Leaders at all levels frequently need to share information but very few do it well. What we see in organisations might just as well be an email sent out to all staff for them to read (or ignore) at their leisure.
This is what we see happens…..
A brief goes out.
The manager schedules time to share the brief over the next day or so and forgets about it.
They turn up and share the information pretty much as it is on the document.
They then ask if there are any questions and here is where it gets interesting. They are either faced with stony silence or someone (usually with attitude) asks a provocative question that gets the entire team lunging towards a rabbit hole.
They get out of the session as soon as possible and hope that no one accosts them with more challenges.
This is hit and hope at work and invariably everyone leaves the meeting feeling ambivalent at best or frustrated (and worried) at worst.
But it doesn’t need to be like this.
Information is such a valuable commodity; you can’t afford to just go through the motions with it.
Information can move, stir, challenge, ignite, provoke, inform, guide… the list goes on and on. There is power in every single word. The problem is that it isn’t always shared in a way that helps people make sense of what it means to them. Leaders can be nervous in putting their interpretation on it for fear of showing they don’t have all the answers.
They would rather be a mouthpiece than an interpreter.
A mouthpiece doesn't get in trouble - they can lay the 'blame firmly elsewhere. An interpreter enters into a dialogue to help create understanding.
The 4 P's
Helping people successfully interpret information
Information sharing can feel like a presentation – whether it’s data or more subjective – it has often been issued by someone else and you are just passing the message on: don’t shoot the messenger comes to mind here!
If you want to share data for example performance stats, in a way that helps people interpret and take action as a result here is a free activity for you to try.
The presentation phase is the key elements leaders focus on and the others are often left to chance.
Let’s strip these four elements down for you.
Prepare yourself with answering 3 quick questions before you share any information:
What is the key message I need them to understand? (note: not share but understand – this is an important distinction as it helps you focus on outcome not process)
Why is this message so important?
What do I want people to feel/ hear/ see after and even more important what do I want them to do as a result?
Prepare the team with a teaser to get them in the right state for the session. If it’s good news a quick note in their placeholder saying something like “I’m excited to share with you an update on the company forecast”. Then add a call to action, for example “so grab a drink, come with an open mind as I want us to explore how we can help to move the dial even further as a team”. By doing this you are setting the stage for something interesting and preparing them for a discussion about opportunities for growth.
If it’s not good news then the messaging preparation is different. “As you know it’s been a challenging year so far and I have an update to share with you. It’s up to all of us to explore what we can each do to maximise opportunities moving into the last quarter and I’m here to remove roadblocks and help in any way I can. I’d love to use this time together to see if we can identify some quick wins and possible big hitters to help us make progress so have a think about this before the meeting and we’ll spend some time chatting these through together to make our plans.”
Of course, if it is really bad news you are sharing then your job here is to be direct and honest and give them a platform to express their feelings without comeback – that is an important part of them navigating a difficult transition process.
Keep information direct, honest and factual (and as short as reasonably practical without losing any of the messaging)
A note here, what we see too often is leaders just going into what people have to do without any rationale. Ensure you explain the WHY for any changes and if you don’t understand the reason why, make sure you find out first otherwise you can be guaranteed someone will challenge you!
Remember, your job is to translate the information into something of meaning so you need to signpost with phrases like
"So what this means for you is..."
"So what you need to do is..."
By doing this you help to make your message relevant and expectations become crystal clear
This element is about ensuring people process what they have just heard and helping them move it from their working memory into something more substantial.
Remember communication is two-way. If you simply share information, you have removed the processing part of the activity. This leads to people forgetting key information and leaving it open to a wide variety of interpretations.
Often leaders say ‘any questions’ which is such a HUGE, VAGUE question that very few people want to be the first to respond. Instead use more specific questions like:
“What thoughts have come to mind for you?”
“How do you feel about what’s been shared?”
“What opportunities do you see coming from this for us?”
“What challenges do you think we might face?”
If you have an inexperienced team it might also be useful to pose these questions and ask them to pair up to discuss before sharing.
Always end this section with clarifying what this means to us so everyone has a consistent message. In this include any thoughts/ ideas/challenges that the team have raised that you can't answer on the spot and reassure them you will find out and get back to them.
This is all about action.
Before you leave the session, ensure that all actions have been allocated to team members and you have a note so you can follow up on progress and lend a helping hand to clear roadblocks if required. This is all about accountability. Too often people leave meetings with loose, unspecific actions and nothing gets done. Don’t allow yourself to fall into this trap.
Next time you are sharing information remember the 4 Ps and set yourself (and your team) up for success.