Bosses often tout the importance of everyone “singing from the same choir book” or a variation of that theme. The point, they stress, is that everyone needs to communicate constantly so that team efforts are being directed efficiently and productively toward the same goals.
Why is it then that many workers believe their bosses aren’t inclined to follow the same advice?
One of the most common complaints is that workers feel they don’t know exactly what the boss is thinking and key information is kept from them. In such cases it’s not that workers believe that the boss is being deliberatively secretive, but more a matter of the boss for some reason or another is not giving them key information or important details.
The result is that workers become frustrated and disengaged, and the boss fails to meet strategic goals because workers are unable to coordinate their efforts.
Be repetitive and concrete
In his book, “Good Boss, Bad Boss,” Robert Sutton cites the case of the “miracle on the Hudson” when Capt. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberg III landed a plane loaded full of passengers safely on the Hudson River. While the plane was failing, flight attendants repeatedly called to passengers to “Brace, brace, heads down, stay down.”
Sutton notes that such repetitive and concrete guidance “isn’t just effective during emergencies.”
“The things you say over and over have the most impact if they specify what to do and when to do it,” he writes. “As a boss, your job is to find the equivalent of ‘Brace, brace, heads down, stay down’ for your followers.”
Still, managers these days are scrambling to keep up with their duties, just like members of their team. They feel they don’t have time to yell “brace, brace” every day and want workers to be more self-directed so that the managers can get other tasks done.
Is there a way to bridge this divide between what managers can realistically communicate every day and what workers need to know to get their jobs done?
Transparency leads to engagement
The key may be that the boss is the one who will pilot the plane to safety, but workers also have to be willing to do their part and follow critical directions. A team member who tries to go his or her own way will not only undermine the boss, but lead to hostility and dysfunction in a team.
So, here are some ways to ensure the team and the boss are on the same page:
- Use checklists. Sutton points out in his book that checklists were developed by pilots before World War II, and doctors and nurses find that using simple checklists with patients requiring intravenous lines in their veins decreases infections and deaths. Teams with checklists of basic procedures are less likely to forget a step and the boss can be assured he or she doesn’t have to monitor every aspect of a common process.
- Eliminate complexity. Brain research shows that experts often are not the best teachers because their experience and knowledge allow them to automatically respond to issues that may boggle the mind of a beginner. That’s why communication among team members must be kept simple so that the novices aren’t left in the dust. Bosses need to monitor information coming from the team “experts” to ensure it’s simple enough that it can be turned into action by others. At the same time, bosses should encourage team members to give them feedback if they find leadership information difficult to grasp.
- Make meetings effective. This seems like such a simple concept, but one that seems to elude many teams. Meetings should have agendas, a time limit and not be used as a way for the boss to unload his stress on employees. Before leaving, the boss should make a statement summarizing the actions that need to be taken.
- Tell social media last. Once some bosses discover the “tweet” or “like” button, they begin sharing more with 10,000 strangers than they do their own team. Bad move. Employees should always be informed first, especially if it directly impacts the business or their jobs.
- Use a company intranet. Whether you’re posting general comments about who will win the World Series this year or providing a project update, a company intranet is a great way to keep everyone informed and connected, even if they’re working in remote locations. Even introverts may find it much easier to communicate via an internal online network. At the same time, a blog from a boss can be a great way to post short messages weekly to keep everyone singing from that same choir book.
Finally, the boss needs to be visible. He or she needs to spend time walking around every day to just chat with workers. Having the attitude of “they know where to find me if they need me” isn’t enough. Bosses who don’t hide in an office or behind a laptop are much more likely to be seen as open and accessible – and that can inspire all team members to emulate such behavior.