This is the battle cry for leading globally and virtually distributed teams. This communications strategy is based on the numbers game. The more times you communicate a message, in different ways such as email, web calls or town halls, the more the message will be widely understood. A new study by Sull, Homkes and Sull in the March 2015 Harvard Business Review says that may not be the case.
This in-depth survey of 262 companies and 7,600 managers states that 84% of front-line leaders do not understand the connection between corporate priorities and what they do. That's because more than two-thirds of senior executives surveyed and an amazing 50% of C-Suite executives are not able to articulate how the company's priorities fit together. These were companies with an average of 6,000 employees. I'm sure that this news doesn't come as a shock to many of you with corporate experience.
I work with companies many times where this disconnect exists. Leaders think they have sent a clear message, but as it filtered down, it wasn't widely understood. It's the modern version of the telephone game you may have played as a kid. To many, delivering an important message signals success. I've seen this in my work and home life, from a COO town hall to a minister talking to a congregation. Here is the challenge - hearing does not equal understanding. Just because you are speaking doesn't mean that your team or audience understands. If the leader makes more than three or four points, the audience is lost. If the leader does not make a connection to what the audience explicitly does on a daily basis, there is a lack of understanding. The question is, are you playing a game of catch if the person you throw to doesn't lift their arms to catch the ball? No. You are just playing throw. In this metaphor, catching is understanding.
The farther we get away from our teams, the more critical the need for quality communication. Here are three things to think about when sharing an important message with your team or audience:
1. Understand the issues from their perspective
2. Understand their challenges and fears from their perspective
3. Give examples from their perspective
... their perspective ...their perspective ...their perspective.
It's always a best practice to make it a two-way communication. However, if you must deliver a one-way communication, pose questions that your audience might ask "from their perspective", then answer them. Paint a picture of the issues for them "from their perspective". Why is it happening and exactly how will it affect what they do on a day-to-day basis? Take their questions and ask them questions about how they see it. Then, and only then, can you be sure that the message was truly received.