CEO Insider

3 Steps Towards Improved Communications in the Workplace

Imagine the following scenario: A business leader is excited about a project, and he calls someone into their office to talk about it. After they have enthusiastically shared their thoughts, they say: “Okay, go take care of it.” The employee walks out the door having no idea what the actual problem is, what the scope or requirements look like, and they are scratching their heads in the process.

Maybe you don’t need to imagine this because this happens more than you would like in your organization.

Miscommunications like this, unfortunately, abound in the workplace. More often than not, business leaders may be thinking so much about what they need when assigning a project that they may forget to ask others what they need. It’s a pretty simple idea, but it’s not nearly put into practice enough.

There is a better way! Business leaders and managers can improve communication in the workplace by implementing the following three steps, inspired by Michael Cantu, Managing Partner of Accelerate. He’s spearheaded multi-million-dollar IT projects with UnitedHealth Group and Jack Henry & Associates, so he’s quite the expert on this topic.

1. Ask Questions

As a leader, a worthy goal is to ask yourself the following questions and consistently determine the balance between the three:

  • What do I need for myself?
  • What do I need from other people?
  • What do other people need from me?

Let’s dive more into each of their meanings.

What Do I Need for Myself?

This question is pretty self-explanatory; nevertheless, it’s an important question to ask yourself. You’ll also want to ask this: What are the outcomes of the project or assignment I’d like to see? Jot down enough detail so that when you communicate with your employees, you’ll give them enough information to help ensure their success. If a business leader skims over this step, it can cause problems downstream.

What Do I Need from Other People?

For business leaders and managers, it’s critical to cover the scope, requirements, and the employee’s role during these conversations. It’s also important to address expectations, including how they’ll get started and how you’ll measure progress. Doing so will help you both be on the same page.

What Do Other People Need from Me?

Understanding what the employee needs from you is critical during the delegation process. This omission can frequently occur with immature leaders. They may think their job is to tell people what to do instead of the leader telling them what they need and why they require it. In these instances, the person fulfilling the work may never actually understand what’s required, which can compromise their ability to communicate what they need from the leader effectively.

The best approach a leader can take is this: Have the attitude that there is always somebody who needs something from them. The executive’s job is not to be in a higher position; their job is to remove the roadblocks necessary for employees to excel at their highest capacity and then somewhat mentor them through that process as they grow. And before employees leaves a conversation, an excellent thing to do is ask these questions:

“Does everyone understand the problem we’re solving, and what your particular role is in solving it?”

“Do you have enough information to get started?”

Those two questions will draw out most of the anxiety, frustration, and pressure. Not asking these questions can cause issues after the employees leave the conversation because they may have no idea what to do. Most employees want to be successful, and consistently unclear expectations for their work can lead to a sense of failure in what they’re trying to accomplish because of vague communication.

Delegate or Reprioritize?

The next step is to discuss alternatives if you can’t give an employee what they need to meet their timeline. This scenario may include delegation to another business leader. If that’s not possible, you can reprioritize the tasks on the employee’s plate.

2. Determine What’s Missing 

Now that everybody understands the problem and their role, you’ll want to determine what they are missing. Here are some excellent questions for you to ask:

“What are the things that I can help you with?”

“What are the things that you need to help yourself?”

And in those cases, the employee should ask themselves these questions:

“Is this something that my boss should be helping me with, or is this something that I should be teaching myself?”

Asking these questions can further fill in the gaps to help prevent miscommunication.

3. Establish Project Priorities

Next, it’s crucial to discuss project priorities because if it’s not on a list, it most likely won’t happen.

Here’s an example dialogue between a business leader and a manager to illustrate this point:

Business Leader: “I need this because it’s very high priority right now. It’s #2 on my execution list. What else do you have on yours?”

Manager: “I have Task 1 and Task 2.”

Business Leader: “Where could this fall on your list because I need this from you.”

Manager: “Okay, it’s a #3.”

Now that you know it’s #3, you can ask them this:

Business Leader: “How long are Task 1 and Task 2 going to take you to get done?”

Manager: “It’s going to take me four days.”

Since you know they can’t start on your task for four days, you’ll want to decide whether you need to outsource that work to someone else or come up with other alternatives.

In the end, it’s essential to understand that everyone has a need. Each person’s job is to communicate what they need and to understand other’s needs so they can fulfill them to the best extent possible. 

It’s important to note that these conversations are for professional people. As we all know, some employees show up to work just for the paycheck. Chances are pretty good that these individuals won’t buy into the heart of these ideas. That’s the distinction between the two.

Finally, it’s highly beneficial to embrace the attitude discussed earlier, the philosophy that there’s always somebody who needs something from you. Part of your role is to help facilitate meeting those needs. And if you, other business leaders, and managers in your organization can embrace these ideas we’ve discussed, communications throughout your workplace should vastly improve.

And who wouldn’t want that?

Written by Kathy Kent Toney.

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Kathy Kent Toney
Kathy Kent Toney is the founder and CEO of Kent Business Solutions, a process improvement consulting and digital transformation enablement firm. She is a certified Six Sigma Black Belt, Lean Professional, and Professional Scrum Master with over 35 years of experience, +20 years spent working in Fortune 100 companies. Her most significant achievement was facilitating a sales process that experienced an increase in sales from $85M to +$300M over nine years. This process was nationally recognized as best-in-class in this company’s industry space. Kathy lives in the Kansas City, Missouri area.

Kathy Kent Toney has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, graduating Magna Cum Laude. She worked for Northrop Grumman, Honeywell, and Bayer Animal for 27 years total. Kathy’s experience lies across multiple disciplines, including Process Improvement, Cost Controls, Proposal Preparation, and Market Research, to name a few. She has owned her own consulting firm for seven years. Kathy is passionate about helping organizations to become profitable beyond their imagination!

Kathy Kent Toney is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.