I recently had a very interesting and thought-provoking discussion with Michael Gabriel, the former CIO of HBO and currently the founder and CEO of Quantum Barometer. We discussed how interpersonal communication between IT individuals and open two-way communication between IT leadership and those working with and within IT can maximize efficiency, effectiveness, and the value of IT to the overall organization.
We began by considering issues that can arise if open communication cannot be attained, then the value that open communication provides, followed by great advice on how open channels of communication can be fostered and achieved.
On the downside, when IT internal communication is stifled, the following situations can arise:
- KPI Success of implemented projects can’t be accurately assessed by senior management because those within their team feel uncomfortable raising issues that reduce project value
- Senior management may not want to ask if the projects they approved and funded reached their KPI targets because of the risk associated with calculating and knowing the truth
- Senior management may not know the true issues, concerns, needs and wants of their team, resulting in low morale, reduced productivity and increased attrition
There are also many other issues related to poor communication, but I think you get the idea.
On a more positive note, in addition to preventing the issues previously mentioned, strong communication provides many additional obvious and more subtle advantages, including the following:
- Receipt of actionable feedback that can be used by management to enhance productivity, improve processes and drive innovation.
- Enhance morale by making employees feel that their voices, ideas, and concerns are being heard and addressed.
- Getting earlier warning of project and production issues, thus allowing them to be addressed more quickly.
- Faster adoption of new initiatives, organizational changes and digital transformations because employees have a clearer understanding of the “big picture.”
As with the previous list, this list could also go on and on. In short, great internal IT communication brings remarkable things.
I then asked Michael, given all the advantages of strong internal organization, was there any advice he could provide that I could pass along to my readers. He began by explaining the following:
Internal communication must flow in three primary directions to be effective – up, down and across.
Communication upward must be more than just generic project status. It must be must be much richer, anecdotal and actionable, with the goal of truly helping the projects and the individual’s success. In essence, it should be the type of information you hear around the water cooler, including:
- What is the confidence that deliverables will be completed on time without herculean efforts
- If all project deliverables make sense and will provide value greater than the effort it took to create it
- If the people working on the project or team are happy with their jobs, managers, projects and company
- What they really think about senior IT management effectiveness and why
In essence, it’s important for senior management to get honest and timely “grassroots” feedback about what’s going on in their organization and how their people feel.
Peer-to-peer communication across the company and within IT increases coordination, reduces redundancy, enhances quality and fosters teamwork, productivity and innovation. Peer-to-peer communication outside of IT across the organization is equally important. Technology is the glue that holds business processes together. For this glue to properly form, there must be a partnership between those building and those using the technology. IT can’t do it alone. IT can be used as the hub of a wheel, but it’s not the whole wheel, only the coordinating center.
Communicating down is a key ingredient in leadership. In addition to the standard items, such as vision, delegated tasks and performance measurement, showing in words and action that you are listening to your staff and considering their thoughts, suggestions and feedback is a key ingredient in employee morale, reduced attrition and productivity because it gives people the understanding that they are being heard.
I then asked Michael if he had any closing advice that he would like me to pass along to my readers, he had three key points.
- It is best to utilize a standard platform to collect employee thoughts and feedback, show your staff that you are listening to the them and, when appropriate, act on their advice. If you don’t, they will feel that you have wasted their time and fallen short on their expectations of you. This is worse than not asking for their input in the first place.
- If an issue is communicated in good faith, take it in good faith. Don’t blame the messenger or overreact to the issue. Just work to monitor or correct it if appropriate.
- The wrong reaction to good faith employee input is worse than no reaction at all, so think and discuss it with them before you act.
It was truly a pleasure speaking with Michael. As technologists by nature and leaders of technical organizations, when things get busy, it can be easy to forget the importance and value of communication throughout our organizations. Thank you, Michael, from your advice and bringing this topic to the forefront.