5 mistakes startups can’t afford
In years spent working with startups and working for startups, I learnt a few things that goes a long way in ensuring things aren’t lost in translation and that the best output is achieved. These are simple yet very crucial things that can be implemented and should be kept in mind regardless the size of a company.
1. Communication is not a one way street
Leaders who consistently tell without taking into account feedback get one of two things wrong. A subservient group of people doing as they are told or a frustrated group of people who are negatively disposed to much of what they are asked to do.
In the former case, the organisation loses the capacity to think, to be creative and innovative. In the latter case the organisation has a destructive, secretive, back-biting culture that takes years from which to move on. Organisations irrespective of size suffer from both when charismatic, powerful leaders consciously or unconsciously suppress debate.
Body language plays a very important role when one speaks and the audience is attempting to assess whether we are sincere or not about what we say, they take into account the following:
a. The words we use, i.e. the content and knowledge of our topic, counts for 7 percent of their perception.
b. How we speak, including our tone, pitch and inflection, counts for 35 percent of their perception.
c. Our visual presence, our body language counts for 55 percent of their perception.
Some examples of incongruence between words, tone and body which scuttles our message are: Talking about open communication and frowning at difficult questions (body language versus words). Reading from a speech in a monotone about how excited we are about the future (body language and tone and pace of voice versus words). Saying I take full accountability for an error without expressing what the consequences of the accountability entails (words versus words).
Communication which is infrequent runs the risk of surprising people. Not because they were not told, but because they only half listened the first time, or perhaps they were not there or because they deleted the email, or threw out the memo when they received it without reading it. This is what people do. Communicators need to understand it, get over it and plan for it.
Organisations no matter how large or small, which want to get a message to their employees must use the same principles to be successful. The more important the message, the more they need to reach a single person to reinforce the message. The bigger the organisation, the more times they need to repeat the message to ensure they get everybody a minimum number of times.
Have you heard of the organisation that sent out a communication about major changes in the organisation leading to retrenchments by email? Hear about the one that did it by memo or letter? I think we all know of, or have worked in, an organisation that has committed this sin. The leaders usually commit the sin of incongruence whilst doing it by saying that the employee’s welfare is uppermost in their minds.
These types of messages affect people’s lives not only by the eventual outcome but also by the uncertainty involved. People need to not only hear the words, they need to see the body language and hear the tone and pace of voice to further test the communicator for congruence. They need to ask questions. The medium of email and/or memo are wrong. The message immediately becomes incoherent.
Every message to every constituent must be evaluated for what the communicator wants the audience to feel, think and do. The medium must be analysed similarly to ensure that messages are coherent in the mind of the receiver.
Nature abhors a vacuum. Leave things unsaid and people will speculate to fill the gap. Rumours abound and gain credibility, sometimes of a higher order than the truth.
When there is bad news to give, give it. When there is uncertainty be definite about what the uncertainty is. Be clear about when the uncertainty is expected to end. Be clear, as soon as you can about the criteria being used to determine how the uncertainty will end and what the alternative consequences will be for groups of individuals.The corollary of incompleteness is always someone else, less informed, completing the communication at a time and in a manner which makes life worse.
Besides what I have mentioned in the above five (5) points, I might have missed a few other important points too.. if you feel there are any that you would like to add, please feel free to contribute by mentioning that in the comments below. Like someone wise once said “The smart approach is to admit, collaborate and learn from those that have gone before.”