Ensuring substance not just the form of communication


A while ago I  spent 40 minutes of valuable time having a presentation broadcast to me that I had:

  • already reviewed
  • provided important commentary on the content in the hopes of revising it and
  • had that commentary subsequently ignored without feedback or comment.

The purpose of the presentation was to improve communication. The irony was not lost on me. It was a new process, that will dramatically improve the form of communication. The volume will increase, the interaction will increases and reply-all buttons will wear from fatigue. Dozens of people will set new Outlook email rules to deal with the tsunami of emails and emails will get shuttled to a folder that may or may not ever be opened. But everyone will have been communicated to and hence communication has improved.

Or has it?

The “Big 8” of  great communication rules are:

  • Have Clear Intent – Is the purpose of your communication clear to you?  Do you know exactly what the outcome is that you want to have?
  • Determine Necessary Conversations – When your intent is clear to you, do you know who the participants in the communication need to be? Design your communication to facilitate discussion with the most necessary people. If you are asking people to do something or change something, they are by definition the most necessary.
  • Get everyone on the same page to understand your intent.
  • Create your communication points and verify that your intent will be clear to the participants.
  • Create opportunities for two-way dialogue with the necessary participants.
  • Answer the question “what’s in it for me” for your participants
  • Be succinct
  • Verify understanding of the participants and make sure it lines up with your intent and that the communication was understood.

Let’s take a simple example; a consulting engagement status report.

Intent– to inform the client of status, surface risks and concerns, document important decisions that either have been taken or will be taken and to gain agreement on the schedule and resourcing of upcoming work.

Necessary Conversations  – Client (mandatory), Optionally: Client’s PM, Client’s key stakeholders, Internal stakeholders, people referenced in the report, people who will be impacted with actions scheduled in the report.

Get on the same page – Your client needs to understand from the outset that the document and surrounding process will reduce risk, enable better decision making and promote the likelihood of a successful outcome. They must be convinced that you will not waste their time, it is not just another deliverable and your intent is the have it as the focal point for the management of the engagement.

Communication Points  – The actual status report

Two-way dialogue – You can send a status report but at a minimum you must also create the opportunity for two-way communication. Example:

  • 1:1 meeting with the client within 48 hours of report release
  • Status Report conference/video call with key stakeholders to review action items and decisions
  • Group workspace for written comments on report or actions
  • Scheduled round-table meeting etc.

What’s in it for me- Any communication including a status report must provide value to the reader for the time invested in reading it.  This means that it must include items that are not already known.

Be Succinct (enough said)

Verify Understanding – Ask questions about the report to ensure that your client has understood what you intended. “Last week we made a decision about the use of the Managed Service Engine and I just wanted to  make sure you were confortable with the implications of the decision to not have Service Virtualization. What are your thoughts on not having this capability in the architecture?”

With the 8 points above looked after, there is a good chance you will actually have effective communication. Sending out a PowerPoint deck  or any other form of group asynchronous broadcast is not communication. It’s just spam.

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