In this series we looked first at people, roles and responsibilities, then departments as some of the building blocks of scaling. In this article we will explore communication as a factor which is closely related to departments and people, roles and responsibilities and which impacts not just scaling but day-to-day operations. 

Communication 

Most of us know that effective communication is vital to the successful running of a business but how many of us know what effective communication really is or how to achieve it? In this article I will break down the topic of communication to demonstrate not only its importance in a business but I will also provide an approach to achieving open lines of communication within departments and between people. 

What is Effective Communication?

Communication is considered effective when it gives rise to an intended action i.e. when information, intent or meaning has been conveyed, received and appropriately acted upon. So having clear outcomes and expectations is really important because it means that any action that arises out of an interaction will move the business closer towards its goals. 

Communication, Roles and Responsibilities

Communication gives rise to the creation of roles, responsibilities and accountabilities and when this space of roles and responsibilities is not created effectively at the outset, it can lead to challenges down the line. When a leader delegates effectively, it creates accountability and ensures that appropriate action is taken.  

Often leaders do not know how to create a space for delegation to occur effectively. There may be some understanding that somebody is responsible or that they are supposed to be overseeing a certain area but unless the leader says “these are the areas you are responsible for” and the team member accepts this responsibility there will be room for miscommunication, misunderstanding and ineffective action. Also, if a person is never brought into their role in this way, there will not be clear accountabilities. 

The same applies when a person is being promoted or upgraded into a new role. Responsibilities will need to be defined, communicated and accepted. All of this is created through communication which creates the context in-which an action is taken. In this way an effectiveness around action and responsibility is being created.   

So often I find that clients, especially those with under a million in revenue, have not clearly defined their roles and responsibilities. There was one client in particular who was doing around $400K in revenue. There were four people in the company and while they each had written job descriptions, there was one person whose role had changed so much that the job description no longer reflected what the person was doing. There weren’t clear accountabilities or KPI’s tied to the role. 

This is very common for companies where the main driving factor is revenue because there is less time for systems. Because that person’s role has shifted and because of a lack of accountability they were operating at around 50% of their potential effectiveness. 

When I came in, one of the first things I did was to define clear roles and responsibilities and that led to greater accountability for that person and other team members in their roles. This immediately led to higher productivity, and more clear outcomes and expectations and a direct impact on revenue. The client doubled their revenue in the following year and this was one component that led to that.

Communication with Internal and External Stakeholders

It is often assumed that people inside the organization know things they are “supposed to know” so where one would make the extra effort with external stakeholders, either building a relationship or clarifying points through a contract etc., there may be a lack of awareness around the importance of internal communication and relationships. The same emphasis that is placed on external relationships should be placed on internal relationships.

Identifying Internal and External Stakeholders

It helps to have an awareness of who the internal and external stakeholders are. Who needs to be communicating what and with whom?  

The people who are setting up the context of accountability and responsibility are the most important communicators. Often this is the CEO, owner or founder. This is the person responsible for delegating authority and responsibility. Leadership sets the context of communication within an organization and without an effective context for communication things can get messy.

Communication with customers is very important for building a successful company and building a solid client base. That communication starts from the very beginning of the customer journey, from the marketing team who develops the marketing message. That is the message that customers are getting as they go through the sales process, as they purchase something, as their order is being fulfilled, after they have received their goods and as they use the product. The messaging needs to be consistent throughout to optimize the experience the customer is having. 

So often I see breakdowns between sales and marketing departments where what the customer has been sold is actually different to what was initially being marketed because the marketing department and the sales department had not been communicating. They were marketing one thing, which drew in the customer and then they could not fulfill that order because goods were out of stock, or the promo item/bonus was not available. 

Having mentioned here the importance of the CEO and COO or Integrator as a primary player in all communication and the customer as someone who is being communicated with brings the idea of communication full circle. Often it is the COO who has a birds-eye-view of everyone in the company and so really it is this individual who will facilitate or put in place the communication channels which keep all the different departments in the loop. It is also really useful to have an independent opinion, i.e. a fresh set of eyes to come in and look at the whole process to ensure that the company can fulfill what is being communicated with customers. 

Communication at Different Levels within the Organization 

In the previous section we covered top-down communication or how important it is that the leadership of an organization have good communication skills. We covered the importance of setting a context for communication and how this relates to responsibilities and accountabilities.  We also discussed cross-functional communication or the importance of communication between departments. The next topic we will cover is bottom-up communication. Most communication with an organization flows from the top down however there are instances when certain things need to be communicated to management. 

It is important for your team to feel like they can communicate their challenges or difficulties with their managers or another appropriate person. 

