John was nothing short of a math prodigy. When I first met him his favorite pastime was number crunching, playing with statistical data creating lovely graphs and charts. He would look at the data and get the entire story in a glance. He was an alumnus of some of the best schools and handled everything that was technical and demanding in the HR department.
Right expectations complement great communication
When we first started working together on implementing an organization wide performance management system, we were met with huge resistance. People didn’t trust the management’s intent behind the new system, they did not understand the bars and charts and they weren’t clear how the new system would affect their employment. There was a communication gap that John was expected to bridge but one, he wasn’t great in that soft skill and two, management was trying to offload this important responsibility on to a person who was seen as an employee just like them who wasn’t at the helm of decision making.
A partnership that worked
At this point I joined the team. We worked together in the HR team managing performance and total rewards for a large fintech. I made it my sole responsibility to communicate, communicate and communicate. We started by listening.
Active and engaged listening is the first step towards building trust. It doesn’t require any kind of fluency or flair. Asking follow up questions and paraphrasing what you have understood sets the foundation for better understanding.
We followed up listening with clear and concise writing. People tend to trust the written word more than the spoken. It is perceived as a promise, a contract of some sort. Perhaps, this is why many leaders shy from communicating enough through the written memo lest they be seen as making a commitment.
By this phase people were open to listening to us. In small group meets across levels and functions we spoke calmly and confidently. We answered questions honestly with sincerity, admitting to not knowing the answer wherever we couldn’t respond.
When communication is taken for granted
The biggest communication failure happens when it is believed to have happened. It took us a good six months to build the trust and be able to move ahead with any initiatives. However, the trust that we built sailed us through several ensuing projects that followed the PMS revamp initiative.
The gravest mistake an organization can make is to plan, design and implement hi tech initiatives and not have a communication plan.
What is crucial to good communication?
To communicate well it is not necessary to be fluent or verbose or articulate. Not all functional experts have the gift of the spoken word. Not all managers and leaders can influence thousands by their speech. What is important though is the intention to convey. Active listening, understanding the other, conveying your message with honesty and sincerity and closing the communication loop is important.
Communication is a specialized skill and it is ok to seek a Comm Partner
When people are your most valued resource you need to communicate internally as much as you communicate externally, if not more. While it is a norm to partner with advertising, PR, marketing, design, digital services agencies, Internal Communication is left to department managers and HR team whose strength may not be in communication. Just like John and I partnered our respective skills to succeed, it is perfectly fine for organizations to partner with specialized communication agencies and bridge the gaps created by communication voids.
Before you embark onto that ambitious project on the ideating table, are you communicating enough to build trust and a lasting relation?