Below is an excerpt from our book Startups Made Simple: How to Start, Grow and Systemize Your Dream Business. Learn more about the book here.
Communication can be seen as a way for you to get results, connect with your team, and make sure everyone is one the same page and rowing in the same direction. Good communication skills are critical to a startup; those who cannot communicate quickly, clearly, simply, and effectively will be at a massive disadvantage. A lot of companies are starting to realize that good communication skills, especially written (which is very important in the age of digital and remote communication), is one of the top indicators of an employee’s success. I believe good communication skills are even more important for founders.
Why is communication important? You might have the clearest vision, solution, expectations, or insight in the world, but if you can’t communicate that to others (customers, employees, vendors, bankers, etc.) then you can’t persuade them to follow you, to understand your point, or why they’re even showing up for work everyday.
Also, as your company adds people, the complexity of communication explodes exponentially. The book Scaling Up by Verne Harnish discusses this:
“Think back to when your company was just the founder and an assistant with a plan on the back of a napkin. This start-up situation represents two channels of communication (degrees of complexity), and anyone in a relationship knows that is hard enough. Add a third person (or customer or location or product), and the degree of complexity triples from two to six. Add a fourth, and it quadruples to 24.
Expanding from three to four people grows the team only 33%, yet complexity may increase 400%. And the complexity just keeps growing exponentially. It’s why many business owners often long for the day when the company was just them and an assistant selling a single service.”
If there’s one thing you can expect from a successful CEO (and his or her managers) it’s that they focus on a very few things and tend to say the same things over and over. This is not because they’re boring or close-minded, it’s because they know that they need to repeat these things over and over so they become part of the culture of the company and gets everyone rowing in the same direction, especially as communication gets more complex.
Communicating things like the company vision and goals, the company values, and the best practices over and over is how you get these things in the DNA of everyone working with you, and it’s effective. It’s why your parents likely said the same things over and over as well and why you can probably quote many of those from memory.
Finally, a good founder will detect when communications are bad or are going badly (perhaps in a confrontation among your team) and step in to improve the situation or call a time-out for consideration at a later time when things are calmer.
Communication skills, especially reading and writing, are becoming more and more valuable for many reasons. Most of our communication is written, more now than ever, even in text messages and chats. It’s also expensive and a huge time waste to have to repeat or clarify yourself and to answer the same questions over and over. If you’ve ever been on an email thread, chat, or text with someone who just “doesn’t get it,” you know how frustrating and wasteful this can be.
While it solves many quick issues, try to avoid your instinct to pick up the phone so you can develop your written skills. Improving your writing is usually a simple matter of increasing the volume of your writing. Tell your team to put things in writing so they can clarify their ideas and thinking. Writing is so powerful that writing this book actually greatly clarified and simplified many systems I already had in place. Read that again. I’ll provide some helpful information on this in the Chapter Resources.
There are very few founders who would deny that being persuasive is a great skill to have. Every great salesperson is persuasive, and while it’s not fair, all things being equal, if there are two people competing, the person with the best persuasion skills will get the contract, the sale, the partnership, or even the date. If you’re persuasive, you can probably sell something even before it exists. This is a big part of selling your idea to others, and we’ll revisit this in Step 4. People underestimate the power of persuasion, in my opinion.
Style and Tone
Electronic communication and social media have been both a blessing and a curse. While these new ways of quickly communicating and connecting have brought about many great things, one thing that has definitely fallen on the wayside is the subtlety of face-to-face and even phone conversations. Here’s an example from Cameron Herold in his book Double Double:
“I didn’t say you were beautiful.”
Now, I have no idea how you read that in your mind but there are many ways to interpret this text, and it usually depends on the mood of the person reading it. Now, re-read it, but put the emphasis on a different word each time. Example: “I didn’t say you were beautiful” has a much different vibe than “I didn’t say you were beautiful”.
People will read things in their mood (they may be having a terrible day) and misinterpret even simple sentences, so it’s important to review your communications for tone and how they may be perceived. It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.
It still amazes me how short or rude some people communicate these days (even employees); it’s killing your chance at getting what you want (for example, a promotion). At the very least, use basic “please” and “thank you” etiquette every time in written communication to make sure nothing is misunderstood. People have been fired or lost friends for less, believe me; style and tone are important.
Finally, you as a founder have to set the example and make sure the communications themselves are not overwhelmingly negative to begin with. For example, if you find out your team is not following a clearly written rule or procedure, there are a couple of ways to inform them:
Now, Option 4 above doesn’t always work, and that’s when a formal written warning and perhaps even anger may be appropriate. The main point is that effective communicators have a clear, direct, but usually friendly style about them, and this seems to get better results overall.
Improving Communication Skills
Everybody has their own particular style or preferred method of communicating, and they all can be made effective. Here’s what I’ve learned are the best ways to improve your communication skills. Note that this is always a work in progress (I’ve made huge mistakes on this front), and the key is to keep improving. I know some great CEOs who can communicate in one sentence what can take others a paragraph. That’s a sign of a great communicator.
This was an excerpt from our book Startups Made Simple: How to Start, Grow and Systemize Your Dream Business. Learn more about the book here or see our previous excerpts here.
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