The word communicate means “to make common.” To build trust and spark innovation, you need to use all the communication tools that you can. If you think you’re already doing enough communicating, think again. You’re just beginning. You’re still in the three-dimensional world. You need to expand your thinking.
Let’s look inside the organization first. There are at least four dimensions to consider—communicating up, communicating down, communicating across the organization, and communicating consistently over time. I call this communicating in “4-D.” Every leader and manager I’ve met have had a problem communicating in at least one of these four dimensions.
Some are better with peers, others are better with their bosses, others are better with subordinates. Many leaders communicate well in three dimensions but fail to communicate consistently over time. It’s important to take stock of your weakest dimension, recognize what you need to do differently, and train yourself to compensate accordingly.
I coached the leader of an investment bank who was extraordinarily gifted at communicating with subordinates but terrible at communicating with his boss. John never let his boss know what was going on. Trust had eroded to the point that his boss was considering firing him. We initiated a weekly thirty-minute meeting with his boss in which John spent the first fifteen minutes reviewing key decisions he’d made in the past week and the second fifteen minutes focused on key decisions coming up. Over time, they rebuilt trust.
Most managers and leaders should double or triple the amount of time they spend communicating. Sure, it takes energy and commitment. But if you want to build trust and generate spark, or innovation, you have to create an environment where people know what’s going on, frequently share ideas, and build the habit of addressing key business issues without fear of retribution.
It starts with you. Saying that you want more communication without changing your habits is silly. Ask yourself: “In an ideal world, how would I communicate more effectively?” “What information do I need to share?” “What regular forums do I need to create?” “How could I energize the flow of information throughout the company?” The best leaders create a variety of forums, including one-on-one meetings, department meetings, topic-specific forums, “all-hands” meetings, all-day retreats, and social gatherings.
When you talk to movie and stage actors, you learn that the best directors create a safe place where new ideas can be tested and communication and respect can grow. The same is true inside an organization. If it’s not safe for people to talk, it’s impossible for trust or spark to grow. The key is to triple or quadruple the level of communication. It may seem like an expensive investment. But as people begin to communicate in new ways, you’ll feel the culture begin to change.
Related Tool: The Four Powers of Communication
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