There was one company I had worked with who was in fire mode. By the time I was brought in they had just been putting out fires and losing revenue as a result of all the problems they had been experiencing. When an organization is that chaotic, the team that are “in the trenches” so to speak are going to see things that could be fixed or adjusted to help alleviate the situation. When the administration or the leadership are overwhelmed there may not be much space for hearing and listening as there may be when things are under control and the company is growing in a systematic way. 

I want to emphasize here the importance of having a space for listening even when the company is in emergency mode. It may not be the time to action new ideas but there should be a platform where people’s frustrations, challenges or concerns can be heard. If there is not a space for those voices to be heard then you’re going to have a breakdown at an internal personal motivation level or at the energetic level within the team. Team members will talk among themselves, complaining and disrupting the culture within the organization.  

How is Effective Communication Achieved?

Meetings

There are certain communication structures that are essential in a company. One of those is meetings. Having set meetings around specific topics with a purpose or an agenda and then having the appropriate people in each of these meetings is crucial. This could be a monthly company meeting (depending on the size of the company). It could a monthly management meeting, perhaps a weekly executive meeting, a marketing or sales meeting. 

Meetings are an example of a communication container that allow for a specific agenda and purpose to be accomplished. These communication containers can take different forms. If need be, they could be facilitated via. conference call or video call with parties in different locations. Having these types of meeting consistently enables the company to run smoothly or to keep things flowing as it should be. 

I had one client who always wanted to be in control of information. He also wanted to control everything his team did or did not do. His inability to trust his team members or to delegate became a real stumbling block to success. Instead of being able to move quickly and get things done, team members were disempowered due to the CEO’s tendency to hold on so tightly to control. 

Prior to my involvement all communication had to be run through him so there was no team collaboration which was very ineffective. We implemented team meetings and a monthly executive meeting which really helped bring a level of collaboration and communication within the company. 

A Communication Model

Understanding what makes communication effective, specifically around tasks getting done is another way in-which to ensure that communication is impactful. This can also tie in with a project management system or how things are getting executed inside of a company. Being aware of where the breakdowns in communication (and thus execution) can occur is key to developing a powerful communication model. 

It’s one thing to have a project management system and get people to use it and have accountability around the use of the system to make sure that tasks get done but it’s another thing to define how communication occurs in your organization and how that ties into getting things done.

If for example, somebody says, “Hey, here’s a task that needs to get done.” And then they say to the other person, “when can you have this done by?” and the other person gives a date and that date is agreed on. That’s okay because that works. That task would then get put inside of the project management system. And then that person is held accountable to that due date.

On the other hand, let’s say that someone says “Hey, I need you to get this done by tomorrow.” That person goes and does it but there’s a handful of other tasks that don’t get done because they’ve prioritized this. And they come back and say “Hey, I got this done”. But then the other person asks “Well, what about these other things they were supposed to be done by today too?” And the person answers “Well, you told me to prioritize this”. That’s a breakdown in the communication model. This can be avoided by thinking through and having everybody clear about how things get communicated.

There was a client I was working with who did not have a project management system. They weren’t clear about how to communicate. We implemented a project management system with policies and procedures where we defined how the communication model tied in with the project management system and an accountability factor. Within four months, there was a 300% increase in productivity. Here’s how we measured that. When we first started using the project management system, people were getting things done on time about 20% to 30% of the time. After four months, most people (80% to 90%) were getting things done on time. When you look at that, from 20% to 80% or from 30% to 90% that’s an increase in productivity of between 300% and 400%. 

Escalation Policy

Another important communication structure is having an escalation policy. Having an awareness of the best way to communicate with different people on your team is essential. One person may respond to Skype while another is better with text so having an awareness, on an individual basis of the best way to get a hold of somebody can be very useful. For example, if you email somebody and receive no response and it’s an urgent matter, knowing that that person responds to text or some other medium is important. So it is basically just knowing that, for example, if a person does not respond to email, send them a text and if they don’t respond to text them give them a call.

EQ, LQ and Finding a Good Balance

While the point of good communication is to enable understanding and effective action and thus create results it’s important that you remember that you are still dealing with human beings and it’s human nature to want to be loved, understood, admired and appreciated. So while we have the hard side of communication i.e. we have the structures, direction etc., we also want to make sure we don’t forget the soft side. That we allow a space for empathy, compassion and appreciation. 

The space that you are coming from in your communication makes a big impact on the effectiveness of your communication. When you are coming from a space of care, this can enable effective communication because the other person can feel it. You can give somebody very direct information and they will take it much easier when they know that you care vs. when you’re only about getting results. 

The other element of this is the appropriateness of allowing for emotions to be shared in an organizational setting. It’s good to separate out emotional conversations from practical conversations because often too much emotion, and particularly negative emotion can get in the way of hitting targets or accomplishing goals. 

