Good Leadership = Good Communications

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been discussing the importance of organizational communications.  In our last segment, we’ll focus on Leadership Communications, and sending the right messages to your organization to promote trust, increase engagement and alignment, and improve performance.

One of the key attributes of high performing and successful organizations is the effectiveness of their internal communications.  These leaders share as much information as possible with their teams so that everyone understands the vision, values, direction, performance expectations and standards, and culture.

Effective leadership communications are:

  • Regular and Timely
  • Clear
  • Understandable
  • Open and Transparent
  • Informative
  • Reinforcing

In a Harvard Business Review post, John Baldoni recommended three additional requirements:

  • Courage – Talking straight about what your team wants to hear
  • Innovation – Encouraging creativity and innovative thinking
  • Discipline – Accountability to tell the good and bad news

I’ll add one last requirement to the list – Active Engagement.  A truly effective communication process must be a two way street.  Although you are providing information, you must actively listen to insure that the information and message are clear and understood, and openly solicit team opinions and input to really improve the organization and performance over time.

If any of these elements are missing, then your organization will make assumptions and use rumors to fill in the blanks on their own, increasing the risk of making poor decisions, and will not be engaged, committed, or aligned. Also, if you are not willing to share information, the assumption may be that you are hiding something and the culture will suffer.  Finally, some leaders continue to take the position that sharing information will result in “losing control” of the organization if the team knows too much, or that the shared information will be leaked to the market and competition.

In my experience, leaders that choose to communicate regularly, openly, and actively with their organizations can expect the following results:

 

  • Improved performance
  • High level of engagement and commitment
  • Continuous improvement
  • Motivated team
  • Improved decision making
  • Good organizational culture

As the leader, you can decide now to open up your organizations communications, share information clearly and transparently, and get your team fully involved and committed. The result will be a high performing organization that is capable of accomplishing great things.

Communication is the real work of leadership.” – Nitin Nohria

“Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership. The leader must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiasm to others. If a leader can’t get a message across clearly and motivate others to act on it, then having a message doesn’t even matter.”  –  Gilbert Amelio, former President and CEO of National Semiconductor Corp

 

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What Does Your Customer Want?

In last week’s post, we discussed the importance of an effective communications process to your organization’s success.  The next logical question is –  “How effective are your customer communications?”

Good customer communications are the key to building a solid base, retaining customers for the long term, establishing strong relationships, and making their experience the best it can be.  Organizations that communicate well are generally rewarded with loyal customers, and steady and consistent growth over time.

Most successful organizations generally know and understand what their customers want.  However, in his recent article in Inc. magazine, Geoffrey James listed six attributes that every customer wants, regardless of the organization:

 

  • Preparation –  Doing Your Homework
  • Simplicity –  Making it Simple to do business with you
  • Creativity –  Identifying New Solutions
  • Loyalty – To Their Organization and Requirements
  • Accessibility – Making Them Feel Special
  • Accountability –  Not Passing the Buck

I’ll add two more to his list:

As you look at the list, note that many of these issues revolve around communications in one way or another.  Regardless of the form, all customer communications should meet the following criteria:

  • Clear and Simple
  • Build trust and confidence
  • Emphasize their importance to your organization
  • Demonstrate your understanding of their need
  • Timely

To do this well, however, requires discipline, focus and being proactive.  Too many organizations, however, either don’t understand the importance of this communication, or pay lip service to this process, and don’t make it a priority throughout the organization.  As a result, they are surprised when a customer leaves after feeling ignored, or taken for granted.

In my opinion, there is one final part of the process which is to establish and maintain a regular and consistent dialogue with your key customers.  This dialogue will build strong relationships, trust, loyalty, and credibility as a valued supplier, leading to an increased share of their business, where possible.  In addition, you will want to expand your relationship to as many levels of the customer’s organization as possible to reduce the risk of losing business if your key contact leaves.

By having this regular dialogue, you accomplish several objectives:

  • Build strong, long term relationships
  • Demonstrate your understanding of their business and requirements
  • Promote the value that your organization provides
  • Identify areas for improvement in your performance

Customers are the sole reason for the existence of most organizations.  If you communicate clearly, simply, and timely, throughout your customer’s organization, and make their experience that best it can be, you will be well on your way to having both long term customers, and consistent growth.

“Every contact we have with a customer influences whether or not they’ll come back. We have to be great every time or we’ll lose them.”  – Kevin Stirtz

“Spend a lot of time talking to customers face to face. You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers.” – Ross Perot

“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.” – Mahatma Gandhi

 

Is Your Organization Communicating Effectively?

