Hack No. 11. When it comes to communication, make your team or org structure your vehicle, no matter how flat you want to make your team, business unit, or company. If you don’t use your structure and simply communicate important decisions or changes directly and on-mass to everyone, ignoring your managers, team leaders or key influencers, you render everyone else useless. You take on their job and place them in a position where they don't know what's going on any more than their teams. Worse still, you force your managers into a position of being unable to support you - they have no more information than those around them.
This next group of Hacks (from ‘Hacking it with Hackett’) focus on the things junior and inexperienced leaders get wrong. Sometimes in their haste to make decisions quickly, and other times because they simply don’t recognize their mistake. Even those with years of experience get messed up when it comes to the people part of management (managing to engage), which is of course, the kick-starter of great leadership. But for the teams these managers lead, some of these errors are not easy to forgive.
Here is one of the top mistakes leaders make – they think speed to communicate means not using their structure.
Whether you’re a frontline manager with a dozen team leaders, or a CEO with a team of Executives, this is a mistake that's tough to bounce back from.
Here’s the Scenario. As a boss you want to communicate quickly and transparently a major decision you’ve made or an action you’ve taken. So, you decide you won’t lose time telling your leaders and managers first, you’ll just send an email out to everyone at the same time. Then everyone will know immediately.
Here's the Problem: Let’s be blunt here. You know that’s a dumb move, and when it’s happened to you, you’ve never appreciated it. If it’s a life and death situation, fair enough. But few life and death situations come up day-to-day and equally few legal situations that prevent communication. Getting this right will save you the endless backtalk and bad-mouthing, as well as the bad blood it creates between you and your leaders, making them feel invisible in an instant and causing those same leaders to instantly not trust you as a boss.
You make a whole layer of management simply disappear.
Communicating on-mass without rolling the information out through key leaders (your structure) sends only one message – you don’t trust or value your leaders to know important information ahead of time. You also send a clear message that you don’t feel it’s important that they have the information they need to respond to their team’s questions about a key decision. Inevitably questions are raised when communications of this nature are made. Leaving your leaders knowing only as much as the rest of the organization, leaves them frustrated and only able to say, “I don’t know, I’ll check back with you when I’ve spoken to my boss’’, showing everyone, they are as out-of-the-loop as the rest of the employees.
So, let’s talk about speed and your org structure in communication and how inexperience can put you on the wrong speed, and without using your structure, have you speeding outside your lane, into the dirt, only to crash and burn.
When speed overtakes structure, it doesn’t flatten the org chart, it just leaves you sitting by yourself at the leadership table. All eyes on you.
You’ve just told everyone you are the only decision maker and added every manager and leader’s job to your own. You’ve just told the team (or organization), that only you make decisions and only you can answer questions about the decision. Worse still, it robs your leaders of the ability to support you, because they weren’t given the chance.
Unfortunately, it’s only after you’ve hit send that you’ll realize this was not your smartest move.
Inexperienced managers do this because of three reasons:
Reason 1: They don’t think their team will agree with the decision being communicated or won’t like it.
The Hack: Practice agree or disagree but commit. Give people the opportunity to put their cards on the table. If they disagree, they’ve had a chance to discuss and have their voice heard, and they can then leave with the agreement to commit to the decision regardless of their personal views.
Reason 2: They didn’t think anyone else needed to know prior to the communication.
The Hack: While there is no real situation for you to override your leaders leaving them to read information rather than have you speak with them, it should cause you to get to know your people as individuals. What they stand for and who / what they support. Then you’ll know if you’re making a mistake or not. If their values are high, they will value being informed.
Reason 3. You don’t trust your team to tell them ahead of time.
The Hack: You have much bigger problems and therefore should be having one-on-one’s with your team to address that lack of trust. Trust is the foundation of all team effectiveness. Spend some time reading Patrick Lencioni’s Five Disfunctions of a Team to understand the real need for trust.
Here’s the big deal: There are few if any circumstances that a leader should learn something important by email. Email is the confirmation not the communicator.
That means communicating to your managers or team leaders any big decisions, before you communicate to a larger group. There is not excuse for a leader to make their first communication of sensitive decisions, by email.
So, what should you do when communicating to teams where there are managers or team leaders between you and the larger team? Use your structure.
Don’t Avoid. Silence is no replacement for leadership.
Have Courage (to discuss controversial decisions). Be prepared to discuss your decision, action and communication with your managers or leaders, before you send an email.
Provide Logic and Facts. Give your leaders with all the information they need to address concerns or questions from their teams.
Deal With Emotion. Give your leaders the opportunity to challenge, discuss, ask questions, and seek to understand.
Then send out your communication.
The extra time it takes is as long as it takes you to have a team call or one on ones with the individual managers or leaders on your team. Miss that step and your speed will likely slow you down. Have the guts to face hard discussions head on. If you practice avoidance and catch-up too often, your teams will likely be disappearing but it will be their own choice this time.
Taken from the book Manage to Engage. How Great Managers Create Remarkable Results. The post-pandemic how-to guide for engaging in the new world of work.
This is another #HackingitwithHackett - the Q4 Challenge. Post-sized Hacks to help leaders better engage, enable and energize their teams, and improve their operational results.