008-5 Things that only your Communications BFF will tell you
Cheers! Join us for this week’s Project Management Happy Hour! This week we plunge into Project Communications – the most common cause of project failure. We are joined by Jennifer Rock and Michael Voss, authors of the book “B.S., Incorporated.” Over happy hour, they share 5 insightful “tough love” tips on project communication, the way that only a BFF would. Thanks Jennifer and Michael!
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OUR AMAZING GUESTS
Jennifer Rock and Michael Voss have a shared, lifelong passion for storytelling. They are professional communicators and have had the good fortune to work for and with companies that span multiple industries. They have spearheaded global communication strategy and worked with Project Managers for more than 20 years. In 2013, they formed their own communication agency ROCKdotVOSS and finished their debut novel ? “B.S., Incorporated.” Both live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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As you will hear on the podcast, Jennifer and Michael are great communicators. Feel free to communicate with them
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- Check out their communications practice here: rockdotvoss.com
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What is it about communications that drew Jennifer and Michael to this field? [1:59]
Jennifer and Michael consider themselves as lifelong storytellers, finding their passion in conveying information through stories while they were still in grade school. Jennifer wrote poems for the school newsletter then studied journalism in college before getting into corporate communications. Michael wrote stories about the kids and the driver of their school bus and read it to them every Friday afternoon. Neither realized that they were destined for a career in writing.
Jennifer and Michael’s Favorite Thing About Communications [3:29]
Having an unparalleled visibility in what’s happening in an organization is one of the things that Michael and Jennifer appreciate about communication. Having an all-access pass to everything that’s happening in senior leadership allowed them to see things from a bird’s-eye view while also working directly with the employees. They love being the advocates of the company’s projects and employees, and find it rewarding to tell stories about their projects to and make their teammates happy and productive.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge faced in business communications today? [5:11]
What Michael and Jennifer consider the biggest challenge in business communications is the volume of projects and information that needs to be communicated in the company.
Michael and Jennifer’s paths first crossed in the Communications Department at the headquarters of Best Buy. There, they were hit by a tsunami of information which needed to be communicated to 170 000 employees from all departments and across the world.
The variety of information included everything from health benefits access to company vision, all crucial to running the business on a day-to-day basis. Having to balance this mass amount of information without overwhelming the employees is tough- but as professional communicators, they love to dig into this challenge.
What is the most valuable lesson you had to learn the hard way? [7:06]
This is not a communications lesson but more of a lesson on how to be a good leader and employee – You don’t always have to be the smartest person in the room.
We aren’t always in a position to represent ourselves well. Therefore, often, instead of proving how smart you are it is better to find an opportunity to learn from other people to realize how you can add value by listening rather than speaking.
Newest Technology and Techniques that Businesses Use to Communicate with their Team [8:50]
Internal social media has been huge in a lot of companies. This made the sharing of information in a conversational tone possible, while also promoting engagement between employees, project team, and executive sponsors.
However, you will need to have a project team who is willing to take the questions and an executive sponsor willing to handle the tough ones in a public forum.
Scheduling a time on when the executive can answer questions helps not only in managing the former’s time, but in ensuring that queries are being answered. Alternatively, another option is to give a 24 to 48-hour window for a question to be answered. Getting employees to this kind of dialogue breaths life to the project.
The Journey of Starting their Own Business [14:08]
Four years ago, Michael and Jennifer decided to leave their corporate jobs and start on their own. They built a business, and their first project was to write B.S. Incorporated. The book was conceptualized by their meetings and business flights. After almost 6 years, they finished the manuscript, and got the book published. Once published, they launched a communications company and offered their service in handling anything that concerned communication. The whole process was daunting for both of them, but they were able to get deep into networking and got great advice from other entrepreneurs.
The Process of Writing a Book [16:32]
The process began when they started escaping the project meetings they were part of. They traded stories about the things they observed from their own careers, and that lead them to decide to write a book about their experiences. They hired a good editor, and after 6 years, multiple drafts, and tons of rejections, the book was published.
