Earlier this summer, I worked with a team to explore the topic of Communication for Project Managers and Other Leaders. Our goal was to come up with some practical (and digestible) guidance on how to better ensure effective communication. We focused on project management communication, but these lessons really apply to all leaders.
There are three areas of communication that, if adequately addressed, will increase the likelihood that you will achieve your goals. Read on for a summary of our findings.
Identify Your Audience
This sounds a little bit elementary, doesn’t it? If you step back and give it some thought, I’ll bet you can identify some initiatives underway in your organization right now where someone was recently rubbed wrong because they were not made aware or they were not a part of the plan or their team’s needs or contribution were not considered. It happens all too often.
How do you know if you’ve identified all of the relevant people? Ask! Ask those who are involved in the project. Ask your stakeholders. Ask your suppliers (the ones producing some element that is an input to the process that you’re addressing). This doesn’t mean that you have to blow your initiative out of proportion and slow things down by gathering everyone’s input along the way. It means demonstrating the value of the project and all of those that she touches. Most of the people that you identify will be happy to just receive periodic updates on your progress. If this slows down your initiative, then you didn’t have a realistic amount of time devoted to it in the first place. Electing to skip this step equates to accepting the risk of those missing parties throwing up blocks or hurdles along the way and having to address the bad blood that such oversights create.
It snows me how many times I have seen a team’s project plan and it did not include a plan for communication. Again, think of the ways that this plan can help to move the project along and to avoid stumbling blocks rather than the time and effort that goes into drafting the plan. Start with something simple, like addressing the usual suspects: who, what, when, where, why, and how.Here are some straightforward steps for drafting your communication plan:
Craft a Quality Message
How do you develop a quality message? It starts with the communicator—the project manager or leader’s communication skills are a critical factor. Is he a good listener? Does she accurately read the tone of the conversation and appropriately address concerns? Is he asking questions or barking orders? It could be argued that those people you should elevate to manage your most critical projects should be the ones that you consider your best communicators.
Second, consider the elements of the actual message. What are you trying to communicate? Are you getting to the point quickly and communicating clearly? Is the information in the message appropriate for the audience? Perhaps the communication should be broken down into more than one—a high level one for stakeholders and a detailed one for the project team.
Once you’re sure that the message is appropriate, give careful consideration to the method(s) of delivery. We are still entrenched in an email intensive time; while at the same time, we all still know those people who prefer to pick up the phone and the others who think instant messaging, texting or exchanging information on the company’s knowledgebase platform or SharePoint collaboration space (with no audit trail) is appropriate. You have to think about the members of your audience, how they prefer to communicate and what’s best for the outcome of the project. This is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Take care to know and meet the needs of your audience.