Stephanie Polen, President of The Polen Group, recently joined Steve King as our guest on Bagels & Biz. Stephanie is an executive, coach and speaker who has a talent for helping organizations and individuals function better together, and the theme that she and Steve discussed revolved around the power of teams and how to help ensure that we are being good and intentional communicators with one another.
Many businesses have faced new challenges over the course of the past year and they are continuing to evolve as organizations wrestle with questions like how and when to return to the office or how to support employees who have suffered through information inconsistencies and feelings of burnout. This is why Stephanie feels that the communication piece is worth revisiting right now.
Stephanie’s first insight was that how things are communicated and feedback is gathered inside an organization says a lot about a company. If they generally take a “direction comes from the top” approach versus holding interactive discussions with impacted associates, it can be very telling and a good predictor for how employees will feel about their roles and satisfaction over the long-term.
Ironically, one of the causes of bad communication is very common and very relatable. As human beings, we all tend to communicate in a way that we prefer to be communicated to. And leaders are just as guilty of doing this.
Stephanie offered the example of one executive she works with who prefers one-on-one meetings as opposed to larger group gatherings. However, while his approach provides an opportunity for greater focus and individualized attention, what this leader failed to realize was that his team was missing the connectivity with one another as well as the inconsistencies that occurred because of how information was being conveyed, all of which led to frustration and confusion.
One practical solution that Stephanie often employs to address this challenge is a meeting audit. Just as the name implies, it is an accounting of the meetings an organization regularly holds that looks at who is in attendance, how often they meet, what the purpose is and, ultimately, who really needs to be present. Put another way, it is an exercise that looks at the intent of the meeting and asks if this is the most effective way to accomplish that. Often, what people discover is that they are meeting because it has become ingrained and reinforced because that’s what they’ve always done, not because the meeting is valuable to all its participants or especially effective.
Being honest - and even brave - enough to have that honest assessment can lead to a lot more intentional, and effective use of everyone’s time.
However, the other side of this equation has to be considered as well. When everyone isn’t (and shouldn’t) be involved in every meeting, the communications that stem from those discussions becomes vitally important. A manager who has sat through multiple meetings on a particular topic probably knows all the reasons why a decision was made; however, they cannot assume that others have the same knowledge that they do. Therefore, it’s imperative that our communications to others who were not present explain why and how the decision was made as well as when it will be revisited to determine if it truly was the right thing to do.
As the old adage goes, good communication is a two-way street, so our conversation next turned to how you, as a subordinate of someone else, can safely say when your leader is not doing a good enough job communicating to you and perhaps others. Stephanie offered some great advice that, as a follower, a good way to provide this feedback is to speak to what your experience is… instead of calling out your manager for being deficient, you instead speak in terms of what you need. For example, you might offer that “As part of the leadership team, I don’t feel like I have all the information around this topic. It’d be helpful if the team could get together for a half hour to discuss it.” By putting it in terms of what you need to be effective rather than how your leadership is not effectively communicating, you position it in a way that makes it far more constructive and likely to be acted upon.
A final theme from the discussion revolved around the different channels of communication and how it’s important to be consistent and clear when using them. Stephanie again offered a great example of a manager who sent out an email on a particular topic. A little later, they noticed that some of their team was online so they IM’d them to add in more details. And finally, late in the day, another thought occurred to them so they sent a text message to a couple of people.
Thinking of this from their team’s perspective, how and where should they respond? The manager used three different communication systems at three different times and reached out to different groups. There were clearly inconsistencies and confusion that resulted. What can help, Stephanie advises, is having clear guidelines that are communicated and understood by all to help avoid these types of situations. Perhaps email is for broader, team-wide information dissemination, while Instant Messaging is acceptable to ask a question and texts are for things that need an immediate response from one person.
This post reflects just a part of the great conversation that took place with Stephanie. To hear more about the Three Pillars of Being Unshakeable, the Platinum Rule and the idea of Team #1, you can listen to the whole recording here: