The solution to the major challenges facing IT organizations is addressed by establishing transparent communications between you and your stakeholders. Here’s how you can do that, starting with your own team.
In an earlier blog post (What Pokémon GO Can Tell You About IT Management’s Three Major Challenges), I discussed two major challenges that IT departments face: that users expect you to deliver more complex applications and expect you to do it in less time. I pointed out that one of the solutions to those first two challenges is the third major challenge: Providing higher levels of transparency with stakeholders. In this blog post, I want to outline some steps you can take to achieve transparency, as we discuss in Learning Tree’s course Management Skills for an IT Environment.
In Jane Meister’s article, Five Strategies for Building Transparency in the Workplace, she points out that one of the five strategies for ensuring transparency is “Encourage straight communication.” Of course, that begs the question: What counts as transparent/straight communication? At Collaborative Workplace, Zena D. Zumelta notes that you can’t answer that question. What counts “as transparent communication” is a judgment made by the receiver, not by you.
Zumelta goes on to make the point that the receiver of your communications will consider your communication to be transparent based on five characteristics. Three of those five characteristics stand out because of the impact they have on your relationship with the people you’re communicating with. The first two of those three items are things you must do while you communicate with another person:
1. Avoid surprises: People only like surprises if you’re giving them a present. In all other situations, when what you do surprises others it suggests that you’re either incompetent or were hiding information. Both results erode trust. To avoid surprising the other person, it’s essential that you tell the other person about all potential outcomes — including the bad ones — as soon as they become possibilities. You can’t afford to wait until the bad things actually come to pass.
2. Provide follow-up for concerns that the other person raises: If you’ve ever seen a child tugging on a parent’s sleeve while calling to the parent over and over again, you’ve seen in action what most of still want as adults: Acknowledgment. Ignoring the other person is the ultimate insult because it suggests that you don’t care about that person. It’s always better to get back in touch with the other person — even if the answer is “No” — than to fail to respond.
Which leads to Zumelta’s third point, which is something you must do at the start of your relationship with another person:
3. Transparent communication is built around creating expectations that you then carry out. It’s essential that, at the start of the relationship, that you set expectations with the people you communicate with around:
Setting expectations around what you will do (“It’s possible we might not deliver on time”) reduces surprises; Setting expectations around communication (“I’ll get back to you as soon as we finish this project”) prevents the other person from feeling ignored.
Of course, you then have to meet the expectations that you’ve set but, presumably, that will be easier than meeting expectations that the other person may make up while you weren’t looking. As a side benefit, meeting expectations that you’ve set also increases trust.
All of these objectives must be met by you, by your team, and within your team. You can’t expect your team members to communicate transparently if they aren’t encouraged to do so all the time. You can’t afford to have one standard for transparency to be used within the team and a different standard to be used outside the team. Fundamentally, “transparency” starts at home, within your own team. As Meister says, “How can you expect your customers to be transparent with you if you don’t trust your employees enough to be transparent with them?”
Within the team, as we discuss in our Management Skills course, half of the team’s “transparency job” is yours and that falls into two parts. You must:
1. Gather information that’s relevant to the team’s work and about how individuals are working. There’s a broad range of material you need to provide: Technical information that the team needs about their work, progress information about the team’s tasks, organizational information that’s relevant to the team, and information about the customer’s needs that the team is supporting
2. Provide that information to the team if, for no other reason, then to avoid surprising them.
However, deciding how to provide that information isn’t your job. It’s your team’s job. Your team should develop the expectations/standards for how the team will communicate both internally and externally, both with you, with each other, and with the team’s stakeholders. What matters, in the end, about your communication standards is that the team accepts them. The best way to do that is to have the team develop those standards and, as a result, set the communication expectations.
Your team needs to settle on four standards about:
You do have one final job around transparency – keep the transparent communication standards that your team develops both alive and visible. This goes back to creating expectations and carrying them out. Structuring team meetings around your communication standards is one way to keep those standards visible. Although we discuss others in the course, living up to those standards is another.