What my implementation failures taught me about communications

The other day I had an experience that changes the way I view priorities. Here’s what happened.

The other day I got pulled over for not having plates.
“Ma’am, where are your plates?”
“They took them when I registered my car, and I’ll get them back when I complete the smog test.”
“Who took them?”

… Huh?

Anyways, this story isn’t about my plates or the DMV (who else would take them) but about the Denver Broncos. I lived in Denver until recently and the cop was a Bronco’s fan. He gleamed as he told me about his trip to Denver in February. I smiled and asked: “Did you team win?”

… Huh?

Apparently they did, by more than double, and seeing as how it was the Super Bowl it was a really big deal, and truth be told, I couldn’t have cared less. I didn’t grow up in America, spent the first 10 years of my adult life in Asia, and just never had the chance to get into sports, even if they were causing traffic jams in my hometown. He looked at me like I was from Mars, smiled back at me, and sent me on my way.

After our conversation I had an ephiphany: many employees must feel the same way about our metrics, our smart goals, our change management initiatives, and our talent development. In their eyes, they are sitting there happily doing their jobs or learning how to do them better when suddenly, someone comes in from the right field and pegs them in the head with a company baseball.

As managers, WE see it coming. Obviously. We are making a plan, sizing you up, and coming straight at the employee. The employee, however, is wrapped up in their own work, so not only are we catching them off guard, we are often startling them. Without an explanation as to why there is a sudden change, the assumption is always that they might be doing something wrong, when in fact, management is simply trying to build on their success or bring in new systems to accommodate growth.

That, or they have bored managers who need a project. If that’s the case, manager, let me tell you this: it never hurts to ask your staff how you can serve them better and help them do their jobs more efficiently.

More than once I have been called bossy in my work because I made the faulty assumption that people cared about the things that I cared about. I care about goals, operations and customer experience. Writers care about art. Programmer care about function. And so on.

One of the things I pride myself on most is my ability to bring projects and people together, no matter how FUBAR the pieces are when we first start.

The first step is always to bring everyone into my office and ask them what they think the goal is, and what they wish it were. Once that’s done, I revise the company goal, and then meet with each department to set some concrete goals. OK, so that’s nice of me, but not revolutionary.

The next step is, where I think, many companies fall flat: I also ask them what their roadblocks are, and what they wish the other team knew in order to make cooperation as smooth as possible. And then I make them all sit in a room and repeat what’s been told to me.

The truth is, passionate people don’t always give a flying fiddle about other people’s work. They are busy, and they want to do the best at their job, not support everyone else doing their job., and yet most frustrations arise because people’s expectations are let down.

George Bernard Shaw once said that they greatest illusion about communication is that it has actually taken place. This is so true, and it normally ads to time invested at the end of the day. By putting in the effort to talk about conflict and expectations up front, as awkward as it is, my teams not only learn how to work better together, but also feel comfortable addressing problems directly.

Once people are on the same page, or at least the same playing field, you’d be surprised how much more productive they become.