Even with our best intentions, only having surface-level conversations will create unintended setbacks. It is the point where a lack of boundaries or an unwillingness to have important conversations impact your intention. Usually considerations like boundaries and critical conversations are just overlooked. The outcomes are less measurable than other initiatives, yet they impact your bottom line.
Tom Chappell, founder of Tom’s of Main, faced his own fork in the road – an experience he shares in his book “The Soul of a Business.” The message is timeless, and may be even more important today: slow down and take the time to create a foundation that will launch your business to what’s next, and do everything you can to keep it from eroding.
The foundations Tom talks about include vision, mission, and values. He also talks about two other things: take time to figure things out, and make decisions that address both profit and the good of the company. Related to gaps in communication, every organization reaches points in its lifecycle where management teams and departments begin to change. It’s hard to ensure that the methods a business uses to conduct work will successfully adapt and change with integrity (with regard to the company mission and values). In times where change happens fast, it’s easy to blame the speed for issues in communication. To overlook the implication of the issues is to hamstring the business. However, several ways exist to approach issues in communication.
This article is about identifying the root communication problem and how to determine viable options. You can use your problem-solving skills from there to execute, knowing that you can always reach out to me if you aren’t getting the results you want.
Communication problems come from shortcuts. The shortcuts we make automatically to be efficient with our time and to be able to do more with the time we have. We rely on what’s worked, even though everything is always changing – and changing faster than we’d like to admit sometimes.
Let’s start with some basic elements about ROI (return on investment), as the return influences future decisions. Patrica Pulliam Phillips wrote a useful book for ROI basics called “The Bottom Line on ROI.” The methodology your organization has for ROI must be simple, credible, and economical. Making the approach part of idea creation and budget considerations ensures that you have a team that is invited to be part of understanding what is needed to evaluate situations. Take that one step further and add empathy. Anything related to acceptance or rejections creates emotion. Anything that drives excitement has emotion. We must become comfortable with emotion being part of our everyday business conversations.
Margaret Watts Romney spoke with me about emotion, and she shares how that emotion builds trust. Specifically, she said: “There’s a deeper level of trust that we can come up with, that we can create here. Start asking questions.”
When Margaret says, “There’s a deeper level of trust we can come up with,” she’s talking about taking time. About using other skills we have – core competencies of observation and listening to be able to find “points of connection.” It’s from our points of connection that we are able to skip surface conversation and engage in compassionate dialog that matters in the moment.
Figuring out a message is a place where we often take shortcuts, and it’s tempting to include many ideas as well as ask for feedback. This is where boundaries come in. Beyond communication boundaries (is what you are presenting clear enough that the conversation stays on track), the message must also be intentional. Go to meetings and appointments with one message and have structure. Michael Obrien described to me the important of meetings using “411,” meaning: “No more than four sentences at a time, no more than one speaker at a time, and no more than one question at a time.”
Another way to increase communication is to not overlook what you can measure about the messages communicated. Christopher Wallace’s company created the concept of a “Brand Transfer Score” which allows organizations to measure what’s being said against what’s being received. This analysis examines if segments of people with whom you want to have a specific message – are these groups really interpreting and getting the message as it pertains to them. Christopher said, “We’re not consistent in the way we tell our story. [Companies] know it’s there. They’ll acknowledge they have pain around it, but they’ve just learned to live with it. They don’t have to, though.”
Your Communication Gap Analysis
The consistency in our messaging matters.
For more info watch our short introduction to the topic, and if you want to expand your knowledge and learn more about overlooked aspects of a company’s communication, listen to the full podcast here.
When we have issues around communication, we accept it more often than we question it. You must look at the pain in your organization. Deciding what to do is hard without a planned approach. So I’ve got one for you! It’s a gap analysis to use in how you communicate. Once you’re comfortable with the process, it can be applied to your management team and specific departments. Here are the four steps to identify overlooked areas of communication:
- Commit to being intentional.
- Define the elements you want to cover in each conversation.
- Describe what elements exist today in each conversation.
- Articulate the gap between the idea and the actual.
Following these steps will reveal the place where the problem is. Now it’s up to you to think about what direction to take. To decide how to keep the mission and values fortified, consider profit, and what the current initiatives are. This is the place you can decide what problem to work on first … especially if there is more than one. Where the three overlap is a boundary you can work within to know what fits – or doesn’t – as you are gathering information and analyzing data.
Knowing exactly what you want to change and what you expect the outcome to be will shape the tools you use and actions you take.
You will be vulnerable.
A commitment to being intentional means you will be showing up with all aspects of yourself, not just the part that goes to meetings. It may be uncomfortable for you, and it will be for others. Yet, you are modeling the need to be real. To be open to what’s necessary to deepen connections between you and your colleagues. It’s from this deep connection that trust happens.
The deeper the trust the more opportunity your organization will have.
Be ruthless, too.
You are ready to say “no” with more confidence. Because your organization’s
- vision, mission, and values,
- ROI methodology,
- and the current business goals
are your boundaries.
Take a stand and strive for clarity all the time. Doing so shapes where effort is put and what work creates the impact you want. Foggy and unclear areas take away resources from the main goal. Your company cannot have that happen.
It’s up to you to be the guide.
It’s up to you to find the simplicity. You can create more value in the role that you’re playing right now in the development of your employees, and increase the output of the business by focusing on communication. Take the time to distill down everything that there is to get to the core nugget, and do one thing at a time, share one thing at a time, think about one thing at a time. Go back to that gap analysis and use that tool, expand your awareness. See how working on one thing at a time … communicating one idea at a time … focusing on one idea at a time … changes the amount of work that gets done. Focusing on one thing also changes how much faster impact occurs. This is true for reaching goals, yet is overlooked in relationships, so remember that change in the relationships influences the way people work together.