𝗜𝗺𝗽𝗿𝗼𝘃𝗲 𝗖𝗼𝗺𝗺𝘂𝗻𝗶𝗰𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻, 𝗕𝗼𝗼𝘀𝘁 𝗚𝗿𝗼𝘄𝘁𝗵
Updated: Apr 30
When I talk with founders about problems at their companies, communication is often a symptom or even the cause. As leaders and managers, we may think that we explained something effectively only to learn the other person understood something different.*
If we want the business to grow, that usually requires hiring more people. In fact, the highest expense for most startups is human capital. As your company adds people, communication complicates exponentially. Effective interactions are necessary for success and poor interactions can be distracting or even derailing.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
– George Bernard Shaw
Here are some areas to focus on communication as you scale:
Onboard Effectively – If you hire someone and they must sort through various systems and processes and how those connect to their job performance, it may take them extra weeks or even months to optimize their performance. Now imagine the compounded impact of slow, ineffectively onboarding when you are talking about many employees.
Introduce new hires to people who can explain how everyone works together, how to measure success, and how to solve problems. Creating a process will take time, but it’s replicable and allows presenters to focus on answering questions instead of trying to remember everything to say.
Offer multiple forms of communication so employees up to speed quickly by utilizing different forms of learning and repetition. Check on progress daily and weekly by asking employees one thing they learned and one question for tomorrow. Also, the onboarding process should be updated constantly with feedback from managers and new hires.
Drive Sales – Customers appreciate strong communication – just look at your own experience and the frustration from not knowing how to fix a problem or from waiting to receive a response.
Customer retention is a huge driver of scalability, yet most of the issues I hear on the client success side originate from poor expectation setting and from slow or no responsiveness. While every problem doesn’t have to be resolved immediately, have a system in place to let customers know that you have received their concern and when you will address their issue.
To grow existing customers, inform them of your plans, including new products and features. Also, ask straightforwardly for referrals since they may know similar customers and recommendations are valuable.
Spark Innovation – Communication across teams encourages creative solutions, better support, and increased efficiency. Most people want to help others but can only do that effectively if they know how to help.
To foster collaboration, ask various people to speak at other team’s gatherings and in the company meetings. Have them present new findings and learnings, offer how this information may help coworkers, and ask the two questions “How can you help me?” and “How can I help you?”
Embrace Feedback – The paradox of modernity is that we technically communicate more than ever but seem to rarely be understood beyond a superficial level. Building collaborative working relationships requires a deeper connection.
To really understand someone else involves being open with them and some people fear being too vulnerable. As an introvert, I understand. It’s tough to talk about where I may be failing and asking for help. However, being vulnerable leads to constructive feedback. There’s another benefit, too – when you seek input that validates the process and encourages others to learn from feedback as well.
𝟴 𝗧𝗶𝗽𝘀 𝘁𝗼 𝗖𝗼𝗺𝗺𝘂𝗻𝗶𝗰𝗮𝘁𝗲 𝗘𝗳𝗳𝗲𝗰𝘁𝗶𝘃𝗲𝗹𝘆
Listening and empathizing are obviously critical to meaningful communication, and here are some specific tips to better connect and collaborate with others:
Share the Vision – Explain a situation by starting at the highest level to ensure the proper context. If people know where you’re headed, they can offer other paths to the same destination which save time, money, and effort.
Set an Example – Lead with how you are feeling and what you need. This opening will encourage the other person to identify with your cause and be more willing to help.
Seek Commonality – Find what you and the other person have in common, from sports and hobbies to fears of failure. It becomes easier to relate with someone when you discover shared experiences.
Stay on Message – Plan to offer the same highlights repeatedly. Branding your vision and announcing your objectives require consistent repetition and concise language to ensure all stakeholders understand.
Emphasize Learning – Establish training sessions on building skills (technical, management, and organizational) and highlight the fact that we can all improve. Ideally, share examples of personal development at your company.
Ask Open-ended Questions – Ask questions which require more than Yes/No responses, e.g. “What are you hoping to get out of this meeting?” (Which someone should always ask by the way).
Meet Regularly – Set recurring 1:1, team, and company meetings which allow both for formal updates and informal discussions around new ideas, career development, setbacks / learnings, and other topics.
Follow-up Discussion – Remember to check back with others often. Startup life moves incredibly fast, including interpersonal dynamics, so keep revisiting work relationships since they can change swiftly.
Effective communication facilitates success while poor interactions are distracting or even derailing.
𝟴 𝗪𝗮𝘆𝘀 𝗦𝘁𝗮𝗿𝘁𝘂𝗽 𝗖𝗼𝗺𝗺𝘂𝗻𝗶𝗰𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗚𝗼𝗲𝘀 𝗪𝗿𝗼𝗻𝗴
Keep your eyes open to what can go wrong and prevent these problems:
The Two Faces of Tech – While software can vastly improve the speed of easy communication, it can also have the opposite impact with more complex messages. With the lack of body language and tone in most electronic messages, quick messages can lead to huge misunderstandings. Rely on regular meetings to build a relationship, and as soon as the messaging seems off, talk live with the person to prevent exasperating the issue.
Target ALL Key Stakeholders – Find everyone who will be directly and indirectly impacted by a decision or change and speak to them. Most people hate surprises and are not bothered by too much information.
Know your Audience – Know the needs and motivations of those you are contacting. Also, be aware of demographic and cultural differences which could cause confusion or worse.
Personalize the Message – Recognize the severity of the message and communicate more specifically as needed. For example, employees or clients in crisis should be contacted directly and immediately.
Be Open and Honest – Losing trust leads to the destruction of business. Dishonesty ultimately takes more time and energy to maintain various illusions while candor forces resolution.**
Face Bad News – Launch into updates around lost clients, terminations, and other problems. Acknowledge failures then concentrate on what can be learned and commit to move forward. This approach has the added benefit of others surfacing issues before they become severe.
Distinguish Brutal Honesty and Candor – Emphasize that any feedback must be constructive to support others and strengthen collaborations.
Encourage Feedback – Check if people around you disagree with your ideas. If that never happens, it’s likely not because you are a genius. Everyone occasionally has bad ideas, and not calling them out means that they will gain strength.
Allow people to give you their opinions in meetings and in private. Seek feedback actively, e.g. instead of asking, “Does anyone have questions?” try, “What’s one way this presentation could have been better?”
I see this problem a lot between managers and employees. One will assure me the other is aware of a problem, and the other has no idea the problem exists. Demonstrate the desired communication and put processes in place which formalize communication, such as performance reviews with two-sided feedback or 360 reviews.
Also, consider building a challenge network to seek constructive, necessary feedback.***
With growth, scaling effectively requires not only new people and systems, but also increased attention on interactions, especially as the team expands since there is less informal interaction.
Communication may feel burdensome and unnecessary. However, effective interactions encourage faster responses, more creative solutions, and stronger relationships.
* Another post on Leadership Communication can be found here: https://www.webuildscalegrow.com/post/a797de6a
***Post on Founder Candor can be found here: https://www.webuildscalegrow.com/post/52485455
**** Post on Challenge Networks can be found here: https://www.webuildscalegrow.com/post/8a32d43e