Pursuit of Perfect Communication

Enjoy The Work Blog. Pursuit of perfect communications.

Imagine perfect information flow at a startup…

The CEO articulates why the business must exist in the world. The leadership team and the entire workforce (via a Neuralink connection, of course) fully understand the vision. There is no data loss or confusion as the story spreads from person to person.

The leadership team translates the vision into a series of initial target outcomes, the realization of which would indicate that the team is on the right path. The wider team fully comprehends the desired near-term outcomes and builds perfectly aligned action plans and accompanying leading indicator reports. The “why,” the culture and the core values are reinforced via a variety of tools (all-hands meetings, public dashboards, one-on-ones, pulse reports). The culture is constantly reinforced as the codified core values shine via a heads-up display emanating from company-issued contact lenses used by every employee.

Everyone gets to work, and a rhythm is found. The work elicits data and learnings. With no time or information quality lost, all of the relevant people (both internal and external) receive the intelligence they need. Meetings are perfectly optimized affairs — agendas and pre-reads are distributed in advance, the discussion is open and masterfully facilitated, and conclusions are captured and shared. Everyone has access to what they need to know when they need to know it, and how they need to know it.

Since every employee knows the vision, the goals, the current status, and the core values, protecting the culture is straightforward. New employees are indoctrinated with the ease of Neo learning Kung Fu. Anomalies are obvious and are escalated to the right decision-makers for assimilation or elimination.

The business operates like an expertly efficient machine.

My question for the founders out there… how big is the chasm between my fantastical vision and your business? Technological advancements aside, how far off are you from your own expertly efficient communication machine?

When a startup is young and scrappy, say less than ten people, information flows tend to be accurate and fluid. But once the team grows beyond what reasonably can fit into a single meeting, things often begin to go awry. The founder has a harder and harder time speaking to each employee directly; instead, they start to have their data filtered to them through secondary sources. The further removed they become from primary sources, the faster the inexorable decline in information quality.

How do you fight it? I know that available cycles for new projects are hard to find and that internal communication is rarely the burning fire. But I would contend that if more energy were directed towards the communication architecture of your business, some of those fires might be avoided altogether.

But to test my theory, I suggest trying a simple exercise. Prior to your next leadership meeting, share my blog post and ask each attendee to…

  1. Compare my (admittedly creepy) utopian vision to your business. Everyone should then prepare five recent examples of communication gaps they’ve witnessed in the company.
  2. Compile the responses into a single list of breakdowns and then collectively rank them by the level of severity.
  3. Discuss what those mistakes cost the company (capital, time, employee satisfaction, NPS) and aggregate the impact.
  4. Lastly, discuss what would be the implications if the top examples were to happen routinely in the company.
  5. Brainstorm the fastest/most effective means for ensuring the gaps don’t repeat and decide which experiments to run first.

I’ve followed these steps more than a few times across our portfolio. Here were easily correctable pains we discovered:

  • We learned that our top customer support issues were successfully flowing to our customer success team but not to our product org, so while we kept putting out fires, sustainable solutions never made it onto our roadmap.
  • We discovered that our fast-moving engineering team regularly released new features before our customer success team could communicate them to our customers. Instead of thrilling our customers with a rapidly maturing product, we were infuriating them with unexpected changes in their workflow.
  • One sales organization was out of touch with the product development plans and calendar. The result was promising to prospects about features and timing that were disconnected from reality.

In all these cases, it was not malicious intent or politics that created the gap. People are just moving fast and trying to deliver results within impossible time frames. Thoughtful communication loops are just not prioritized, and leaks in the system are the result. What I promise, though, is that it does not take a herculean effort to have a real impact. It just takes a little bit of presence and practice.

So try my exercise — and my one selfish ask is that once you run this experiment, please send me the results or leave a comment below. Best of luck 🙂

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