May 6, 2019
Best Practices for Strategic Communications
Many companies suffer from what I call “siloing” or the encapsulating of departments as walled gardens where none shall enter. Because no company can effectively execute on any business plan without interdepartmental dependencies, this “siloing effect” predictably kills any effective communication across the company, which in turn means poor execution. Milestones are missed, target dates for launches pass without even a whimper from your development team, great people quit because they don’t feel their voice is heard or ideas shared are negatively received… I’m sure many readers will have experienced this situation at some company in their career. Many CEOs like to be the single point of contact for all departments, but if your CEO doesn’t communicate effectively, your company will not grow to its potential.
Establishing a Rhythm of Communications
It doesn’t matter what size company you are. It doesn’t matter whether you are a five-person law firm or a 10,000 employee manufacturing company, all organizations need an established rhythm of communications that facilitates discussion, debate, innovation and feedback in order to remain relevant. If your company is working the same way it did five, ten years ago, odds are that you have not grown much if you are spending all your time working in the business instead of on it.
A basic structure should be:
- Daily: 10-minute standup meetings devoted to the focus of today’s work, escalations that need to be addressed, reassignments, new ideas, etc., are discussed, then followed up with additional meetings with the team(s) required to meet objectives.
- Weekly: 60- to 90-minute meetings focused on activity, the status of current projects, new ideas, potential threats, etc. These meetings should include all stakeholders of the projects whenever possible, inviting feedback, ideas, and suggestions for changes in processes in order to realign stalled projects or to create new ones.
- Monthly: Half-day meeting focused on the one major initiative that was executed last month, and planning of the current monthly initiative. Focusing the entire organization (or department) on one milestone per month will enable your team members to understand the current situation, their role in executing it, and discuss how to address any delays or substantive changes in the industry that affect your goals.
- Quarterly: Full-day meeting devoted to company priorities, processes and learning. This meeting should consist of a post mortem of what went well last quarter and how to continue expanding and leveraging that activity as well addressing any delays and finding solutions to issues that came up during the quarter. This is also the right time to plan your next quarter, identifying what projects to focus on as a leadership team, and how to communicate those projects downward through the company.
- Quarterly: Town hall company-wide update on all initiatives from the past quarter and plans for the current quarter. With a Q&A session, a brave CEO can answer all the questions your staff may have to address the changes you are making and enabling them to air grievances. Chances are, if one person is saying it, ten people were thinking it. It is important to address the rumor mill before it gets out of hand. If your employees only get their information from hanging around the water cooler or the coffee machine, you are not communicating effectively and your company as a whole will suffer.
- Annually: Two-day summit focused on strategy, budget development, market research and learning. This would typically include all department heads and focus exclusively on where opportunities lie in your industry, reports on what your competitors are doing, and discuss distribution of where you need to invest your profits in the coming year. Leadership development can also be scheduled as part of these summits. Many people at the top of the food chain tend to become isolated and while development of others is typically part of their roles, they are no longer given any type of leadership development themselves. Great leaders will do this on their own, even if the company does not support it. Understanding how much money you have in your budget requires discussion on the expected return on investment. Obviously, the budget for finance will be less than that of your marketing department, however finance will not have to defend their spending as vociferously as marketing will.
- 1:1 Interviews: Individual meetings with all members of your team to connect, coach, share ideas and learn. These should be done as often as possible, but at least once a year. These should not be performance appraisals but meetings where you ask probing questions to learn what the company can do better, what you can do better, and learn how you can help them become better at what they do.
This may seem like a lot of meetings, but communication is the only way to break down these walled gardens and getting everyone working together to achieve clear, actionable goals. With better communication, workers feel their ideas are worth listening to, that they are empowered to improve and innovate. Leaders are better able to understand the whole company and not focused solely on their own job or their department. They will be better prepared to answer questions from their teams. They will have been included in the decision making, which in turn, gives them insight into why the decisions the business makes are made.
Leaders who don’t have that type of vision, that think that not sharing knowledge secures their position, should be replaced. Leaders like that are insecure, don’t have the confidence in their own abilities and are quick to blame others. Leaders who take responsibility, think about succession, and develop their team members to take on more responsibility, ensure their own seamless and rapid movement upwards.