Communication Disintregration

A funny thing happens when you move from being a worker to being a manager: People stop telling you things. There are 2 main reasons for this:
  • They assume you know everything they do. You're the boss, after all. You know everything, right?
  • If you don't know, they're afraid to tell you, either because they're afraid they'll get yelled at or because they're afraid of getting someone else in trouble or they're just shy or they figure it's not their job to tell you.

Managers need information like fish need water; they die without it. To be effective and make good decisions, you have to know what's really going on. And you simply can't be everywhere at once to see it with your own eyes, even if it's something that happens on your radar. And as organizations move from small & intimate to medium-sized & distracted to large & distant, this communication gap only gets larger without a deliberate and never-ending effort to fill in that canyon.

Here are some of the best ways that you can do this right now, without a committee, a meeting, or resource restrictions getting in your way:
  • Never punish the bearer of bad news, even if they are the cause of it. If it's a discipline issue, of course follow your normal process, but always recognize and praise anyone who brings an issue to your attention. They are trying to save you time, money, resources, etc. They are lifesavers, not assassins, and should be treated accordingly. 
  • When you meet with your team, invite the manager of a department that touches or is touched by your group to praise what your group is doing right and talk about what issues need to be addressed. They can report progress back to their team, you learn what's happening, your team takes ownership and processes improve. That's at least 4 goals with just one puck. Not a bad return for 5 minutes' of your time.
  • Hire or designate a Bullshit Detector. Sometimes you completely miss the mark on something, and roll out a new plan or program or process that is doomed to fall on its face, and everyone in the room knows it but you. I have been blessed with a Bullshit Detector on every team that I've ever led, and it has saved me time and again from brilliant ideas that were bullshit because of something I didn't know or somehow missed. There are caveats to the Bullshit Detector, though, for it to work its magic: 1) If you designate this person, make sure that it's the member of your team who tends to find fault with everything, or who can spot a process hole a mile away. (This increases ownership - you're making them a trusted advisor.) 2) Impress upon them that they may cry "Bullshit!" to you alone, preferably before the meeting. That way, they no longer complain to team members or talk you and/or your ideas down in front of someone else, plus they give more careful thought to their objections, helping them grow into higher positions. 3) You reserve the right to go ahead with your plan, program, etc., anyway, because you are the boss and you have a view and/or level of experience that they don't.
  • Befriend and regularly catch up with every other manager who affects or is affected by your team - and not just the ones you personally like. This is the 'Customer for Life' method and, because it is so inclusive, you are more likely to be able to ask for and return favors and help each colleague get where they want to go... which helps you get where you want to go.
  • Have pot lucks and team-building events (not corporate functions or anything formal - things that take almost no planning are best, here), and invite members and managers from other teams. Grill hot dogs together, put together an after-hours soccer team, go to the movies together. Social in its best sense.
  • All of the above.

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