Summary: This blog post tells the story of how IC created effective communication strategies in the workplace, and improved employee morale.
If you read employee reviews of pretty much every technology company in the world, you see a very common thread:
“Not us!” I thought. We have a very flat hierarchy where anyone can talk to anyone else. We have daily standups to keep everyone on the same page. We eat lunch together. We define and track our goals on a quarterly basis. Our specialty is internal communication software!
So, when the employee feedback came that some people did feel this way, it was a surprise. As part of the leadership team, it was time for us to reflect on what went wrong, and how to do better.
Now, there are a plethora of articles which outline how to create effective communication strategies in the workplace:
Seems simple, right? Then why do so many of us get it wrong?
In my opinion, here is where we went wrong (and what we did to fix it).
Tech companies are heavily focused on opportunities. In fact, we get so excited about opportunities, we forget to also communicate the context to other employees. As an illustration, let’s consider Amazon. Amazon started off selling books online. Their strategy was to start with books, and then move into other product categories to become the largest online retailer, but the costs of building the necessary IT infrastructure made it look like Amazon would never turn a profit. If the CEO came in one day and announced “There is this great new technology that makes it easier for our systems to talk. It will cost us more to build, and projects will take longer, but it’s the way of the future” you would think he’s nuts. Without the context, this seems crazy. The missing context? They realized they were the first to encounter really-hard scalability issues with cloud computing, and if they could find a good solution, it wouldn’t be long until everyone else needed it too.
When we integrate effective communication strategies in the workplace now, we have to think to ourselves, what’s the context that leads us to this direction? Do people outside the leadership team have the same information? If not, you have to communicate the context first, even if you are busting at the seams to present the new opportunity.
You know what really smart people hate? When you speak to them like they are stupid. Our everyday conversations are fast-paced, and ideas flow quickly. Communication of strategy is the opposite of that. It’s a big topic, and the smarter someone is, the more questions and concerns they will have. You have to slow it down, and not be afraid that you are insulting your employees by repeating the message in multiple ways and at different times. My father once said people are like sponges, they can only absorb so much at one time.
To fix this problem, we don’t assume we can talk about strategy once, and have everyone immediately get it, and never have to repeat the message again. Instead, we have to find multiple ways of communicating the strategic plan and getting feedback.
Some of our strategic initiatives panned out, but others didn’t. When something didn’t work, we found an alternative and started executing quickly. What didn’t happen, however, was sharing with the staff why we are on to the next thing without talking about what happened with the last thing. While in some cases it may be a case of not wanting to admit failure, in our case it was really about maintaining forward velocity. To staff, however, this appears as though you changed direction without rhyme or reason.
To fix this problem, in the future we have to recognize when we are changing direction and let staff know what happened to the old thing before talking about the new thing.
Have any questions about communicating strategy? Contact us today!