Organizations that communicate clearly and effectively, both internally and externally, are much more successful than those that do not.

Let me give you a simple example of a clear communication process.

For those of you that may not be sailors, or have not watched a sailing match, racing a crewed sailboat properly requires great teamwork, and very clear communication so that each crew member can perform their task in a coordinated way to successfully complete the maneuver.  The captain communicates with the entire crew prior to, and during, each step in the maneuver so all of the crew has the same information, and knows what to do and expect as the maneuver proceeds.

The communication process for a simple tacking maneuver may sound something like this:

  • “Tacking in 2 minutes.”
  • “Ready on the sheets.   Trimmers and grinders into position.”
  • “Ready to tack.”  “Tacking.”
  • “Speed is down – trim the sheet in.”
  • “Speed good – watch the trim.”

As you can see, the captain communicated all of the information his crew needed to do their jobs, kept them informed throughout the process about the status and performance of the boat, and identified where additional action was necessary to stay on course and meet the objective.

This same type of clear communication is necessary for any organization to operate effectively and efficiently, and can take many forms, including verbal, written, formal and informal

In any organization, communications play a key role in the following areas:

  • Motivation, including task information and methods, and performance standards and expectations
  • Source of information for decision-making
  • Molding the culture of the organization, and individual attitudes toward the company and customers
  • Managing and controlling the organization
  • Improving teamwork
  • Establishing strong relationships with outside entities

In the absence of such communication, employees are left in the dark about their performance and that of the organization, overall performance is reduced, the culture is poor, mixed messages are sent, rumors abound, and assumptions are made, generally with bad results.  Clear communication eliminates these issues and promotes a consistent flow of information through the organization to keep it moving in the same direction.

By communicating clearly, the entire organization understands the strategy, direction, expectations, performance requirements, culture, and the message that the organization wants to send to outside entities.  There are generally very few surprises.

Organizations with a good communication process exhibit the following attributes:

  • Strong performance at every level of the organization
  • Clear level of performance expectations and standards
  • Cost efficient
  • Good teamwork
  • Great customer service and relationships
  • Good culture and understanding of direction and requirements

A good communication process includes:

  • Consistency
  • Clarity
  • Understanding
  • Sending a clear message about the vision strategy and direction of the organization
  • Facilitating a smooth flow of information between functions to meet customer expectations and performance objectives

The leader of the organization is ultimately responsible for the communication program, and setting the tone for that process throughout the organization.

“Skill in the art of communication is crucial to a leader’s success. He can accomplish nothing unless he can communicate effectively.”  – Unknown

Sail or Drift?

As discussed in our recent post, all successful businesses have a plan that will guide them to their destination.  The leaders of these businesses have defined their destination, set the course, have an accurate chart to help them navigate, and control the business to achieve their goals.

As a  sailor, I believe that the most important skills for success are the ability to chart a course, navigate that course accurately, identify and adjust to weather conditions, and to control the vessel in all conditions in order to reach port safely.  The most successful sailors have a clear destination and course, an accurate chart, and can adapt to changing conditions, as they occur.

Successfully navigating a business requires these same attributes.  If we look at this from a business standpoint, you must do the following:

  • Define your destination (Port)
  • Have an accurate chart (Plan)
  • Plot a course to reach the destination (Objectives)
  • Adjust that course, as necessary, based on conditions encountered along the way
  • Control the business in these different conditions

Every business a choice to make.  We can decide to take these actions and guide the business to our destination and future success. Or, we can also choose not to take action, and drift through the year, letting conditions have their way, and take the chance of not reaching port.

While we may have little control over many conditions that will affect our business in today’s economy, we do have control of our course and business, if we know where we are going.  So we must identify changes in those conditions, and make the necessary adjustments, throughout the year, to reach our destination.

This is why we need to have a reporting system that will provide regular feedback on conditions and progress to help us decide what adjustments are required to maintain control, and keep the business moving forward.

So, identify your destination, get an accurate chart, plot your course, adjust to conditions, and take control of your business to keep it on course and moving forward.

Let me finish with several quotes to put these comments into perspective.

“To reach a port we must sail, sometimes with the wind, and sometimes against it. But we must not drift or lie at anchor.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

“The wind and the waves are always on the side of the ablest navigator.” – Edmund Gibbon

It is not the ship so much as the skillful sailing that assures the prosperous voyage.” – George William Curtis

Questions or comments?  Call us at (727) 637-4666, or reply through our blog.