6 simple communication suggestions
These things have all worked really well for me in the past:
Move your desk to open plan
I’ve sat in open plan offices for 20 years. I can’t believe that executives are still hiding themselves away in their own inaccessible offices. Getting out of your office and sitting among the troops will, more than any other single action, have the greatest positive impact on your communication, and in the shortest time. Once your people get over the shock caused by your move, the benefits delivered are immediate. For a start, you get a better feeling for what’s going on around your team.
Big room meetings
Most organisation structures rely on one group of managers to communicate top-level messages down to the next level of managers who, in turn, deliver it to those at the coalface. Depending on the size of the organisation, this filter process can extend through a few layers.
That’s why I love big room meetings. The ones where everyone gets together in the big meeting room, the cafeteria or wherever the biggest space is, and you share what’s going on. Everyone gets the same message, with the same emphasis and the correct sense of priority. The approach might involve getting some people, those not based in the main office, to connect by phone or video conference to catch the action. In one of my businesses we had the entire 700-person workforce attending the weekly Monday morning meeting. The big room meeting is, in a rapidly changing business, a fantastic way to keep everyone on point and to ensure message consistency to your customers and stakeholders.
I was once appointed CEO of a loss-making business with an extremely toxic company culture. Claws came out as the office doors opened each morning and weren’t withdrawn until everyone went home at night.
One of the best things we did to change that culture was to introduce a weekly morning tea. Every week, usually on a Wednesday, I’d have morning tea with one of the teams, usually about eight people. It’s important to keep the numbers at a level that ensures that those people attending will feel comfortable about contributing. The rules are, you bring the muffins and they bring the agenda. In other words, we talk about the stuff that the people, not the boss, want to talk about. The boss can get his or her message out as part of how they respond.
People love to be part of something successful. Remember, in many businesses, the number one thing people worry about is their job security. Celebrating events regularly makes people feel that they are part of something that is successful and it provides a sense of stability. It doesn’t have to be a big success and it doesn’t have to be a big celebration. It can be a new customer, a big sales deal or even a birthday, a wedding anniversary, or one of your people coaching the local little league team to some success. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. A bottle of wine, a dinner for two, or a lunch for the team will often be well received.
Friday night drinks (only once a month)
A word to the wise: don’t use this practice to create a booze culture. Done properly, you can provide another opportunity to wander around the team in a relaxed environment and talk about the week or month just gone. In this environment you’ll hear about some of the customer issues that might not otherwise filter through to you, or issues around a product’s pricing, or maybe the fact that you’re having difficulty recruiting a junior role.
Read more: CIO to CEO: Career advice from Rob Fyfe
Walk the floor
I like to diarise time to ‘walk the floor’ two or three times a week. I do it to be seen, to listen and to learn. It provides a little health check on the business. But you must be disciplined to do it.
Your activity doesn’t always have to be planned in one-hour segments. Take a different route through the office as you walk to the kitchen or bathroom — you’ll bump into different people along the way. Allow an additional five minutes as you go to a meeting or head for the car park and stop by and check in on one of your people as you go.
Bruce Cotterill has been at the helm of organisations of all sizes, from three people to 3500, with revenues ranging from zero to $800 million. As CEO, he has led turnarounds at real estate group Colliers, Kerry Packer’s ACP Magazines, and iconic Kiwi sportswear company Canterbury International. He is a highly regarded business communicator assisting managers, leaders and their organisations to improve their performance and profitability. This is an excerpt from his book The Best Leaders Don’t Shout, where he shares the lessons learned as he and his teams have defended businesses against the threats of the poor performance he inherited, and then, turned those same businesses around into highly profitable organisations with engaged teams and ecstatic customers.
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