I love this phrase – “more communication is better” – which I am shamelessly stealing from Mark Hortsman and Mike Auzenne of Manager Tools. This week I took Mike and Mark’s advice. I heard a coworker share a communication best practice at our annual regional manager conference a few weeks ago. This manager is new to our company, and after hearing about his daily “curtain up” conference call idea I decided to add it to my communication routine.
This past week, and for at least the next three weeks, I am hosting daily fifteen minute morning conference calls with my sales team. The format is simple. I talk for five minutes about my agenda and direction, the managers talk for five minutes sharing tips and reminders, and the sales force gets the last five minutes for questions and best practice sharing.
We started these calls last Monday. The first few calls were great, with a lot of participation and sharing among the participants. Thursday and Friday’s calls were a little flat, but, overall, the program is a success. The team appreciates the information, even if it was a bit boring at times. If I can keep the call fresh, I’ve stumbled upon a real long term success program. I’ll explain why.
I manage a dispersed sales force, when I’m not communicating enough I find some clear signs that I need to make a change:
- Front line associates are confused by the drips and drabs of often conflicting information that trickles down to them.
- Dispersed salespeople do not feel part of a team. The sales team becomes like an archipelago, and peer-to-peer communication suffers or becomes negative.
- Our trust level decrease, relationships fade, and (often petty) conflicts emerge.
- Results suffer as confused, alone, and angry associates try to feel their way through the dark on their own.
Not surprisingly, the opposite signs manifest when the management team and I communicate more:
- People are focused and moving in the same direction. Directs show me their good work, which is in line with the direction I gave, seeking out praise.
- People feel a sense of the greater organization, like they are part of something bigger than themselves.
- Trust increases, relationships improve, and employees feel like they have high quality coworkers committed to the mission. Directs feel like the managers who care about them as people.
- Results improve as my focused, happy, high-trust team all pushes forward in the same direction.
Employees want more communication. At a manager meeting a few weeks ago I surveyed about fifty managers asking them what would be the first thing they would fix if they were promoted. Overwhelmingly, “improve communication” was the top response.
It’s one thing to attend a company meeting with other managers, and another to commit to implementing a best practice that you heard. I chose the latter. Here’s my revised communication plan:
- Weekly face to face meetings with each of my direct reports (district managers).
- Weekly staff meeting with the entire management team (district and store level managers).
- Daily “curtain up” conference calls with the entire sales team.
- Monthly “skip level” face to face meetings with each sales person.