Three Ways to Stay on Top of All of Your Communications

Posted 04.12.2021

One of the things I’ve seen a lot of leaders struggling with during this extended period of leading from home is how to stay on top of all the communications they have to do with different stakeholders – their team members, their managers, their peers, other colleagues and external partners.

This very topic came up last week in a small group coaching session in a program called Leading While Working from Home that I’m delivering for one of our client companies. One of the leaders in the program asked for ideas on how he could better manage the deluge of incoming and outgoing. We had a pretty fruitful coaching session so I thought I’d share the headlines from it with you.

Even as many leaders get ready for a return to the office on either a full-time or hybrid basis, the communications volume isn’t likely to drop. So, if you’re a leader who has to use communications to keep lots of different groups of people informed, connected and moving forward, here are some simple distinctions and tips on how to stay on top of it all.

Retail vs. Wholesale – I’ve long been a proponent of the idea that leadership communications can be either retail or wholesale. Retail communications is one to one. Wholesale communications is one to many or one to a few. Retail communications is best used to ensure clarity around next steps, assess performance and establish connection. Wholesale communications is best used for keeping people informed, recognizing strong performance and results, and reinforcing cultural norms. One way to organize your wholesale communications strategy is to batch the people you’re working with into affinity groups such as your broader functional team, the senior executive team of your organization, and project team members. Once you have your affinity groups identified you can think more clearly about how to wholesale your communications to each of them based on what’s most relevant to them, what they care about and what you need them to know, think, do, feel or believe to support forward progress.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous – Technology tools like email, Slack and Teams can be a big source of communications overwhelm, but when used well they can also be part of the cure. The trick is to get a handle on when your communications needs to be synchronous (in real time) or asynchronous (on one’s own time) and use the tools accordingly. Email is best used when you or others need an answer to a question or share a chunk of information fast. That would be synchronous communications. Too often, though, email is used to share updates or other information that is important (hopefully), but not urgent. In those case, asynchronous posting to targeted affinity groups via Teams or a Slack channel is a better choice. That way people can get the information when they need it and you help yourself and others reduce the amount of endless email threads of project updates and the like.

Reactive vs. Proactive – If you don’t take a strategic approach to your communications, it’s way too easy to get into a reactive mode of always catching up to the curve. A better alternative is to get ahead of the curve, or better yet, create your own curve through proactive and strategic communications planning and execution. I have two recommendations for doing that. First, think in advance about what information the key players in your different affinity groups are going to need to do their jobs. Then, give them that information before they ask for it. By doing that, you’ll be setting the communications curve rather than reacting to it. Second, consider creating an “editorial calendar” for your key initiatives. Editorial calendars are used by journalists and other content creators to map out what they’re going to produce and the channels through which they’re going to deliver their content over a given period of time. You can do the same thing by mapping out the messaging, content and interaction channels for your key initiatives with your key affinity groups on a regular basis – quarterly or monthly usually work best.

What about you? What are your best tactics and tips for staying on top of your leadership communications flow? If you’re accessing this on LinkedIn, please share your ideas in the comments. If you’re reading this directly on the Eblin Group blog, send me an email. I’d love to know what’s working for you or try to help with other communications management challenges you’re facing.

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