One of the most important components of good leadership is also one of the most difficult. Have you ever heard the expression, “I feel like I’m being treated like a mushroom”? Mushrooms are fed a lot of “crap” and kept in the dark … obviously not good when it comes to communication.
The bottom line is that continuously communicating with everyone is critically important to an organization’s overall effectiveness. But, actually getting this done consistently is very difficult. Like many of the other difficulties of leadership and infrastructure building, communication must be systemic – happening almost automatically at all levels of the organization.
In fact, communicating effectively is so important senior leadership should establish and document a Communication Plan. The Communication Plan should be “communicated” to all team members and be continuously available for reference. Of course, once you put a plan in writing you definitely have to follow it.
The Communication Plan should include communication guidelines/requirements at all levels of the organization. A typical plan would include guidelines as follows:
A vehicle for routine all employee announcements should be established and utilized as much as possible to get the word out to everyone frequently. Almost anything of interest to the team that is public knowledge can be communicated via e-mail or an internal website bulletin board.
One on One Meetings
On a very frequent and informal basis, a leader should meet one on one with each of their direct reports. This can be done in an actual sit down meeting and/or through routine interaction throughout the week. Regardless, there needs to be a forum for team leader to team member communication.
Routine Staff Meetings
Every team leader should schedule and conduct routine team meetings. The two most critical aspects of a “staff meeting” are that they are regularly scheduled and on everyone’s calendar well in advance and that an agenda is sent to the team before the meeting begins. I’ve asked many a leader if they have a “routine” staff meeting and they immediately respond with a “yes.” But when I ask when the next one is scheduled, I more often than not get a response like, “We try to have them every week or two.” In other words, the leader hasn’t made a commitment in the form of a standing appointment on the calendar. It’s important that the team knows they can count on a regularly scheduled forum for communication and coordination with other team members. The agenda piece is just good practice. People need to know what will be discussed and have the opportunity to add things to the agenda if they want.
Quarterly Communication Meetings
All organizations of any size at all should have a periodic forum for presenting information from leadership to the rest of the organization. In the past, I’ve done this via a “Quarterly Communication Meeting.” Around mid-month of the new quarter, a meeting is held with all employees. Again the meeting is scheduled in advance and has an agenda published ahead of time. Communication in a large group setting like this one is mostly “one way” and should have more of a “state of the business” feel to it. There can be a brief Q&A time, but actually resolving anything or making a decision in a forum this large is not easy and not really the point of this communication method.
One of the quarterly meetings (1st quarter of the new “business year”) can be utilized as the “annual” meeting. Again, in a state of the business format, the previous year is discussed and the plans for the coming year are presented.
Another important aspect of good communication includes a method of allowing employees to give feedback to their leadership. In larger organizations, this can be done via a suggestion program of some sort. Smaller organizations can implement something less formal, sometimes having a feedback segment to a regular staff meeting like a roundtable agenda item.
As important as communication is to the success of the mission, it should be given the attention that many other aspects of the business are given. Having a formal Communication Plan can help the leader to get it done.