The modern business world looks at communication all wrong.
When executives and managers don’t get the results they expected, they commonly blame ineffective communication. When their frustration hits a boiling point, they launch a project to improve their organization’s ability to communicate.
The truth is communication and leadership go hand-in-hand, so if the communication is poor, then poor leadership skills should be acknowledged, as well.
At my company, 120VC, we communicate to lead our projects forward, as aggressively as possible, and leading our team members to achieve transformational outcomes.
Whether the communication is in person or in writing, each interaction is intended to move our projects closer to completion. Any interaction that leads to confusion, or a status report that leads to questions, is a failed attempt at leadership.
We communicate to lead…period.
When you fail to get the necessary results from and for your team members, don’t focus on improving your communication. Focus on improving your leadership skills.
Here’s why this approach beats focusing exclusively on improved communication.
The Achilles Heel of Communication
The problem with focusing on improving communication as a way of improving your outcomes is that it almost always leads to more communication. More emails, voice messages, text messages, Slack messages, and meetings. This ultimately creates the need for more processes and governance over communication.
This approach creates more administrative work and increased expectations for a group of people that are already struggling to achieve the expected results.
When has that ever improved results?
Leaders should help their team members achieve expected results. Leaders are responsible for the outcomes. If you aren’t getting the outcomes you need, blaming communication will increase the workload, but it won’t guarantee better results.
Focusing on improving your leadership skills gives you much more latitude for improving your outcomes. You aren’t hamstrung by a narrow focus on improving communication.
Instead of increasing workload in the name of improving communication, you could actually reduce workload to focus the team and achieve better results. You could eliminate and refine processes, educate team members, and refine software tools.
You could even eliminate communication methods! Why not abandon email for anything other than reporting and coordination? Email is a procrastination tool. We send an email and wait. We put the fate of our commitments in the hands of the responder instead of picking up the phone and calling, stopping by their office, or sending text messages.
Additional Processes Make Things Worse
Some years ago, I worked with DirecTV, and there was a huge push from the CIO to improve project outcomes. The majority of projects were delivered late and over budget, and IT was making promises to sales and marketing they couldn’t keep.
Instead of getting a baseline of where the project managers were, from an education perspective, or a baseline of what the project managers were and were not doing, they worked from the premise that most projects failed due to ineffective communication.
They created a ton of additional processes, requiring more communication, project reviews, and checkpoints where project leaders would have to get their work reviewed.
They essentially increased the administrative workload; took away autonomy, mastery, and purpose; and expected better results. Things went from bad to worse!
Now compare their approach with that of Trader Joe’s, a national food chain with a thirty-person IT department. Unlike DirecTV, they hit deadlines.
What they don’t manage internally is outsourced to vendors. They make it work because they have a lean, purpose-driven process with intense focus on leadership and connection between their team members; they don’t do anything if it doesn’t somehow benefit their team members in the stores or their customers.
The bottom line is…we communicate to lead. If you aren’t getting the outcomes you need, focus on improving your organization’s leadership skills.
This post is adapted from my new book, It’s Never Just Business.