascade is flowing. Even when cascading communication works, communication channels should not be used just to push information. Employees need to have channels and opportunities to provide feedback, ask questions, and offer differing opinions. More importantly, employees have to feel comfortable and safe using the channels and opportunities. Leaders of high performing organizations ensure the culture promotes emotional safety and open, two-way communication.
With my daughter, it never occurred to me that I hadn’t told her or that she wouldn’t have known just by being in the house. We’re only a team of four in a house a fraction the size of most workplaces. As I was reminded, even in the smallest teams, if you’re not intentional about communicating to everyone, someone is going to get left out. Your employees not knowing something they should know is bad. Your employees feeling like you don’t care enough to tell them is worse.
If you’re struggling with a lack of connectedness, check your communication strategy and channels first. If they aren’t the cause, then you need to look deeper – at your culture. As always, if we can be a sounding board or help in any way, we are happy to help.