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Jan 16, 2014

Last week I wrote about the importance of information sharing across an organization. If you missed it it’s a very important idea.

This week I want to share one more example, specifically about an executive’s responsibility to share information with the team — and the value of doing so.

When I was in my first sizable corporate management role, I wanted to keep my team updated about what I was thinking and doing and deciding. I also wanted to let them know that I noticed and appreciated specific things that they were accomplishing.

A weekly update

Since I was very over scheduled and traveled a lot, I was concerned that if I didn’t commit to something regular, my good intentions to communicate may get lost among the sometimes crushing demands and activities competing for my time.

So I committed to doing a weekly update.

In each update I shared the news of the week, and things I came across that I thought were interesting or important.

I sent it to my team, and I sent it to my peers and my boss. It became known as “Patty’s Friday Update.” At the time I used email and voice mail to deliver it. Today I would use an internal blog.

People like to feel in the loop

I was genuinely surprised at how much people appreciated these updates. I got so much positive feedback.

  • People felt informed — They told me that because of this regular update they felt informed. They knew what was important. They knew what decisions had been made and how key questions had been answered.
  • People felt connected — They felt part of the bigger team. They had confidence in the strategy because it was reinforced each week. They knew what issues we were addressing on a weekly basis — which helped them focus. They were in the loop.
  • People felt motivated  — They knew what successes we achieved — which made them happy and proud. And they felt acknowledged and appreciated.

Additionally, my peers thought, “Hey this is a pretty good update” and ended up forwarding this to their teams as well! Patty’s Friday Update became a “a thing.”

In fact, this was so well received that I did Patty’s Friday Update, every week, faithfully, for 17 years!

I can tell you that I got what felt like an unfair number of leadership points to be the one communicating with the whole organization about what was going on.

I can’t over state positive effect and business benefit that regularly sharing what you are thinking about as a leader, has on your team.

Informal is fine

Doing a regular update doesn’t need to turn into a big, formal overwhelming effort. In fact it’s much better if it doesn’t.

I think we’ve all seen the glossy but dry, information-free, over produced, highly corporate employee newsletters that are far from useful and motivating. That is not what I’m recommending.

What people heard from me in these updates was whatever I could think of in 10 minutes on a Friday afternoon.

I eventually got in the habit of recording some bullet points throughout the week and asking my direct reports for inputs by Friday morning — so it was a very easy thing to do and maintain.

People across the organization began to also campaign to get their thing into the Friday update, and give me ideas to include.

Just do it

If you think about doing this, just do it. Don’t start by trying to create a media empire. Send a brief personal email, or better yet, use a blog which will take on a life of it’s own — in a good way.

Let contributions happen organically in the beginning, then seek more regular inputs once you get in the rhythm of doing it at all. If you start out by making this a formal task for 15 people, you will stall before you start.

I also learned that the regularity of the Friday update was even more important than the content.

Once you commit to communicate every week, you realize that you don’t always have a lot to say! Some weeks, I was truly scraping the bottom of the barrel for content.

So every once in a while my Friday update would be something content-free like: “Hi, this is Patty with the Friday update. I don’t have any real news this week, but I just wanted to let you know that these two priorities we’ve been talking about are still key, and I want to thank you all for your hard work. So thank you and bye till next week.”

Whenever I would poll people whether I should skip it when I had no real news the resounding feedback was: DON’T SKIP.

I learned that people would rather get minimal content then get no Friday update at all. People felt immediately nervous if I missed a week.

If you do this on a regular basis and then start and stop, trust and confidence will degrade.

Don’t be intermittent

If you choose to communicate once in a while, not on a particular schedule — although this is better than not communicating at all — the lack of predictability does not build confidence.

I learned that the predictability of the communication was the important part. It made the communication turn into an anticipated thing. It gave people confidence and they paid attention.

If you communicate sporadically, people don’t expect it so they don’t look for it, and they don’t take it in. You lose the benefit.

Making people feel safe to be engaged

It was fascinating to me that the regular heart beat of the update in itself seemed to act as signal to people that things were stable and that I, the leader, was truly engaged.

Because I “showed up” for them personally every week, they could feel safe to be engaged too.

OK, one caveat to my record: When I was running a very large organization of a few thousand people, I did the update every other week, and I hired a contractor to help me pull together key news and questions, and provide me an outline to edit and add my personal thoughts and twist to.

But it was never a giant, overwhelming project for me or for the audience. But it was SO worth it.

So if you need to get someone to help you pull this together and prompt you to do it on a regular schedule, do it! Throughout the 17 years I did this, I did it sometimes on my own, sometimes with the help of an external person, and sometimes with the help of an internal person.

I put in place whatever I required to make it happen, and then keep the consistent effort up.

People like to feel like they are in the loop — and it’s good for business!

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.