To build trust and generate spark, you need to multiply the patterns of communication throughout the organization. Internally, this means a focus on creating forums throughout your company where people can talk, share information, and continuously learn. It also means focusing on external communication. Since there is no “under the radar” anymore, leaders need new ways to communicate and shape the rules of the game with customers, shareholders, and others.
The Importance of Communication
As I mentioned in Chapter 5, the word communicate means “to make common.” To build trust and spark innovation, you need to use all the communication tools that you can. If you think you’re already doing enough communicating, think again. You’re just beginning. You’re still in the three-dimensional world. You need to expand your thinking.
Let’s look inside the organization first. There are at least four dimensions to consider—communicating up, communicating down, communicating across the organization, and communicating consistently over time. I call this communicating in “4-D.” Every leader and manager I’ve met has a problem communicating in at least one of these four dimensions. Some are better with peers, others are better with their bosses, others are better with subordinates. Many leaders communicate well in three dimensions, but fail to communicate consistently over time. It’s important to take stock of your weakest dimension, recognize what you need to do differently, and train yourself to compensate accordingly.
Four dimensions may seem like enough. But leaders have to communicate with external stakeholders as well. When you include all the different external groups, the number of dimensions swells to twelve. Here’s a checklist of external groups you need to keep on your radar—along with the important messages they need to hear:
1. Customers: Your customers need to understand what your company stands for. Is it low prices? Is it commitment to excellence? Is it speed of delivery? Is it all of these? Your potential customers need to know the same things.
2. Shareholders: Your shareholders need to hear how the company is doing—and where it’s going. Obviously they need financial information. But they also need to hear your high-level strategic vision and plan.
3. Suppliers and distributors: Your suppliers and distributors are part of your value chain. Communicate with them as you would your employees.
4. Regulators: Many companies have regulators working next to employees. You should build trust with them by keeping them in the loop, just as you would your employees.
5. The media: The best companies aren’t waiting to respond. They have an active strategy for cultivating reporters and getting their stories out.
6. Watchdog groups: Successful companies build trust with watchdog groups by actively engaging them in addressing areas of concern. You’ll gain more in this day of instantaneous information by addressing issues and investing in change than in clinging to the status quo.
7. Unions: Successful companies build productive relationships with their unions by meeting and communicating regularly with union leaders. You can build trust by recognizing that you share common interests and have reciprocal goals (financial success and job retention). You can generate spark by engaging union leadership in understanding where the company is going—and the important role that union workers can play.
8. Community leaders: In whatever cities and towns in which your company operates, you need to cultivate relationships with the elected officials and leaders in those communities. You share common goals; it’s best if you develop those relationships before a problem occurs where you need their help.
If these first eight chapters could be summed up in a phrase, it would be that they are all about new systems of communication. Take a look at the list of practices and the related changes in communication.
Start With Your Own Communication
Most managers and leaders should double or triple the amount of time they spend communicating. Sure, it takes energy and commitment. But if you want to build trust and generate spark, you have to create an environment where people know what’s going on, frequently share ideas, and build the habit of addressing key business issues without fear of retribution. It starts with you. Saying that you want more communication without changing your habits is silly. Ask yourself:
- “In an ideal world, how would I communicate more effectively?”
- “What information do I need to share?”
- “What regular forums do I need to create?”
- “How could I energize the flow of information throughout the company?”
The best leaders create a variety of forums, including one-on-one meetings, department meetings, topic-specific forums, “all-hands” meetings, all-day retreats, and social gatherings.
When you talk to actors, you learn that the best directors create a safe place where new ideas can be tested and communication and respect can grow. The same is true inside an organization. If it’s not safe for people to talk, it’s impossible for trust or spark to grow. The key is to triple or quadruple the level of communication. It may seem like an expensive investment. But as people begin to communicate in new ways, you’ll feel the culture changing.
To build trust and spark, you need to multiply the amount of time you spend communicating.
Internally, this means sharing important decisions up, down, and across the organization, and consistently over time.
Externally, it means communicating effectively with multiple stakeholder groups, including customers, shareholders, unions, regulators, and all the other groups you want to reach. If a crisis hits, remember the Trust and Empathy matrix. Don’t duck and run for cover. Assume responsibility and communicate openly. And to avoid a crisis in the first place, create a multidisciplinary team to scrutinize the company for signs of trouble—and empower the team to raise a red flag if they see trouble on the horizon.