Lately I’ve been hearing weary leaders sigh, “They always say 'communication'."
The message behind this comment is that, no matter what a leader might do, someone (or everyone) on their team will complain that communication in the workplace is poor, or that there isn’t enough. Nothing they try seems to be good enough. Employees will always want more, and there’s no return on the investment.
If this is the case in your workplace, the time has come to reframethe problem as an opportunity or solution, diagnose which communication issues to focus your energy on, and measure for both the current state and your improvements.
Reframing problems into solutions - This week, a participant in one of my workshops challenged her colleagues to reframe the situation when they want to complain. She herself started doing this when she lived among hundreds of apartment dwellers on a cul-de-sac. She was wakened and interrupted day and night by drivers honking their horns as they came to pick up their friends. When she challenged herselfto reframe the situation–to save her own sanity–she decided that she would accept every car horn as a friendly, personal greeting to herself. To this day, when she hears a honking horn, she cheerfully calls back, “Hello!”
Michael McMillan offers another way of reframing problems as the gateway to solutions in his new book, Pink Bat.
“Communication” describes different actions - If complaints about communication are getting you down, it may a signal that the time has come to make effective organizational communication a priority. To invest your energy wisely, diagnose the problem and make the right steps toward a solution.
Your staff members may need you to set accurate performance expectations for their work so they’ll understand better what to do.
They may need you (and others) to express interest in them as whole people, caring about them as individuals and noticing what they care about.
They may need you to stop acting as if they are mindless automatons and start trusting their judgment and valuing their opinions.
They may need you to start practicing daily appreciation for their efforts and keep letting them know, specifically, what it is about their work and presence that you find valuable.
They may need you to ask them questions about their goals and help them figure out how to achieve those goals.
They may need higher quality information-sharing practices through regular meetings, updates, emails, social media, or newsletters.
Talk with your employees to find out which of the above would best help them to feel like communication has improved. If you assume they want professional development when all they want is a notification when supplies are running out, you are wasting your time and effort. However, if you are starting a newsletter when they really need appreciative feedback, it is just as much a waste.
Measure - Before you begin your improvement efforts, do a survey of your employees to find out how satisfied they are with communication in each of the above areas. After 4-6 months (and again after a year or two), send out the survey again. Compare the results so you’ll know if your efforts are making a difference, and if necessary adjust what you do.
The reason for measuring is so you can give yourself credit for the improvements you’ve made. This will lessen the sense of frustration and impotence you may feel as a leader when the return on your investment isn’t 100% or better. You need a way to objectively show how your efforts have resulted in improvements.
Once you reframe the problem as an opportunity or solution, diagnose what kind of communication efforts are the ones to focus your energy on, and measure for both the current state and your improvements, you’ll find that communication can truly improve. A leadership career can be characterized by positive, valuable communication.
Let me know how it goes and what you encounter!
Posted November 22, 2010
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