Communication is a real challenge for professional services. Over the last six months, I have heard managers, leaders and staff share that they do not feel included, heard and a part of the plan.
This challenge reminded me of a common occurrence in my home. How often do you hear or say the phrase, “I thought I told you that.” Often, I think it in my head and neglect to share it with my wife. Suddenly the kids are waiting 30 minutes for me to pick them up at gymnastics because I neglected to share that I would be busy that evening. I am sure that has never happened to you.
Leaders you have an idea, thought, desired outcome and you hope your staff will either mind read or figure it out for themselves. Sometimes leaders hope things just pass through osmosis. Certainly, these are great intentions, yet as leaders in professional services, we must be a bit more intentional
Communication challenges occur for the following three reasons:
Reason#1: Just because you “think it” does not mean it has been communicated. Just as I shared above, be sure to sure to either vet your ideas to a safe member on your team or talk through the idea at the next staff meeting. This is about being very intentional about your communication process. Consider multiple venues and types of communication. Things like group emails, Town Hall meetings and 1:1s. All of these approaches should be varied and strategic.
Reason #2: Your goal is to be understood vs. a desire to understand. Seek to understand your team and their perspective vs. sharing directives. Inclusion is so critical for your staff especially as you launch new services, a new project or any type of change. Gone are the days where a leader just makes a decision and people adapt.
A client of mine recently launched their new career platform. They went to great lengths to interview teams of tenured and new employees to make sure they understood the career process. Before they launched the initiative they went back with their findings to make sure people felt a part of the process. What a great example of communication effectiveness. How well do you include your staff with changes?
Reason #3: Ownership issues. How many times have you left a meeting where everyone is holding the same task in their hands? Suddenly, ownership by all means ownership by none. Clear ownership of tasks is essential as you walk out of meetings.
I would encourage you to end a meeting with “Commitments and Timelines.” This exercise gives each attendee the chance to share their commitment and timeline for completion.
So what do we do about these reasons? What are the best practices for strong communication in professional services?
Consider these suggestions below:
1.) Use A Communication Model: Consider the RASI model for project management to help guide you as it pertains to projects. Who is Responsible? Who Authorizes? Who Supports? and Who needs to be Informed?
2.) Consider Conversation Types: What is the purpose of that 1:1? Is it to continue a relationship? Is it to close a relationship? It could be that it is the beginning of a new relationship? Understand the various conversation types to help you communicate better. It will at least give you a framework in which to interact.
3.) Meetings: Your meetings need to have deliverables, necessary attendees and make sure that the meeting supports a large project for the business. How many hours are wasted in meetings in which you or someone else does not need to be there? You can tighten up your meeting cadence by thinking through purpose, deliverables and attendees.
4.) Be Present: I know all this stuff about mindfulness, being present and meditation is a hot topic these days. I have found that the greatest gift you can give your staff and team is your being present. When you are with them, be with them. Put down the phone, put down your agenda and listen. You will be amazed at what people can uncover for themselves and what types of commitments can emerge by you listening and reflecting back what you heard. Sprinkle in a few quality questions and engagement may even improve.
There are many reasons for communication challenges. Intentionality is a great way to address those challenges to make sure your professional services firm is moving toward lasting results and your vision.
I will let you ponder the words of a mastermind of communication Edgar Schein:
“Humble inquiry is the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.” Humble Inquiry