If, for example, you’re having a meeting and discussing goals and targets and you have one team member raise some kind of emotional issue that they’re having, that can really lower the energy of the team. 

When faced with a situation where a team member is getting triggered in some way, or getting lost in his/her emotional story and does not know how to work through it, that’s where a manager with a high EQ and LQ can help guide that person into a clearer and more focussed space. 

A manager might say “Hey, alright we’ll need to address this issue later because we have to get this project done on time. Are you guys able to put aside these emotions for the time being, so we can come back and address them at a later time?” If the two people involved can do that, awesome, but if you have one person saying “no it’s in the way” then the manager will have to take the time to address it in order to move forward. It’s about finding the balance and knowing when emotion needs to be unpacked and talked through. Having team members work on their own LQ can also be really valuable when faced with these types of situations.

An effective organization is going to have a space for listening to the potentially crucial feedback that team members may need to share. This is where LQ can empower EQ. In an organization we would ideally want communication around emotions to be in a place where it is empowering effective action. Having a high LQ empowers the effectiveness of your communication in EQ environments, because the person/people you are speaking to can feel where you are coming from and they will understand when you say “that’s as far as we can go with the emotional aspect of this conversation”.  

How an External Party can help you move Beyond the Breakdown 

When I work with a company, one of the first things I do is to talk to all the key people in the company. This will usually show me where communication breakdowns are occurring. Most times communication breakdowns are not one sided. Often, two or more parties have completely different perspectives. My role is to listen to both sides, to take a broader perspective and to come up with an approach that acknowledges both sides but also creates a solution that bridges the gap. 

Often emotional involvement impacts your perception and affects how you respond to something. A lot of times the work that I do on the inner personal level, especially around communication really requires somebody that’s objective i.e. somebody who is unattached to the outcome. 

When there is a block in communication between two parties, for example, the CEO and the COO, or between two partners, or the founder and the CEO or perhaps it’s between two key managers, having an independent advisor really helps create powerful solutions in these types of dynamics. 

Communication at this level is crucial to the company’s ongoing success. Many times people just make adjustments, they will compensate for the other or they will hold back so that balance can be felt. This is where I can add a lot of value in providing coaching and guidance by saying, “okay when this person is doing that, this is the way to respond”. And then I will say to the other person “this is how you need to communicate to achieve this and this and this”. Many times in these situations you have one person communicating in a certain way and the other responding in a way that creates an escalation of emotion and thus the communication is ineffective. If one party knows how to stop the cycle or to de-escalate it on their side that can help improve the level of communication between these key parties.

I had one client where the team members were continually frustrated by a lack of follow through by the owner/founder who was in the CEO role. He also had not yet fully opened himself up to being held accountable by someone who was perhaps in a lower position than him. This had led to a lot of built up frustration and ineffectiveness in the organization.

In this example, it takes an independent party (myself) to come in and say to the founder “You’re causing this breakdown and you’re creating frustration”. What we realized through this entire process was that the CEO role was not the best role for him to be in. He did not realize it and neither did anyone else in the company. All they saw was the pain that they were facing and the ineffectiveness in the organization because of the lack of follow through by the founder.

While the founder had created an amazing company and had built an incredible following, he was not the best person to be in the CEO role. He had taken it as far as he could. We ended up bringing the general manager into the CEO role and moving the founder into a chief visionary officer role which completely changed the dynamic of the company. There was a 20% increase in revenue the following year, and not just an increase in revenue but tremendous movements and shifts in confidence. The team members began to trust the leadership of the organization to follow through and get things done. By me being on the outside looking in, I could see all those dynamics and I was able to help unpack that and move things in the right direction which completely revolutionized the organization.

Final Thoughts 

In this article we defined effective communication and discussed practical ways in-which to improve communication within an organization. We also explored the emotional elements of communication and how to strike a good balance between the practical and the emotional. 

In concluding this article I would like to mention a few general tips on how to become a great communicator. On an individual level, it starts with intent and having the intention to become a great communicator makes you more aware of what you say, how you say it and the various structures that you can put in place to ensure that communication within your organization is effective. 

I also feel that doing programs like those offered by the Landmark Forum can really help with creating powerful distinctions in communication. Further to the above I believe that raising your LQ creates a greater space for having an awareness of your own emotions, because once again emotions can either get in the way of effective communication or they can enhance it depending on where you are at in your head and in your heart. When you can be with your emotions, that helps you to have a greater space for response, so you can actually respond as opposed to reacting when you’re having conversations.

On a company level it is very valuable to have an independent evaluation of your companies communication to help guide those crucial relationships which are make-or-break factors in the success of your company.

If you are interested in scaling your company and would like to discuss the many possibilities which exist for taking your business to the next level, I encourage you to schedule a 15 minute discovery call with me.