Guest Post: Communication Tips for Lean Leaders
What can lean leaders learn from employee communication professionals?
Try these five tips. They're based on a recent leadership communications study of employee communication professionals, which was sponsored by two high-tech companies and conducted by Liz Guthridge, The LEAN Communicator(tm) and managing consultant of Connect Consulting Group.
1) Acknowledge that communication is a critical part of your job. You must communicate. Even if you're quiet, your silence and your actions will send messages.
2) Recognize that information overload is a significant barrier to effective communications. So be mindful about what you say and do to ensure you're sending compelling messages. You want to cut through the clutter and support your strategic intent and actions. Spare the air on non-mission-critical issues.
3) Make an effort to meet face-to-face regularly. Face-to-face communicationâ€”even if by telephone or webinarâ€”continues to be effective. It allows people to hear you talk. It should also give them an opportunity to ask questions, seek clarification and share opinions with you. In other words, to ensure your face-to-face communication is effective, make it two-way.
4) Be accountable by measuring, adjusting and reassessing, which should come naturally to lean practitioners. (As an aside, in the survey more than a third of the communication professionals said they aren't doing anything to hold their leaders accountable for communicating with employees, yet a vast majority said in both quantitative and qualitative questions that accountability was important.)
For example, you can measure in the moment, right after you meet with your team members or with a group of employees either in person or virtually. If you're checking in with just a few people, ask open-ended questions, such as “What did you think?” and “What do you think we should do differently next time?”
For larger groups, use a formal measurement tool such as a short online or even paper pulse check. Ask questions about the content of what you said, the quality of the discussion and the logistics, such as the room setup and the acoustics.
You also can assess the perceived trustworthiness of yourself and other leaders. To do this, ask questions such as:
- Leader X demonstrated the same values he/she spoke about.
- Leader X showed that he/she was listening to us.
- Leader X does what he/she says he's going to do.
5) Encourage people to speak truth to power, which is an old Quaker phrase. In an organizational context, it refers to making it safe and comfortable for individuals, especially those in less powerful positions, to speak up. This ranges from raising issues, questioning authority, and blowing the whistle on potentially problematic behaviors or actions. Depending on the organization's culture, it may not be enough to say you want to hear from people; you also may need to show them that they won't experience any repercussions if they challenge you and other leaders. By getting people to speak up and out, you get useful unfiltered information that helps you act and address key issues.
All five of these tips are basics for good communications. Yet just because we know the basics doesn't mean we practice them. Keep in mind the road to good intentions is paved with hell, especially when it comes to good communications.
The full report as well as related communication tools are available are available here.
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Great post Liz. I think communication professionals should have a more active role in lean efforts. Not many organizations have such resources. But when they do, I’m amazed at how many “lean communications committees” will be formed that don’t include them.
I usually tell people there are three most important things to consider when working on their communication strategy for lean.
1. Use informal versus formal. Similar to your face-to-face point, we put more weight into the hallway conversations that we have than the email blasts that go out, yet put zero effort into planning the informal communications.
2. Why is more important than what and how. There are many ways to get across the what and the how. But the why is often missed but will often come from outside the coaching conversation and training sessions.
3. Frequency – very few messages really sink in after hearing it just once. Be consistent and deliver your key message over a period of time.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts as a communication professional.
Terrific advice, Jamie. I want to reinforce your point #3 about frequency. A good rule of thumb is to deliver an important message at least five times (in different ways) to ensure people receive it and it sinks in. Another way to think about it, which I learned from an advisor to a CEO: Just when you’re so sick of talking about a topic that you feel like you’re going to vomit, people are starting to hear you and understand what you’re saying. So smile, keep talking, and be sure to listen too.
Just like “speaking truth to power” is good advice from the Quakers, so is communication through action. We communicate through teaching and action in the workplace as much as through words. This is where change in culture comes from. Outstanding verbal communication helps to focus, clarify, express intentions, etc., but leadership in action is the most powerful medium.
Agree, Andrew! In fact, Tony Simons, author of The Integrity Dividend, says leaders should “talk their walk.” That’s more powerful and believeable than the more common phrase “walking your talk,” as actions are louder than words. (By the way, Tony and I wrote an article together on “How to help your leaders be credible in incredible times.” You can read it at: http://www.connectconsultinggroup.com/tools.html)
Great article, Liz. By using best practices in employee communication on the day-to-day training, maintenance and operational improvement you will typically save or reduce costs. Therefore, sustainability can then only achieved by ongoing employee communication training, and more importantly the engagement of all your staff.
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