With January/February, traditionally months for low mood and stress, it’s more important than ever to take a look at how we communicate with our people.
When it comes to systems – ‘the way we do things’ in our business – my mantra has always been ‘keep it simple’.
At the beginning of last year, your communication system was probably just that – simple, straightforward and effective.
You had your daily, 10 minute huddle with the team on the shop/ office floor. Your weekly meeting to review and celebrate what had been achieved, what lessons had been learned, and plan for the coming week.
And hopefully, your monthly and quarterly meetings to review progress with 90 day goals and plan for the next month, or the next 90 days, possibly accompanied by pizza or doughnuts.
Most of your one-to-ones will have been done face to face too, maybe over a coffee or a bite to eat in the local coffee shop.
Any of your team could pop in or arrange to see you to discuss issues or ideas and of course you were giving feedback on a daily basis as you worked alongside your team, being able to tell at a glance if someone didn’t seem themselves and needed a chat to share their problem and see what you could do to help.
Even with people who worked from home, it seemed easier somehow to keep in touch and of course you could always meet up, or they could pop into the office whenever you needed them to.
Since last March though, everything has become that little bit harder.
Your well-oiled communication system may well have gone out the window and you’ve found yourself struggling to keep people ‘in the loop’ when at times you weren’t sure what the ‘loop’ was!
These first couple of months in the year, with dark nights and icky weather, are traditionally months for low mood and stress, so it’s more important than ever to take a good look at your communication system and make sure it’s fit for purpose.
We’re all aware of the fragile state of people’s mental health. You may be suffering yourself. And we’re dealing with extremes – some people working flat out and exhausted, others facing redundancy or already having to deal with unemployment.
You may have some people coming into work, some working from home, and some on furlough. In the worst case you may have some, perhaps long-standing team members, who you’ve had to make redundant. It’s a lot to deal with for you, and them.
Involve your team
I believe one of the best ways to improve any system is to involve the people affected by it. You can try to put yourself in someone’s shoes, imagine what they might want from you but if ever there was a time to involve people in developing a system, this is it.
For example, if you have people on furlough, you don’t want to be intrusive but nor do you want them feeling abandoned or feeling stressed about the future with no avenue for reassurance. Some may be enjoying furlough and the opportunities it may bring, while others may be totally stressed about whether they’ll be made redundant.
Ok, so you might not be able to give any guarantees about the future but you can be honest about what’s happening and agree how often you’ll update them.
And you can always set aside time for each team member, where they can contact you if they need personal support or want to discuss a work issue or share an idea.
Zoom and Teams are great (and where would we be without them?) but it can be a struggle to engage everyone in an online meeting, and ensure everyone can contribute and be heard. Perhaps one answer is to having several meetings with smaller groups, though I appreciate when you’re trying to keep the whole team together this may not be the answer.
I’d certainly make sure that everyone is in camera, so you can see if someone is trying to speak, and also get a sense for their level of engagement.
Help people feel connected and valued, and you build trust. That’s true, whatever the circumstances or environment.
I don’t have all the answers to this and most likely you don’t either – all the more reason to get your team involved. I do have a number of tips for making sure your communication is effective though.
And here they are…
- Agree the frequency, time and channel of your communication with your team and stick to it. Consistency is really important.
- Don’t wait for perfection, in a crisis, regularity is key. If it’s an important message, get it out there before the jungle drums do.
- Listen and show you’re listening – nod, re-state someone’s point, ask questions for clarification and so on
- Ask open questions if you sense someone is struggling, e.g. ‘How are you managing day to day’, versus ‘Are you okay?’
- Don’t assume you know how your team member is feeling – some may be stressed some may be buzzing with energy and ideas.
- Be honest but be upbeat – for their sake, and your own.
- If it’s bad news, know in advance what you can do to help with numbers or websites that may be useful for support and advice.
- Ask your team regularly what they need from you and act on it where possible
- Have a friend or mentor you can turn to when you need a pickup yourself. Yes, you need to be strong for your team but you’re not superhuman!
- Seek ideas on good practice from networks, social media and your team.
In summary: effective communication has always been at the heart of every successful business. We need to talk to our team members and adapt our systems to meet their changing needs in these uncertain times.
Do one thing: Take a good look at your communication – how have you met the challenges of these strange and challenging times – what’s worked – what hasn’t – what can you do to keep your team involved, engaged and feeling supported?
Please share what you uncover, below.
NB Your Communication System is key to building your Business Rhythm, and is step 5 of a 9 step roadmap that we lead our clients along, to build the business-critical systems that will make your business scale-ready, and free you from the day to day of your operation.
To learn more about the 9 steps that will move you from slave to your business to scale-ready, visit: https://www.mariannepage.co.uk/chaos-to-consistency.html