Ding! Did an email just hit your inbox? Ding! A text came in, too, right? Hold on, someone's knocking on your door.
Today's leadership communication can be tough. There is increasing pressure on leaders to communicate more often and more effectively, as well as create more collaborative workplaces. Tearing down walls to create more open workspaces and the use of internal social platforms has been deployed to reduce the barriers to everyday interaction to support the kind of rapid, unimpeded communication and collaboration that can fuel innovation. More and more companies, most recently Tesla, have fully embraced the trend of flattening their organizational charts for the purpose of increasing communication.
These changes have indeed increased communication, especially at the executive levels. In fact, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, The War on Middle Management:
"Most studies conclude senior managers devote at least 80 percent of their workdays to communication in all of its forms and are hurtling toward 90 percent." However, the downside of opening communication and flattening organizations for many leaders has been what this article refers to as "interaction fatigue".
Have we perhaps over-corrected on the volume of communication and under-corrected on the quality of our interactions?
Our email inboxes can be like wild beasts we must battle daily to contain. We are also expected to show up on social platforms that didn't even exist a few years ago to demonstrate we are more available and committed to engaging with anyone and everyone. Follow me on Twitter! Connect with me on LinkedIn! We have moved beyond information overload. We must now also contend with interaction overload.
The new way of communicating yields excitement—and chaos.
Removing layers of management and the barriers to interaction have created excitement and energy in organizations at every level. Rigid hierarchies are giving way to more collaboration and informal interaction in the modern organization. Yet by removing traditional structures designed to support a leadership model of command and control, we have unleashed a level of chaos that requires new strategies for leading a more energized, collaborative and innovative workforce. But at the same time, we also need to be more effective and less overwhelmed. No pressure!
While we may have less control over a lot of things in today's dynamic organizations, there is one thing we do have control over: The quality of our interactions.
This requires that we strategically choose how, where and with whom to interact. It also requires that we make those interactions that matter the most to our organizations truly count.
Here are three ways to cure interaction overload and make your leadership communication count:
1. Set communication boundaries and expectations
Opening up the lines of communication to more informal interactions can create more connection, but this can also open up some challenges. It is important to consciously set both boundaries and expectations. For example, just because someone feels free to reach out to you doesn't mean you are open to any and all conversations or requests. With informal channels of communication, people might expect more informal rules of conduct. Remember that as the leader it is up to you to define the boundaries of others who reach out, as well as define what others can expect from you.
2. Design your interactions to add value
When communicating is 80-90 percent of your day, consider increasing effectiveness by being more strategic in your communication. Just as you prioritize the items on your "to do" list, you need to prioritize the time you spend interacting with others. After all, if your interaction does not add value for them, for your organization or for you, then is it really worth their time or yours?
Before every conversation you have or email that you write, take a moment to write down one or two outcomes you want from that interaction to contribute to your overall mission and strategic objectives. Keep in mind that as a leader, those outcomes will often be about more than what you need someone to do for you in the moment. It could be the impact you want to have on someone you lead such as increasing their confidence, making them feel appreciated or including them in a conversation.
While this may seem tedious at first, it is the discipline of beginning with the end in mind that will ensure every interaction you have adds value.
3. Create a weekly interaction list
Most leaders I know make use of some version of a "to do" list. It helps to keep us focused and ensures we accomplish the things that matter most. Consider creating a separate list entirely focused on your interactions. If you are prone to creating overly ambitious "to do" lists, try creating a list of the three highest priority interactions you will have each week.
Ask yourself: who must I connect with this week and why does that interaction matter to me, to them and to my organization? Then choose how you will interact. Not every interaction requires a lot of time. Perhaps you will make it a point to engage with them on your internal company social platform. You might need to connect with a team of people so you look for a meeting they are already having so that you can join as a participant or even an observer. Of course, you can always schedule a meeting, invite someone to grab a cup of coffee or a meal.
These are just three ideas to consider to make every interaction count in the highly interconnected organizations of today. What practices do you use to ensure you communicate effectively and add the most value?