Discipline in Communications

Boss, GTD
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For as long as I’ve had more than one employee I’ve been accused of the company having bad communication. I .. I not from this country. My english not so good. And while many would probably successfully debate that I’m functionally illiterate using this very blog as evidence, communication in virtually all successful complex companies is terrible.

When your employees tell you that the communication is terrible they aren’t simply saying that they are kept in the dark on what is going on (ala Apple) but also that they don’t understand how certain things are done, why things are the way they are, how to effectively get what they want and so on.

So there you go disaffected employee, you suck at communication as much as your boss does.

Furthermore, people tend to be terrible at reading body language and are always evaluating others through the same way they judge themselves.

When I speak to my Irish partners it is not uncommon to hear things out the other end of the phone that would otherwise constitute drunken abuse if they came from someone in the south. Sticking with Ireland, ffs (for fucks sake) is not nearly as bad as it may otherwise seem. Certain cultures tend to be confrontational. Others tend to be passive. If you try to draw parallels between the way you express yourself and try to read the emotional state of someone else that is exhibiting similar body/posture/temper it’s a recipe for disaster.

For years everyone around me thought that when I got to work all quiet and locked myself in my office with a 12 pack of Diet Coke there were problems at home, losing money in the stock market. And to their defense, every time I did leave my office I probably looked like I was just waiting for someone to say something so I could punch them. Maybe I was so deep in thought that I didn’t hear a comment or a joke or a question and just walked on by.

Truth is, I get quiet when I have something difficult to work on. I haaaaate being busy. A pile of unfinished crap is a mentally draining activity and whether difficult or massive of a problem – I focus by getting quiet and working on the problem. To me that makes perfect sense! To others it seems Vlad is having a bad day. And to be honest, if you’ve worked on an IT problem and didn’t feel like taking it out on the inanimate object you haven’t really dealt with IT problems.

So communication, as far as interoffice stuff goes, for personnel matters – is a waste of time. You will never master it, you will never be able to read it 100% of the time and if you guess incorrectly you are more likely to offend someone than help them.

Communicating Company Activity and Agenda

As incredibly frustrating and difficult it may be to read people.. there is no excuse for having a disciplined communication about company direction, values and business goals. If that is a problem and things happen at seemingly random acts of whim instead of thought out rational (as in: even if the idea is stupid it is explained in a somewhat understandable way)… run.

Discipline with regard to communication is a wave. It starts with the management, hits the employees and bounces back to the management. It bounces back to employees and goes back and forth.

At ExchangeDefender I ask everyone every Monday to send me their weekly agenda: What are you working on (WAYWO), what do you need to get the job done, are you waiting on something and is there anything else we need?

Everyone sends me their agenda and it gets smashed into a single document.

On Tuesday all the VPs get together with me and we go through everything line by line. I do not want it to seem like I know what everyone is working on. Likewise, they all may not know everything that I may know about where the product needs to go based on client feedback and market changes. So we go through it, explain it around back and forth and try to figure out what needs to happen. By Tuesday, everyone knows which resources they are going to get/not get (ie, this will unfortunately get delayed) so they can kind of play the cards that have been dealt to them and not get frustrated.

On Wednesday, I write a long email that explains what is going on so everyone is on the same page. We work like crazy for the next few days.

Next Monday, new wave.

We used to do this in company meetings and while the success of those is somewhat debatable, the hit to productivity was anything but. Having a marketing person sit there and listen to a deeply technical network argument or having support people listen to resource requests for the trade show and the eye test review of collateral was just not the most efficient way to get stuff done. It was also difficult to execute with the remote employees, multiple shifts, holidays and so on.

The discipline with communication is simply that you stick with the process and protocol no matter what. While you will never perfect communication, body language, mood swings, problems at home, problems with coworkers, physical health problems and all the other stuff that affects communication and it’s effectiveness – you will never fail so long as you dedicate yourself to keeping the wave going. Yes it’s imperfect and yes sometimes people will misunderstand or misread an email.. but you don’t manage a business by exception or around the things that have a potential to fail – you run it towards the finish line.

Note: This may not be universally applicable. ExchangeDefender is a technology company and we have a lot of technical and non-technical people, so your mileage may vary if all your employees are the same or you have no diversity in your client base or if it’s a family business or or or. Again, while your mileage may vary the adherence to discipline and process must not.