Picture the scene. You’ve set up your business and, at last, you have a handful of employees. You all know what needs doing and the consequences of doing it well (or not.) You’re all aware of what’s happening and what’s most important. Happily, your business grows and suddenly you look up and you have dozens of employees. Wonderful! And yet you feel a sense of unease that you’re not making as much progress as you’d hoped. And you’re getting more complaints than you used to – from both customers and employees!
What happened? You could explain this away as growing pains. However, you’d then be missing an opportunity to make things great again. You need to establish a new aspect to your role as CEO, one that will become increasingly important: chief communicator.
When you first started out, you probably found that everyone could see and hear what everyone else was doing. Now though, inevitably, things may have changed. So, what do you need to share with your people? As a rule of thumb, the more the better. Some essential things include:
your vision for the company
your values and mission
the annual targets
the big programmes for the business that quarter
how products are developing and new product pipelines
how sales are performing against targets.
Other things that people care deeply about include:
what opportunities there are for them
who the new people are
what competitors and the market are doing
what successes there have been across the business.
You know your business and your people. You know the types of questions that you and your colleagues are being asked. You know what information people are missing that lead to mistakes or missed opportunities. Based on these insights, be clear on what you want and need to communicate to your people.
How to communicate
Fortunately, we have more tools than ever at our disposal for disseminating information. Unfortunately, choosing the best method is harder than ever. There are a number of considerations.
Team meetings. These are great for celebrating or making announcements. They also work well when you need to showcase something or when you need instant feedback. The best time to use them is for having a discussion on something that affects everyone.
One-to-ones. These work very well when the subject is delicate or sensitive or when you need to persuade a key person about something. It’s also very useful for gaining in-depth ideas on a topic.
Emails. These are fabulous for sharing routine information or for reaching everyone at the same time if you’re not all in one office.
Who to communicate with
You may be tempted to speak only with your senior people, or those you most like and find easiest to speak with. However, this would be a lost opportunity. If you want everyone to work together and give their best, they need to know what they’re working on, why it’s important, and the impact of success (or failure).
When to communicate
This is often another fine balancing act. Sometimes it’s easy and straightforward. At other times, you feel you want time to prepare careful communication, or you hope a problem will resolve itself or never surface. Certainly, not everyone needs to know everything, and you need to use your judgment. But, again, as a rule of thumb, if you run a transparent business with clear communication, even speaking about difficult things, at difficult times is the best thing to do.
What you don’t realise you’re communicating
Finally, you should pay attention to your actions and your demeanour. Whether you know it or not, you are constantly communicating. If you walk around with your shoulders hunched, never looking anyone in the eye, people will feel nervous and unsure about the company’s prospects or their own. If you look constantly panicked, it won’t matter how many re-assuring words you use or how often you say them.
There’s no doubt that although good, clear communication is sometimes difficult, it is essential for company growth and development. What’s more, as the boss, it’s a core element of your job description. As recognised by Jack Welch, who listed his top two concerns: “number one, cash is king… number two, communicate…”.