Your Communications

Your Communications

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Posted by: Gillian Muessig & Anne Kennedy on Thursday, May 5, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

Let's talk about your company's communication.

Think of communication as a strategic project. The sooner you get started in your company, the better your communication processes will be. And the better your communication processes, the more efficiently work flows. And that has a direct and positive effect on your bottom line.

  1. Choose WHAT you're going to communicate. Communication without filters is babel. Get organized. What will you communicate to…
    1. your company
    2. your customers
    3. your vendor/providers, the press
    4. among each team member/dept in the company to each other
    5. among team members in a single department
  1. Look at what you WON'T communicate. Many startup CEOs are obsessed with the concept of transparency. That's great, but it's not completely practical. If ‘full transparency’ your goal, begin with this:

“We're always going to communicate everything to everybody. Complete transparency is critical to us.”

Now consider the time and noise that would take. You really don’t want to inflict that on your team. Their time and mindshare is much better spent building your product, your company and your brand.

Carve out what you don’t need or want to communicate. Sharing information and communicating effectively is about requirement, value and efficiency, not perfect transparency.

Things you don't need to share with everyone in the company

  • The tasks accomplished by every employee every day
  • Cash in bank at end of day
  • Every client communication that comes to sales, service, or IT
  • Every call that comes into the office
  • etc, etc

Focus more clearly what will be of value to share. What information, if known by everyone in the office will help to get work accomplished more quickly, with fewer errors, less rework, more enthusiasm (optimal morale)?

If you're a service agency, track these things over time

  • Number of active customers with open projects today
  • Monetary volume of client work in house that is yet to be performed
  • Sums received year to date (watch them increase month over month)
  • Most frequent problem issue from clients - is it marketing disconnect with what you sell? An issue with one of your services? Knowing the most frequent problems helps your team ID low hanging fruit to solve faster

Think about what your team needs to know.

What does each team need to know among its members?

  • The status of projects in the department
  • ETAs and internal customer delivery metrics- marketing needs this from IT, IT needs that from office admin, etc
  • Relative output month over month, even week over week
  • Time required to complete specific kinds of projects - improves estimating, spurs ideas to reduce time to completion, sets clear expectations for other departments and customers

What do you need to share with customers and the world?

Some companies share gross and net income; other privately held companies choose not to. Think what value will be realized by the person who receives this financial information. Can they help move the needle? Will some reports simply frighten them needlessly? How you message good or bad financial reports/news will deeply affect your team(s). Be careful to provide perspective, so team members know the relative importance of what you’re telling them. If you’re getting too many questions about minutiae, you’re sharing too much and it’s in the noise level. Don’t distract people; share what makes sense for them.

Sharing case studies makes sense.

Sharing internal events, benchmarks, successes in the company, both on personal and corporate levels increases personalization between customers/potential customers and the brand/company. This is intuitive. But sharing disasters, failures, and stumbles, as well as how the leadership and team dealt with it, is far more valuable. This is about sharing experience and true transparency. No company is perfect, but some deal with it better than others. Sharing these events, being honest about the challenges, makes your team more likely to respond in optimal ways, seek to do better next time, and look into better ways to perform at all times. Be sure not to use this kind of sharing as a way of browbeating or embarrassing others.

Now let's get tactical.

Choose HOW you will communicate within in your company.

Are you all in one location? Then standing in the middle of the office to make your announcement might work, though it will probably interrupt every one's work. If your message is more important than the work to be done, consider the . . . . 5-minute stand up / check -in. Good for quick news, or when everyone needs a boost, or there is an issue that needs to be dealt with at the moment.

Most internal communication is better handled with some forethought and preparation.

Email is a popular way to communicate within companies, and without, but be conscious of what information you are trying to convey. It is excellent for logistics and facts and creates a trail of documentation for later referral, but email is lousy for discussion because it fails to deliver sentiment well, and can be easily misinterpreted. As tempting as it is to carry on at length (and who among us hasn't at one time or another?) and hit 'send', haranguing your team via lengthy emails is not effective and can backfire. Remember that 'paper trail'; be sure anything you put in an email is something you won't mind seeing at a future date, or have forwarded to others. Also, email can be ignored or forgotten, or slip to the bottom of the pile. Some messages need the personal touch of face-to-face, which leads us to . . .

Face-time, Skype and Google Hangouts. Technology has brought us fresh ways to communicate face to face, even if you are not in the same location as the employees you want to reach, and the latter two are free! (up to a point). Way better than a voice-only call, and nearly as good as in-person, in terms of being able to see facial expressions and body language.

Anne ran a services company for years with a team scattered across the country, and then across nine time zones. They had to rely on voice-only communications as video conferencing at that time was out of budget reach. “Today,” Anne says, “I have no idea how we managed; it would have been so much easier and more effective with today's tools. And did I mention they are free?”

Indeed, at Outlines we deliver CEO coaching, and meet with our portfolio companies using Skype and Google Hangouts so we can both see and hear.

One caveat: make sure everyone is on a good connection! There is nothing more annoying than hearing only every other word and seeing people freeze up on screens or hear their transmissions ‘throttling’, as the radio folks say.

Texting is good for immediate messaging and has the advantage of being silent, good if your teams are in open plan offices. Did you know you can text from your desktop or laptop on Google Voice? That said, beware of lengthy texts and sensitive information that can be easily misinterpreted.

Whatever method you choose, be consistent. Broadly distributed information about project progress, ETAs, and schedules can all be communicated by email, as can new client or product announcements. For information needing immediate attention, such as a service issue, use voice or texting, and empower the team to do so.

Team building, discussions and sensitive information need to be handled directly, face -to-face, either electronically or the old fashioned way -- in person. Never underestimate the power of conversation. You know how to have a conversation, don’t you?

  1. Find a partner
  2. Choose a topic
  3. Make eye contact

Now, that’s communication.

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