Surprises Are The Enemy of Success

Communication(10)There is little that bosses hate more than surprises. Managers want to know what’s going on, and when major events occur for which their team has not adequately prepared them, it impacts their ability to keep the company focused. This is not micromanaging; this is staying informed to be able to ensure that everyone is on the same page moving forward and to be able to head off small problems before they become big ones.

Communicating upwards is so important, in fact, that studies have shown that managers who spend time keeping their bosses (and others) informed regularly are thought to be doing a better job than executives who do not keep in touch as often, no matter how good the actual performance of the person.  Communication doesn’t just help you do your job; it can also affect the way your boss and co-workers perceive your performance.

This seeming paradox is actually not that surprising, given people’s desire to be kept in the know. Therefore, here are suggestions for three ways to communicate effectively:

  1. Send out a detailed weekly email with updates around every aspect of the business (sales, product, marketing, editorial, PR, legal, etc.). This should go not just to your executive committee/board but also to direct reports and others in the business who have an interest in what goes on. Not only will this help organize your thoughts around the weekly happenings of the business but this kind of transparency fosters idea sharing and trust building.
  2. Whenever there are major, material changes to the business — e.g., a major customer win (or loss), a key personnel change, a large product launch — don’t wait for the weekly update; send those right away. Again, this ensures all critical players know what’s going on and continue to get context for the business.
  3. Once a month, have an official meeting to go over key issues in person (these can be more frequent, but I find that’s a bit of a waste of time). This gives you the chance to have free-flowing discussions about critical elements of the business. Because you have filled in the gaps in between these meetings with weekly updates, everyone is up to speed on the tactical issues and accomplishments, so you can spend your time discussing longer-term strategy.

As a manager, you should also expect the same transparency from your team. By keeping communication flowing in both directions (almost to the point of over-communicating), you will ensure that there are no surprises in either direction.