Why should managers and leaders care about communicating?

July 9, 2008

Whatever else you thought your job was about, chances are it involves a lot more writing than you ever imagined — through just email alone! But if you’re a supervisor or program manager, communication takes an even more prominent role in your work… or it should. Here’s why:

  • Someone wants to know what’s happening in your department. It might be your supervisor. It might be an auditor. It might be an HR person. Whatever the case, are you prepared to talk about how your team is performing?
  • Your project or program requires that you create messages to employees or customers, whether the messages are emails or brochures or fliers or web content or some other swanky medium. Do you know where to start?
  • Undoubtedly your department or project team has a list of goals to accomplish, all on different timelines. To accomplish these goals, your team has to be humming along at a pretty good clip, right? How can your team be the efficient “machine” it needs to be if the team members aren’t talking?
  • More than that, as a manager or team leader or project lead or whatever you want to call yourself, you have a unique opportunity to influence the lives of the people you’re working with. Their interaction with you can be positive or negative. To use a lovely boating metaphor: Think about the wake you’re leaving.
  • OK, now hold on while I get a little deep. Remember those department or project goals you had? What happens if you miss? What happens to the company goals or business strategy? This stuff matters. It matters if you’re a public company with obligations to shareholders. It matters if you work in a private company in an economy like this. It certainly matters if you’re in the nonprofit world. So, connecting the dots, if your team can achieve its goals by communicating better, couldn’t the organization achieve its goals if every department were communicating better?

It sounds a little cheesy, but I have this vision that we might actually be able to improve not only our happiness at work but also the way our organizations perform, if we — as leaders — get better at communicating. This doesn’t have to be hard or painful or embarassing. Just talking. Just thinking about things a little differently maybe, or being open to new ideas. Whaddaya think? Can we fix anything just by talking about it?

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Be at the decision points.

June 30, 2008

On Saturday my husband and I slathered ourselves with sunscreen and ventured off into the Columbia River Gorge. On our way back from Latourell Falls, we intended to complete what we thought was a trail loop that would return us to the parking lot. But the forks in the trail weren’t marked, and we had to guess which way to go.

Are you as “directionally challenged” as I am? Unless I’m staring straight at a sunset or a known landmark, I don’t know my north from my south, east or west. We kept choosing the widest path, the path that looked most officially maintained. (I am such a northwesterner. Only the coarsest among us would sully the natural landscape by veering off the maintained path!) But that path took us to the historic Columbia River Highway, some ways up the road from where our car was parked.

A sign sure would have been nice. Something to tell us what was ahead, no matter which path we chose. “This way to the parking lot” or “This way to the next waterfall” would have been perfect. So it got me thinking, as a professional communicator, that’s where I need to be for my reader. I need to be at the crossroads. I need to be at the critical junctions where the audience has choices to make. It’s not my job to make the choice or influence the choice necessarily. It’s just my job to inform them what’s down the path. What could I learn if I took just a few minutes to think about what my audience will experience? What would it mean to them if I were there, present and talking with them at points that might otherwise be confusing?