Think of “information flow” as the signals your brain sends and receives to engage in a conversation, drive a car, process data to solve a problem or to respond to a threat. Millions of bits of information and instructions are processed every second to create the coordinated ability to multitask and get results. Any disruption in the flow of information can be life-threatening. A company functions very much the same. The objective is to get results through the coordinated efforts of teams of people. Just like your brain, your company needs massive amounts of information flow to deliver consistently excellent results. Extraordinary results require even more.
I often ask seminar attendees, “What is the most asked question in the history of leadership?” The answer is, “How many times do I have to tell them?” Everyone chuckles, but it’s the reality of how inadequate current information-flow systems are that rings true.
Companies, small and large, are like complex organisms that require massive amounts of information flowing in all directions. Insufficient or missing information chip away at the company’s ability to consistently deliver quality results. The causes are directly tied to poorly designed systems, lack of leadership, procrastination, indifference and accountability issues. All are self-inflicted. All are curable.
Here are five no-compromise strategies to get the information flowing:
- Reignite the fire: Work is work when it’s about work. Work isn’t work when you’re fighting for a cause. Even the most mundane tasks take on a special purpose when the people doing them are emotionally connected to a worthy outcome. Business is nothing more than a game of winners and losers. As leader, it’s your responsibility to paint an empowering vision of what winning the business game looks like right now for your company. Imagine calling a company meeting with the theme “Let’s play to lose or almost win.” Who’s going to care? Now, call a meeting to “Let’s play to win – and here’s the plan,” and you just opened the floodgates for information flow.
- If you want to win, show it: Just like running for president, you need to get out there and campaign for your vision and what you believe in. Leaders are notorious for “telling” others to get information flowing. How about getting out of your office or away from working “in” your company and start the flow of information yourself? Engage your people. Inspire them. Let them see the fire in your eyes and feel the passion in your gut to win the business game. Most companies suffer from lethargic information flow because the leader is lethargic and disengaged in the eyes of the team. Campaign hard for ninety days and you’ll see, feel and measure the difference that improved information flow can make.
- It’s flowing or it’s not: Evaluate your current information-flow effectiveness. You’ll discover that systems are lacking, missing or being ignored. You’ll also discover that you and other members of the leadership team are active contributors in creating information-flow bottlenecks. Systems get rusty over time and need upgrading or just some focus and accountability to get them working again. Leaders and managers need communication-skills development because the most common roadblock to information flow is “how” information is communicated. Individuals process information differently. Some require more explanation and detail. Others need examples to relate to. Communication styles need to speak in ways that groups of people can understand. For example, an abrasive and direct style can cause some listeners to shut down. The same goes for long-winded explanations. Fine-tune your systems and communication skills; you’ll see information flowing faster.
- A factor of ten: Take whatever you’re doing for information flow and multiply it by a factor of ten. Daily huddles are essential. Just five minutes (where you are, where you need to be and what needs to be done) make a big difference. Get out and talk to your employees for 30 minutes or an hour every day. Check in with your leadership team every day. What critical numbers are you driving this week, month or quarter? Where’s the scoreboard? Who’s updating it and checking it? Are any members of your leadership team stuck? When was the last time you asked? In fact, you should be asking every day, “Is anyone stuck?” Crank up your information flow systems; everything will move faster and more effectively.
- Trust and culture: Not knowing feeds distrust. Information flow feeds trust. Teams that win know the score. They know the next few plays. They respond quickly to adversity. They celebrate wins because everyone fights for the win. Culture is the collective thinking and behavior of a company. It’s shaped and nurtured by the leader who believes in and fiercely practices the disciplines of rapid and thorough information flow.
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