Years ago I had been working in a culture filled with major unrest and uncertainty. If there was any proverbial “writing on the wall,” it was bold and loud. In my position, though, I had to ignore what it meant for me while I tried to rally the troops and put on a good face.
I wasn’t being deceitful, but I was being hopeful. I was hopeful that we could work our way out of our problems, and that our investors would just hang on long enough so we could get pointed in the right direction. It was one of the most challenging business situations I’ve ever been in.
While I tried to be a good leader and shield my team from the unrest that was happening at the board level, my team was not oblivious. It’s like when parents fight… no matter how quiet they are, the kids know something is wrong. They pick up on the changes in tone of voice, or visual clues, or can simply feel the weight of the situation around them. They know something is wrong, but they don’t know how bad it is (or isn’t).
As a leader, building a positive culture, it’s hard to deal with hard issues at the leadership level and then turn around and put on a positive, optimistic face for your team. Going from a war room, where every single thing is being questioned, back to a project meeting that you know might be on life support, can be hard. So, what do you do?
I was committed to the success of my company. I was also committed to each member on my team. Unfortunately, because I was unwise, I was not committed to my own career management. I thought if I were to take care of my company (I was not an owner) and my team, the future of my career would be fine. I intentionally ignored the writing on the wall.
Communication is the key, of course. Proper communication up (to the board, and those I reported to), as well as proper communication down. This is the trademark of a true and effective leader. But it’s not easy. How much information do you send up? How much, and what kind of, information do you send down? You don’t want to tell your team things that make them all sharpen their resumes and jump ship. But you don’t want to sugar coat everything and have your team (a) believe that everything is great when things are really, really bad, and (b) lose confidence in you because they can see right through the sugar coating and know you aren’t being fully honest with them.
In addition to WHAT you are communicating, it is important to consider WHEN you are communicating. Don’t put out bad or ominous news on Friday afternoon. Don’t hold on to information that your team really should get for too long. But don’t be a fountain of what feels like gossip, always ready to spill beans on stuff that just isn’t decided yet.
Remember I said I was committed to my team? I wanted to share as much as I could, and as much as I should, without getting them wrapped up in drama and presenting issues the board was chewing on. A leader and a manager figures out what that fine line is.
I asked my boss, who was also on the board, if I should “get my resume ready.” His answer was that he didn’t know. This was shocking, considering the time we had spent working together, the projects we were on, and the confidences we had shared. I should have realized that was the most important writing on the wall. But I was optimistic.
I bet many of your teammates are not going to be as optimistic. Some of the vague information or responses they hear will be interpreted and misinterpreted until no one knows what the original message or source was. Your communication should be clear and they should know if there are questions come talk to you.
This is how you build a strong, positive culture. Of course, Snowfly has a bunch of communication tools to help facilitate this. Our News section, which your team has access to, can be a central repository to “get the latest” official position on things. Having that kind of repository can help quell rumors. If someone says something off, others can refer back to what was written, and how it was written.
There are other tools in Snowfly to help you communicate to your team. While our customers signed on for peer recognition, manager recognition, gamification, incentives and rewards, they have found we are a great central location to share important communication.
2020 will go down in history books as a time of unrest and uncertainty. Over 40 million people in the U.S. have filed for unemployment insurance in just a few weeks, as a result of the country being on quarantine. Everyone, at every level, is wondering what their own future will be. Will their employer be around? Will they have a job in a couple of weeks or months?
Now, more than ever, our teams need us to communicate. Do this well and you’ll build a culture that people want to be a part of, and contribute to.
Ready to learn more about Snowfly? Reach out to us here… we’d love to talk about communication, culture, and performance with you.