Here’s What a Manager Must Really Learn to Communicate

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Sep 11, 2014

Your team creates all kinds of reports, spread sheets and slides to plan, run, measure, and report on what you are doing in your operation.

Of course you need these detailed materials to run your function — but please don’t inflict them on others!

These reports are your “Operational Tools.” Your operational tools are created in what I refer to as your “inside voice” — the language you use inside your organization — a robust language full of detail, acronyms and functional jargon.

No one will understand your plans

Your version may be a detailed project plan, a package of spreadsheets, or lengthy presentation full of charts and tables — you might keep it all in a binder.

Key point: When someone outside of your function asks, “What are you doing?” never just hand over your binder!

If you use your inside voice to answer the question “What are you doing?” your response will be a bunch of complicated stuff that doesn’t make any sense outside your team.

So you will be effectively saying, “We are doing a bunch of complicated stuff that doesn’t make any sense.”

Get ready with your “outside voice”

Know that you always need to create additional and different communication tools for your stakeholders in addition to your operational tools. Invest the time and know the difference.

No matter what you are working on, know that you should always be doing the extra step of having a communication tool to describe your priorities, your budget, and the outcomes you plan to achieve.

You should be able to describe what you are doing and why it matters in a simple and straightforward way.

  • Slide 1: These are my priorities and problems to solve;
  • Slide 2: This is how the budget is being used (why it matters);
  • Slide 3: These are the outcomes we are working towards.

Be more relevant

It’s important to realize is that when you are communicating outside your function, if you find yourself educating people about what you are doing, you are not relevant.

If you have to educate, you are not relevant.

So, what is relevant? What is relevant to your business stakeholders are the things they wake up in the morning already knowing, understanding, and caring about.

So before you set out to build your communication tools, you need to invest the time up front to learn what they truly care about. Then talk to them about THAT. That is how you become relevant.

Those topics, and their precise words describing what your stakeholders already care about, define your “outside voice.” They are giving you the dictionary that you can use to communicate effectively with them.

It’s a huge benefit. When you start the conversation with things they already know and care about, they are ready and eager to listen.

Since they believe themselves to be smart — and because you are now talking to them about things that they think matter — they will believe you are a smart person too.

Never pass detail up or out

Always be translating into your “outside voice” when you are communicating outside your team or function.

If you put the effort in to create a separate communication tool, you have the opportunity to not only to share valuable insights that lead to the right actions, but also to take control of the messages about why your work matters.

In addition to language and jargon, another dangerous element of your “inside voice” is detail.

Whatever level of detail you deal with, it is your job to never simply pass it on.

If you simply pass on the same amount of detail that you work with, you are not adding any value to the conversation or the business. You are not moving anything forward. You are just taking up a lot of people’s time moving detail around.

Master executive communications

You need to analyze the detail, sort through and organize it, and find the insights that are most meaningful to the business.

Then you need to translate those insights into language that the business stakeholder understands. And then you need to create a brief, easily consumable, action-oriented communication tool.

It’s not that you should stop creating your binder full of data, you still need that to run your internal operations. But when you report out to others, put your binder aside and invest in a new document whose sole purpose is communication.

Once you become a manager, creating these types of communications are part of your day job. This is one of the things I see people struggle with as they get promoted.

Mastering executive level business communications is a critical skill. If you can’t communicate the value of what you are doing to the people who need to know, in a way that they can relate to, you work and your will remain unappreciated — and probably under-funded.

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, and Liking Your Life.

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