Late last year, I had a big AHA I want to share with you.
Here’s where it came from…
When I do strategy execution work with executive teams, I typically begin with an assessment phase where I talk with people across the organization at multiple levels.
–So I end up talking to a lot of people across a lot of organizations.
There is one issue I hear pretty universally… people feel un-informed.
People feel un-informed
People at mid-levels regularly report that they are unclear about what is going on, what has been decided, what has changed–or not, and who is doing what, and why?
The issues that this lack of shared knowledge creates are numerous and expensive.
1. I thought you were doing that: Important tasks are dropped
2. I didn’t know you were doing that: Work is duplicated
3. I don’t know what I should be doing: Motivation is low; work stalls.
4. I didn’t realize we knew that: Bad calls are made when data that is actually known is not used.
5. I don’t know the priorities: Wrong work is done. Effort is wasted. Needed work is not done.
Execution and Schedule Risk
Executives are always concerned about schedules, cost, and risk, but they so often miss the one giant thing they can do to make it better – improving communication and knowledge sharing across the organization.
Before I get to the big aha…
I want to share something I learned when I was visiting my Alma Mater, Monmouth University — this is the source of the aha…I’ll get there, I promise.
Idea to revenue in 16 weeks!
Monmouth offers a remarkable class in entrepreneurship.
The very impressive thing about this class is that in a 16 week semester, the students conceive of and implement a business, and get it to the point of generating revenue. I think that is great!
Most of these businesses continue to grow beyond the semester, and turn into successful businesses that graduating students run, or they get spun out into larger existing businesses.
When I was talking to the professor, he shared his process of getting a business built so quickly.
One of the things he talked about was the importance of communication and shared information in a fast growing business.
I asked him how they managed communication across the “company”.
He told me that the class splits into functional business groups, marketing, sales, product development, infrastructure, etc. Each team has a leader, who acts as the manager for that group.
He then showed me a computer screen that looked something like the very non-flashy picture below. He said:
This is how we communicate:
1. Every week the manager is required to post a status update about all the decisions, results, and open questions that exist in their area. And they are required to respond to questions that come in on their updates.
2. Every week all the people on the team, are required to read the top level updates from all the teams, and they need to read everything in their area — all the updates, plus all the questions and comments in their area.
So for example, all the marketing people would need to read all the top level updates from Sales, product development, etc. and they would also need to read all of the marketing discussion in its entirety.
Just crazy enough to work!
Would not every business benefit from communicating in this way?
Now here is the big aha.
The students shared information so well with one another
because they were being graded on it!
1. Managers were being graded on producing regular communications
2. Every single employee was being graded on consuming them.
I see very few businesses who grade anyone on sharing information,
let alone everyone!
Internal Social Sharing Tools
The simple tool the class was using was a social sharing tool, the manager of each function posted their updates on something that works like a blog.
The benefit of a using a social sharing tool for these type of updates is that it collects, organizes and archives status, decisions, questions and conversations automatically — all in one place that any interested party can connect to and participate in.
If I were in a corporate role I would set up this type of communication and I would grade people on it!
1. I would have everyone who owned a key product, project or program be the leader of the discussion forum for their program, and require them to post updates on an internal sharing platform.
2. They would need to invite their peers and everyone who should know about their project to connect to their “news feed”.
3. I would also set an expectation that everyone should spend at least 1 hour per week reading their relevant updates.
Save time and reduce email
Organizations who communicate this way also dramatically decrease their email load and waste far less time having their people searching for information.
No excuses for not knowing
There is never an excuse for not knowing information that is shared and archived, or a reason to blame management for not communicating. It’s all there…
Lightweight is good
If a blog seems like heavy lifting or mysterious, think of each important program in your business having a page that works like a facebook page, where leaders can post updates for all interested parties to see, review, and comment on.
Don’t get scared off by thinking you need to turn into a prolific writer. Brief is better, and bullet points are fine. 5 key points a week vs. no regular communication is a game changer for people who want to know what you are thinking.
Stop having status meetings
Another benefit of this type of communicating is that you don’t need to waste precious face to face time in staff meetings reviewing status. I’ve written about this before as there are so many better things to do with staff meeting time than review status.
Sharing Information on Purpose
I believe that the benefit of shared knowledge in a business is incredibly valuable, and the risk of not having it is incredibly high, and very costly.
But communication and sharing knowledge is so often viewed by managers and employees alike as outside the job description, and therefore, optional.
Why not make sharing information part of everyone’s performance objectives like the students who are being graded on it?
What do you think?
Join the conversation about this on my facebook page.
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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)