Management IS Communication

By Dwight Frindt

There are multiple definitions of “management” out there — including “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people,” “the responsibility for and control of a company or similar organization,” “the person or persons controlling and directing the affairs of a business, institution,” among others.

These definitions are all hogwash, and for multiple reasons.

The first reason is the idea that, when working with teams of people, managers can possibly “control” anything. Honestly, it’s hard not to laugh while thinking about it. When was the last time anyone truly controlled someone else in an organizational setting?

At best, leaders may be able to encourage, direct, recommend, insist, bully, or, worst case, create what we call “vicious compliance,” meaning people will do what you say, but with the least amount of effort, creativity and commitment that they can get away with. Rarely, if ever, do managers at any level actually have “control.”

What we say is management IS communication and good management IS good communication. So what does this mean?

At the core, what this means is a good manager is going to understand upstream, downstream and lateral communication flow. In other words, when a topic needs to be addressed, something has changed on a project, or there is relevant news, good managers will automatically make an assessment about the directions of communication flow and discern “who needs to know what” to keep the flow of work happening smoothly. They are going to understand the consequences of the information received to those around them.

A good manager is connected enough to his supervisors, executives, direct reports and lateral partners to know very quickly what needs to be communicated and in what format and style to create minimal interruption and maximum efficiency. It’s the “up periscope” theory. Rather than immediately focusing on their own piece of the pie, a good manager is going to pause and “look up and out” to see who is affected by change, who needs the input or update, and then he or she is going to get that information communicated effectively.

The key difference between management, good management and great management from this perspective is the effectiveness of the communication. Does the manager have a good gauge to assess how much to communicate, to how many people and through what format? Part of this is cultural. Some organizations collectively “over communicate,” usually meaning there are lots of group emails and “reply alls” to those emails, and lots of group meetings. Some cultures are more minimalist and insist on real precision as to who needs to know what and, if this is misjudged, some wrist slapping usually takes place. Regardless of the culture, a good manager can quickly assess and address the communication needs.

So how well do you manage communicating to your teams? If there are changes, or news about a project, do you consider the various streams of communication and who might be affected in the various directions? How good of a manager, or really, “communicator” are you?
Originally published: Sep 5, 2011

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