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I break Startups down into their component parts and show you how to build for success.  

good communication

Whenever I meet with a new potential client, the first thing I ask them is:

What's your biggest problem? What's keeping you up at night?

A lot of Founders/CEOs/Leaders (the issue is across the range) tell me that things aren't getting done, that the team isn't meeting expectations, that deadlines are slipping.

9 times out of 10, the problem isn't with the team's capacity or willingness to deliver (startups are full of enthusiastic, loyal, dedicated humans who want to build something that matters), but rather with how poorly expectations are being clarified.

If you're struggling to get things done in your company, you need to ask yourself if you're properly communicating your expectations.

There are three elements to good communication of expectations - do you know them and do you do them or are you confused about who is and isn't a mind-reader?

good communication

How to nail good communication in a startup

One: Who owns the task?

Accountability is so important if you want to see your key actions getting completed. Set one clear owner (acknowledged in writing - ideally in your project management system) per individual task.

The term 'bystander effect' first came into popular use in the mid-60s and it's a social psychological theory that suggests that individuals are less likely to act if they're in the presence of others.

Although the term originally related to intervention in cases of victimisation, it has important applications in business because being part of a group leads to a diffusion of perceived responsibility in any situation. If a group is asked to do something, it's the responsibility of the group, no one individual is accountable for its completion.

If you want to make sure that something you need to happen happens, you need to assign a single, clear, individual owner (even if that means delegating the responsibility for assigning an end owner to someone in your leadership team, as long, of course, as you make sure the person you're delegating to knows they're responsible for doing that).

Two: When does the task need to be completed?

Humans, by nature, are great at a lot of things. One of those things is our capacity to simultaneously underestimate how long something will take and overestimate how much time we have left (this is me, every morning, waking up at 6am and somehow still having wet hair at 8.30am).

This is known as the 'planning fallacy' - it's one of my least favourite fallacies.

Our brains are wonderful, wonderful things, but they lie to us a lot. They direct us towards positivity, rather than negativity (see my article on Charlie Munger's 'inversion principle' for how to circumvent that bias in your Strategy), which is great for helping us to make it through the hellscape of late-stage Capitalism as a 99%-er, but less great for helping us to plan our time effectively when deadlines are loose.

If you want to make sure that something you need to happen happens when you need it to happen, you need to set a clear deadline. You should ideally also encourage your team to think about all the steps that go into fully completing a task so that they can plan backwards from that.

Three: What's your definition of success?

I talk a lot about the importance of objectivity in communication and one of my specialist skills (alongside still knowing the Live & Kicking phone number 23 years after the show went off the air) is being able to make a quantitative out of pretty much anything. If it moves or makes a sound, I can stick a numerical measure on it.

This isn't just a massively nerdy flex, it's super important for the successful communication of expectations. You ideally want a definition of success to be binary. The question 'has the thing I needed to happen happened?' is a yes/no answer when you're communicated your definition of success clearly.

I recommend employing action verbs where possible. When you're adding a task to your project management system (because you really, really need a project management system if you want to track everything that's going on in your company), start the task with an action verb.

Rather than 'client meeting', think 'book client meeting' or 'confirm client meeting' - what's the single thing, that, when done, determines if what you needed to happen happened?

It can help to write a few quick sentences to clarify what you're looking for - for example:

"Please can you, Sarah, complete this report by 12pm on Monday. Please make it 10 pages in length, please use 3 charts, please use a font size of 10, and please send it as a pdf to me and the three people copied into this task".

(Yes, you should always be saying please, these are your team members, not your servants - tbh, even if they were your servants, they should be hearing the word please. I say 'please' to my smart speakers - though that's only half from ingrained politeness and half because I want the future robot overlords to know that I'm happy to acquiesce to the new regime when it inevitably arrives).

In conclusion:

Learning to communicate clearly and effectively is a skill that takes time and practice but that delivers huge rewards when you've mastered it. Next time you're asking for something to happen, remember the three steps of effective communication:

  1. Who owns this?

  2. When does this need to be done?

  3. What does done look like?

If you're struggling with communication in your company, why not book a free chat to see how I might be able to help?


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