How to communicate for engagement

First, a story…

When I started my first executive job, in my first 2 weeks, I did 1-1 meetings with more than 100 people. I talked about why, and what happened in my TEDx talk.

But the thing I want to talk about today, is that after that, I wanted to find a way to continue communicating with people as individuals, but I certainly could not make a habit of doing 50+ 1-1 meeting every week!

So I came up with the idea of Patty’s Friday Update.

This was not a formal, time consuming endeavor.

Basically every Friday, I crafted a simple message to reflect what I had seen and heard about during the week.

I shared organizational news, customer stories; I acknowledged key accomplishments of the team, I reinforced our Ruthless Priorities, and said thank you for your work.

I can’t emphasis enough the extent to which this was not a big deal or a time sink. It was simply my top of mind things for the week. It took 10 minutes.

I sent this update to my team, my peers, and my boss.

I did it every Friday.

This communication had such an enormous, positive impact that I continued to do Patty’s Friday Update for 17 years!

As my jobs got bigger, I enlisted some help from team members or contractors to proactively collect news for me, but I delivered the update unfailingly.

I learned some vitally important leadership lessons from this relatively simple effort that I want to share with you.

1. Extra Leadership Points

You get an unfair amount of leadership points for communicating. From your team, your peers and your boss.

…Because the sad truth is that most leaders do not do a great job at proactively communicating.

My peers heard this update and thought, “That’s a pretty useful update, I’ll forward it to my team”.

So I became the voice of the business. People believed I was a great leader because I was the one that was communicating, sharing information and keeping them in the loop.

People like to feel like they are in the loop.

The amount of credibility and leadership credit I got from this simple communication was greatly out of proportion to the effort. But no one else was sharing information. So I got the points.

2. Regularity

Regularity is more important than content.

In the beginning, I did Patty’s Friday Update for about 17 weeks, and then there was a week where nothing happened. I had no news. Everything was going fine, but nothing specific happened. So I skipped the update, not wanting to waste people’s time with a non-message.

When I got to work on Monday morning I had a steady stream of employees coming into my office…

“Did you get fired?”

“Is our division getting shut down?”

“Are you leaving the company?”

“Is our business failing?”

After a few of these I began to wonder, “What have they heard? Am I losing my job?”.

I asked, “What did you hear? Who is telling you these things?”

The answer was, “When you didn’t send your Friday update, we thought something was terribly wrong.”

Isn’t that fascinating?

People will fill in the space if you don’t communicate, and it will always be something worse than reality.

So I held an impromptu all-hands meeting later that day, and I asked, “When there is a week when I have no real news to share, raise your hand if you still want me to send the Friday update?”

All the hands went up.

What I learned is that while the content was helping people feel in the loop, it was the regular heartbeat of an expected communication from the top that was the most important aspect.

Each week, without knowing it, I was showing up as a leader.

If you read between the lines, my weekly update said, “I’m still here. I’m still in this. I have your back.”

It made people feel like they belonged to something. It made them feel more confident. It removed reasons to worry. It built trust.

So sometimes the entire content of my Friday Update was,

“This week I have no news to report. Things are on track. Let me reiterate the importance of our Ruthless Priorities… Thank you for your hard work. Let me know if you have any feedback, question or concerns. Have a good weekend.”

Note: If there is uncertainty, bad news, or something hanging over the organization that is making everyone worried, this is NOT the time to stop communicating. I’ll write another blog on this soon. But for now, if people are worried, the worst thing you can do is to stop communicating. Even if you can’t answer everything, say something!

3. Consistency

Consistency goes a long way.

One of the reasons the Friday Update got so much traction with everyone is that it happened at the same time each week.

As a leader, if you make an effort to keep people in the loop through proactive communications, that is way better than not communicating at all, but if you do it intermittently, no one will be looking for it.

So it will get lost in the stream of all the other communications.

But by doing it the same time each week, people waited for it and looked for it. It made the communication stand out.

Who should do this?

I realized that we are all overwhelmed with communications. You certainly don’t want every person in the organization sending updates to everyone else!

But if you are a manager, you should send a regular update to your own team or organization. That’s the baseline.

If none of your peers are doing this, you are probably safe to copy them and see what happens.

Use blogs, messaging apps and video

If I were in a corporate role today, I would host these updates on an internal blog, and whenever possible I would include a video message from me.

The important thing to understand is where your team is already in the habit of communicating. If it’s primarily email, then host your update on a blog platform and push the email to people.

If it’s a WhatsApp group, or another messaging app, put the updates there. Encourage conversation.

And seriously consider video. Video goes such a long way to make people feel connected. I’ll write a blog about that soon too!

What do you think?

What do you think about these ideas? What would you add? Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page.

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ABOUT PATTY:

patty blog image
Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor.
She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her books RISE and MOVE.


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