I have had the opportunity to be involved the communication of many large events over my career. Most of the communication has been positive and forward looking, like the launch of a new facility or the go-live of various information technology systems.
Unfortunately, there have been times when I have also had to deal with problems that required a significant amount of leadership around how to properly communicate those events. Dealing with your board of directors, employees and the public news media can take its toll, personally and professionally.
Communication is rising in importance as IT executives take on more responsibility for a range of projects throughout their organizations. Success with organization-wide projects is already difficult enough, with fewer than two-thirds of projects meeting their intended goals, according to recent research.
Particularly as IT professionals, we’re often not always comfortable with communication challenges that are thrust upon us. And due to the multiple electronic ways we can communicate, we often have fewer opportunities to practice and hone those skills.
Here are some things that I’ve learned that can help you navigate those tough communication challenges.
Communication is a process and not an event. When you have a challenging topic to communicate, too many times teams want to manage their way through the initial communication of an event, like a go-live or a system problem, but fail to realize that ongoing communication is even more critical than the initial communication itself. For instance, if you have had a data breach, the initial communication is incredibly important, but your ongoing updates on what you are going to do about the breach create the calm during the storm.
End users, board members and the public generally have an initial emotional response to your event, but taking the ongoing temperature of those stakeholders and fashioning regular updates can help make the lasting effects of the event less painful for everyone. Bad news can be made worse by underestimating your second, third and fourth communication about it. Regularly anticipate the question "What else should we be communicating?" or "What are people unclear on?" and adjust your communication accordingly.
Freely share your agenda quickly. Some would call this "be transparent," but because transparency has become a token business phrase that has lost meaning, freely sharing my core agenda is a better way to explain this. People want to really know what is going on, what that information means to them and know that you are not holding information back because of some perceived hidden agenda.
Most everyone I’ve ever communicated with during difficult challenges can see right through any veil of hidden agenda, and I've found that it is better to share the event and the agenda that you have. For instance, if layoffs are imminent, share the detail about what it means, why those are required, and then share the agenda that you have. If your agenda is to regain control of expenses to ensure long-term investment potential of new equipment and facilities, then share that. If the layoffs were required to right-size a department because of technological advancement, then share that. The key concept is this: Whatever is unsaid yet perceived might as well have been said in the first place.
Communication will always be second guessed. I used to lament the number of times I heard that someone was "disappointed" because of the communication of an event. No matter how you communicate during a challenging event, you will almost always be second guessed by individuals who believe that your communication would have been "better if…."
No communication is ever perfect, and even if you followed the advice of these critics, there would still be others who would think that it could have been "better if…." Don’t let these perceived alternatives slow down or stop your ongoing communication. While you might need a tweak here and there, don’t derail your ongoing communication plan.
People follow clear messages through uncertain times. Challenging events create uncertainty around an organization, and unclear messaging multiplies that uncertainty. I am convinced that buzzword-laden complex technical jargon that only a few individuals understand amplifies concern.
Albert Einstein once said that "If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself," and I’ve tried to live by that expression. On more than a few occasions, I have explained a very complex situation or problem to my children, who have no clue what I’m talking about, to see if I can communicate it clearly. If you can communicate challenging and complex topics in an extremely clear manner, you will increase trust during uncertain times. This is particularly the case for IT executives, who convey information to a wide variety of audiences, some of which are particularly wary about IT and how it might negatively affect their work.
These principles will serve you well as you encounter change in your healthcare organization and communicate how IT will play into it.
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