There's no such thing as 'too much communication.' These days, it is essential to overcommunicate effectively for leaders in all lines of business.
The need to continually overcommunicate is part of the fabric of all modern organizations. Communicating meaningfully, openly, and frequently with employees, customers, partners, and stakeholders in today’s networked world is essential in determining business success. Couple it with the new normal of a hybrid workplace, and the art of overcommunicating becomes vital to master.
Undeniably, your employees and seniors depend on you and the other leaders in their departments for clear, consistent communication. How well your senior leaders, managers, and employees talk to one another — and listen — is crucial to creating a productive, efficient, and collaborative environment. You may think you communicate well with your teams. Or maybe you feel that you could improve this skill in yourself or others in your organization. Either way, this guide will help you overcommunicate more effectively.
We've all heard the saying that “communication is key” in professional environments. This is especially true in teams with large, complex projects or organizations without formal processes for disseminating information to employees. After all, project management is 90% about communication; the two concepts connect at the hip.
Yet, paradoxically, a recent Deloitte study showed that communication is still one of the top five challenges faced by business leaders—and the No. 1 priority for CEOs today. The study also found that CEOs believe “clear communication” is important for improving performance, enhancing employee motivation and encouraging innovation at their companies.
The truth is that behind “clear communication,” stands the art of overcommunicating, or delivering your message more than once in different ways.
What’s the point in repeating yourself, though? Repetition helps cement things into the listeners’ brains so they can act on them later, which is what you want when trying to create long-lasting change. As a matter of fact, everyone agrees that good communication doesn’t just take place when teams are in a room together–it’s what happens when they are out of the room too! If your employees feel like they are sitting in the dark, they will be less motivated to work hard.
So much time, energy, and resources can be wasted when your team’s communication isn’t aligned. “If you want to succeed as a manager, overcommunication should become your second nature,” our CEO Tim likes to repeat.
Overcommunication is a common trait among leaders who want to make sure that everyone on their team is on the same page and understands their roles and responsibilities. Overcommunication breaks down barriers and fosters trust. It ensures that no one is left behind or confused. It reduces the risk of mistakes and increases your team's ability to succeed.
But how do you overcommunicate effectively, without causing frustration and hard feelings?
“Patience is the name of the game,” says our COO, Nicole, who’s been in project management for more than 15 years. “The two-minute drill doesn’t work. You need to spend time thinking about the goal of your overcommunication, and determine if there are different ways to communicate—different channels, different modes, different formats—that will help you reach that goal.”
Here are some other guidelines that Nicole recommends to keep in mind:
When deciding what to overcommunicate, make sure you’re focusing on the things that help people do their jobs every day. The key to overcommunication is to focus the communication on the few things that are most important to you and your employees. It can be tempting to be passive, to wait for events or issues to pop up and then begin communicating about them, but this is rarely effective.
In turn, our Chief Product Officer believes that it's better to plan ahead of time what it is you want your team members to know about an issue they're facing. “For example, if they're working on a new product release,” says Felipe, “you don't need to share all of your thoughts on the matter. Share only the most important information that helps them move forward with their work. If there are decisions that have already been made that they will need in order to make their part of the project successful, point those out in detail.”
In the long run, the most important thing is to be consistent in your communication. Allow employees to ask questions, and be sure you answer them thoroughly so there are no unanswered questions for long periods of time. If changes aren’t readily available online or through an intranet, consider sending out a brief but regular newsletter with updates on the changes.
The most common mistake in overcommunication, believes our CTO Rowan, is giving too much information in one go. “Another is not repeating important messages often enough—even if it feels like you’re repeating yourself! Don't share everything that comes to mind; instead, focus on the three most critical things that need to be communicated. Make sure that all your communications are concise and clearly written (no jargon) and that they are sent at the right time (don't overload your employees).”
Being a good communicator doesn’t mean you’re a pushover. In fact, it’s the opposite. Being open and transparent helps everyone trust you and be more receptive to taking action on your direction. The more effectively leaders talk with their teams, the more productive everyone will be.
Essentially, make sure that you follow the next four steps:
In getting any message across, the first step is active listening. We are all familiar with the passive variety, which consists of hearing but not really listening. Active listening is the art of paying attention to what someone else is saying by using your eyes and body language and paraphrasing and asking questions.
The most effective managers and leaders know that in order to be truly effective they must actively listen to each and every employee they manage. This means that you must go beyond the traditional ways we communicate with employees: one-on-one meetings, group meetings, performance reviews, weekly updates, etc.
So, what could this look like? Well, let's share an example of good practice. When Christine Robinson joined Baker Tilly US as their Managing Director of Resource Management, her first decision was get out on the road and meet people, face-to-face - not just to introduce herself, but to listen to people's perspectives:
Truly listening to people really is an industry agnostic best practice. It’s the only way to get a keen and acute understanding of what the pulse of the organization is, what is driving people right now. One of the first things that I did when I joined Baker Tilly was embark on what could be called a “listening tour.” I traveled to a number of the different office locations - really just going there to listen, to find out what people’s perspectives were around the idea of resource management in the different teams. It was an eye-opening experience, and it helped me to understand where people felt improvements were needed, and what the resource management process should be.
By going out and actively listening to people, Christine was able to build her knowledge of the different contexts within the business, and consequently set herself up to make more effective decisions. But - crucially - the "listening tour" helped show people from the beginning that she valued their perspectives.
Of course, face-to-face meetings are not always possible, but the most effective overcommunicators will overcommunicate in a way that makes their employees feel connected to them, appreciated, and valued regardless. This is achieved through open communication channels such as email, Slack channels, texting, video conferencing apps like FaceTime or Skype, etc.
This also includes sharing information about company events (company parties or outings) and giving employees a chance to speak up in large groups (weekly company meetings).
The goal of overcommunication is to foster open communication. The more information you share with employees, the more engaged they feel with the company. A high level of employee engagement leads to more productivity and better problem solving because you've created an environment where people want to solve problems and work hard for the company.
However, when is the right time to overcommunicate?
Overcommunication is especially critical at times of upheaval or crisis, as well as for clarifying and reinforcing key signals from senior management, such as the company's vision, priorities, or long-term goals.
Managing change, particularly at the department or organizational level, will always involve juggling a large number of moving parts. Important facts can get lost in the shuffle if there isn't consistent, clear, and regular communication, and employees may feel overlooked, undervalued, or confused.
Remember, communication that is not communicated is a lost opportunity. Not everyone is a top-notch communicator. However, with the right tools and techniques you can become better at letting people know what’s on your mind.
A project status report gives you an opportunity to communicate the progress of your project, identify any problems being faced by your team, and let everyone know if you're on track to meet your deadlines.
Time - it's our most precious resource, and we never have enough of it. Fortunately, we can develop core time management skills to make the most of what we have.