5 Things Only Your Communications BFF Will Tell You
As a project manager, 90% of your job will center around communication. Industry surveys state that the number one cause of project failure is consistent communications. The root of these problems range from communicating about the expectations, risks, and parameters of a project, to speaking with stakeholders, sponsors, and end users. So here are 5 excellent pieces of advice on how to effectively communicate from Michael and Jennifer.
1.You aren’t the center of the universe. [19:37]
Communications’ people are hired in a project to bring their unique vantage point and expertise. One of the benefits that project managers get from talking to their communication’s BFF is the information they can share about the company.
This may sound harsh, but project managers need to realize that they are not the center of the universe. There are so many things going on in the company, and often different departments have different updates for their employees.
Communications people are the first ones to find out about these changes, and it’s their responsibility that this information doesn’t hit the employees all at the same time.
Hence, our BFFs want to work closely with the PMs to make sure they have a lock-tight communication plan. This strategy will ensure that information is disseminated at the right time, using the right vehicle, and is given to the right audience.
If you don’t know who’s in your company’s communication team, go ahead and check your organizational chart or start asking around. You will definitely want to have some time to sit down and get to know them on a personal level.
2. Sorry, but people think your project is boring. [24:06]
Your project may be valuable to the company, but unfortunately, the reality is that employees think it’s boring. Hence, the communication’s team extends their hand to help relay the story about your project.
Their expertise draws out interesting facts about your story, and sharpens them so they aren’t boring, increasing employees’ engagement.
3. Your timing is a little “off”. [27:32]
Most of the time, the communication’s team are the bearer of bad news to project teams.
There are risks to communicating things both too early and too late- this is why it’s crucial that you develop the right strategy for the timing of breaking the news.
What you also have to realize that you can’t communicate everything. Transparency is ideal, but there are things which are confidential, and communicating too early may cause panic to employees. Hence, you need to find out the best timing to communicate changes and weigh the impacts. This also involves the need to determine the level of transparency you’ll get into, which depends on the nature of the information you convey.
4. Stop hiding behind your charts. [30:49]
Powerpoint, a necessary evil in business, is too often to misused as a drag to the communication process rather than a complement to it. This isn’t to say that it isn’t okay to use visual imagery- when used correctly, this can be effective. However, it is crucial that you communicate crucial information as human beings.
Beware too of the “elevator pitch”, which, while widely used, often develops into overly long and rambling stories. This ignores the primary quality which is supposed to make elevator pitches so memorable and ideal: concision.
To solve this problem, Jennifer and her team created a strategy called “Yell it across the parking lot test”- if your pitch is larger than two sentences that could be yelled across a parking lot, it needs to be altered.
However, there are times when you need to go deeper, where Gant charts or Powerpoint makes sense- just don’t hide behind them. While these tools could be helpful, it’s important you put a human face on your project.
There are a lot of things going on in the company, and your average employee will not go through pages to find the negative information you need them to understand. You have to keep your employees in mind and communicate the information they need right away.
As an alternative, you can use internal social media platforms to communicate. This will make the trading of information more interactive and fun. You can also try using a talking head video, or to invite a project sponsor who can talk passionately about your project. Alternatively, you could use a concept video where you’ll show images and diagrams to help put the Powerpoint to life.
If you want a low cost yet highly effective approach, you can initiate a coffee chat. This allows you to communicate with a handful of employees in a room in an environment they can raise questions to the people who are involved in the project.
This approach is like a focus group for the project team which will allow you to hear what’s on the employees’ mind. Another advantage of this is that you can turn their questions to an FAQ document which you can share to a bigger audience.
5. Not everything is Communications with a “big C”. [35:57]
Communications with a big C is what professional communicators do; it’s their strategy and plans for a program. This is what connects your project to the executive ranks and employees and ensures sure you have the right strategy, plan, and timing behind your project.
Communications little C is what people do when they talk to each other, ie. intra team communication.
Communicating the project to the people outside the room will be taken care of by the communication’s team. But what happens inside the room within the project will need to be handled by project managers.
If your business needs help with communications or if you want to know more about how to effectively communicate, you can reach Michael and Jennifer at RockdotVoss.com.