I see it time and time again in almost every organisation I have worked in. Leaders “communicating” important information in ways that really don’t get the message across. Learning to communicate information effectively is a key leadership skill.
Emails land in the inbox with key messages hidden inside mountains of links and text and the onus is on the reader to work out what is important.
I noticed this at a large government client I consulted to recently. Key managers received a newsletter email every week from the central department with up to 20 links in it. It was the responsibility of the manager to work out what was important for them and what was not. Often each link led to the main intranet, which required traversal of a series of further navigation steps in order to find the document that contained the information. The loss of time and potential for miscommunication in this example was staggering.
Sometimes organisations use a “town hall” meeting where people are verbally informed of important events or news…I guess it’s too bad if somebody isn’t able to attend.
Then the obvious happens. Leaders ask “Why haven’t you been sending all your reports to Sarah for review? That’s been the policy for the last 3 months.” The employee feels bad and admits it is their fault for missing the communication. Now that the employee has been suitably chastened, the leaders can move on to the next issue.
Hakuna matata. That’s the circle of work life. Can you feel the love tonight?
It is your responsibility as a leader to communicate information effectively
It is not the responsibility of your audience to remember everything that gets dumped into their inbox or said in a meeting, or to determine what the most important pieces of communication are. It’s up to you to communicate information effectively.
The point is, just because you have sent an email or mentioned something to somebody, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the message is getting through. If you notice that people aren’t following the instructions you’ve given, then it could be for one of the following reasons:
People aren’t listening because conflicting information exists
Are you telling people one thing while the official policy document says something else? Maybe it’s time to get that document updated or change your message. Perhaps somebody else in your organisation has a different idea about how things should be done?
People aren’t listening because what you are saying does not make sense
Perhaps the reason people aren’t heeding your message is because it actually doesn’t make sense in their situation. This may be the truth, or maybe your audience simply need some convincing about taking on board what you have to say.
Perhaps the change in protocol that you have suggested would take far more effort than you realise, and people are starting to have “selective hearing”, choosing to ignore your message. If you are continuously sending a message that is not heeded, your message may be flawed.
Communicate information effectively by prioritising what your team really needs to know
In order to ensure that your message has the best chance of getting through, prioritisation is key.
Here is a quick test. What do you think is the most important piece of information in this list?
- The company has just been nominated in the Best Whatever of 2016 awards
- Beatrice is having her birthday next Tuesday
- When you send out invoices, please use the latest template because our payment terms have changed
- Next Friday is “dress up like a pirate day”
That’s right, in most circumstances, #3 is going to be the most important message to communicate. This means that you should prioritise this message above the others.
Communicate information effectively by using the right channel
If Beatrice is having her birthday next Tuesday, perhaps that can go on the local office notice board.
Dress up like a pirate day might be a good message to put up on posters in lunchrooms or the big screen TVs around the organisation.
Nomination in the Best Whatever awards could be a news item on the company intranet.
For your invoicing process change, you really want it to sink in, otherwise you are going to be interfering with your ability to take payments from your customers. There will be no pirate day if your company is bankrupt.
You might decide that the invoicing information really needs to be communicated in person to your team or to other leaders, who will pass on the message themselves in person. Accompanying this you could update the official process documentation and maybe at invoicing time, you’d reinforce this message by identifying the staff who actually generate and send invoices and send them an email reminder. You could even add a bright, distinctive message to your invoicing software so that people are reminded for a short period while the message sinks in.
Communicate information effectively by choosing the right audience
Beatrice’s birthday might be something of interest to everyone. I can guarantee that not everyone will care about the change to the invoicing process, because a lot of people wouldn’t be involved in that as part of their day job. So why send messages about invoicing to everybody?
If you continue to bombard lots of disinterested people with communication that is not relevant, they will begin to choose for themselves which messages they listen to. This is not what you want. You want fewer messages, to the right people.
So repeat after me: Prioritise, Choose the right channel, Select the right audience.
That’s the way the message gets through. And nobody misses Beatrice’s birthday.