This is an excerpt from a post on 3 things to remember in LEAN and process communication published on LinkedIn Pulse.
1. Information is not the same thing as communication
Data about production metrics, safety instructions, operating standards: these are kinds of information. Information needs to be available at the right time to be useful to employees and managers.
However, there is a difference between making information available and communicating. Information is the content. Communication is the way we make sense of the content.
Communication is a human act. It is a two-way cycle. It involves listening. Communicating involves providing explanations about why something is important, and how it is relevant to the employee. Sending an instruction about safety on a poster or email is not the same as talking about why safety is important and listening to employee’s views and ideas.
Read the whole post on LinkedIn.
As a leader, what should you expect from a communication strategist?
What a great question, and the subject of a recent post on the LinkedIn CommsScrum Group (requires membership). Having worked with C-suite, executive and Board-level leaders across a range of industries, here are some things I think leaders should expect from their comms strategists.
They will treat you as a person. Trust is a process of reciprocity, but it pays dividends. Experienced comms strategists will understand that leaders are human. They will recognise that in business, an executive can seldom get to where they are without some communication strengths, but that their current positions may mean that constructive feedback about areas for improvement isn’t always forthcoming. A good strategist will seek to understand the executive’s business goals and personal context in order to develop programs that help to achieve both.
They will listen. And they might ask more questions than you may be used to from anyone except the CEO or Board. As an executive, you have so many aspects of the business in your head that making connections, judgements and evaluations about your operation is instinctive. Experienced comms strategists will seek to understand your business priorites from your perspective. And in the process, they will (depending on their approach) seek to understand the ‘why’ before helping you with the ‘what’.
They will build on your strengths. An experienced communication strategist understands that protecting the authentic strengths of a leader is a key priority. They will take time to understand what you are best at. This isn’t the same as never asking you to do something you aren’t comfortable with; strengths are sometimes underplayed.
They will talk to you about the business, not just about communication. Experienced comms strategists are business people using communication as a driver for business results. They will ask about goals, about performance, about metrics, about culture, about competition, about risks and issues. And then they will start talking about communication. If they jump straight to the comms stuff, beware.
With that in mind:
- Be clear about your expectations and in describing what a successful engagement will look like from your perspective.
- Be open to professional counsel with a view to building trust.
- Be prepared to contribute time, opinions and knowledge in the development of strategy.
Listening is one of the most important tasks for any leader in the first 100 days.
Today marks 100 days since NSW’s Premier Barry O’Farrell took office, and everyone is talking 100 day plans. In politics, the term ‘first 100 days’ was used by US President Teddy Roosevelt on entering office in 1933. It is a symbolic period: three months; a season.
In business and organisations, the concept of the first 100 days was popularised over the last decade following the success of Michael Watkins’ 2003 book The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels
Watkins outlines a number of areas of focus for leaders for leaders following transition – taking up a new role. These include:
- Self promotion
- Learning the new environment
- Adapting your strategy to the new situation
- Achieving some early successes – and establishing a vision
- Negotiating agreement with the boss
- Aligning the organisation
- Building the team
- Establishing a stakeholder and supporter base
- Keeping focused on the right things
- Using change to maintain momentum
Many new leaders in organisations struggle with the balance of delivering quick wins that are based on the current organisation, not only on what has worked for them elsewhere. During these changes, one of the most important actions in listening. The challenge is for leaders to be honest enough to say ‘I don’t know yet’. The 90 day planning process is valuable because it builds in a period of information gathering and planning based on a diligent approach.
In addition to being a key leadership skill, there are many ways to listen to an organisation.
While a leader does not need to go to the lengths of Shakespeare’ Henry V or Undercover Boss, there are some ways to listen effectively to the people in the organisation:
- Visit the places where work is done – don’t summon people to head office.
- Small groups allow for people to be heard. Don’t gather 100 people and ask them a question.
- Ask open questions – “What are you working on at the moment?” “What would make that easier?”
- Be authentic from the outset.
- Where there may be concerns about an open culture, supplement dialogue with formal research such as independent focus groups or interviews, being open about the purpose and intent.