By John Hall
Whether things at your company are going well or poorly, it’s always a good time to get down to the nitty-gritty.
No matter who you are, what kind of company you run, or how long you’ve been doing it, you’ll never make the right calls 100 percent of the time. The only way to avoid making any mistakes is never to make a decision or take action at all (and that’s not exactly something most successful people do).
Mistakes are unavoidable when you lead a company. Not everything goes the way you plan; what matters is how you get yourself and your team back on track when something doesn’t work out. And one way I’ve learned to get everyone on the same page working toward the same goal is through specificity.
The more specific you are in your communication when you share a plan — and when you address a mistake if that plan doesn’t work out perfectly — the more responsive everyone is.
I’ll give you an example. A while ago, my co-founder and I got feedback that employees were looking for clearer career paths within our company. This led us to roll out a program that would help team members refine their skills in content marketing, build new skills, and prepare for growth — but we didn’t see much participation.
As it turned out, people didn’t really know what this program would mean for their future at the company. Basically, nobody signed up because we didn’t communicate the “why” behind it clearly enough.
So, at our team meeting this spring, we gathered everyone together, apologized, and pledged to develop a program that the whole company could understand and embrace.
Was it super fun to stand up in front of the company and say, “Look, we messed up — here’s what we’ll do about it”? No, not really. But honestly, mistakes are learning experiences, and this one taught me a lesson about the value of specificity in leadership. Here are three critical benefits to being specific in your communication as a leader:
1. Specificity gives purpose.
As a leader, you know what’s going on in your company. You know your objectives, and you have an idea of how you’d like to achieve them. What about the people on your team, though? Do they have the same picture in their heads about where a project is going? If not, you’ve got a problem.
When team members are left in the dark, they won’t be able do the work you need them to do. Some might even feel demotivated by the fact that they’re out of the loop. That’s what we learned with our internal program; we had a clear idea in our heads about what the program would mean for our team, but our team members couldn’t see the same idea we did.
When you can be specific about your team’s goals and the way you’ll achieve them, everyone will better understand their purpose or role in the project. Your employees will have a much easier time doing good work when you’re clear and specific about expectations and vision.
2. Specificity builds trust.
This is something my co-founder and I thought a lot about as we were preparing for our companywide meeting. Trust is everything, and to keep that trust, you’ve got to be honest and genuine. We knew saying “Sorry about that!” wouldn’t work — in fact, it’d do more harm than good. We had to get into the weeds about what happened and what would have to change if we wanted to keep the trust on our team strong.
Admitting you screwed up isn’t easy, especially for leaders who are expected to be the torchbearers for their team. But being able to admit the mistake, and do so with specificity, builds trust among your team more than almost anything else.
And it’s not just in cases where mistakes are made that specificity builds trust. When working toward a goal, give specific guidance. Then, when the goal is reached, your team can look back and see that your guidance proved effective. I can guarantee that they’ll feel more inclined to seek your help again.
3. Specificity saves time and money.
Simply put, leaders can’t afford not to be specific — specificity saves valuable time. If you can effectively communicate your ideas, you’ll spend less time in BS meetings and more time actually doing work and being productive. Specific communication from leadership builds efficient teams.
Leaders have a lot to think about on any given day, but in the end, it comes back to simple dollars and cents. If your leadership detracts from the bottom line in any way, you need to make changes. When you give vague guidance, you might get below-average work that needs to be redone, which requires more effort and strains relationships on your team.
It takes work for a leader to be specific. For one thing, you need to know your projects and goals better than anyone else. But when you can be clear about your company’s objectives and how you’ll achieve them, your teams will be much more successful. Specificity ensures that each member of your team will know his or her purpose and expectations, trust you as a leader, and produce better work.
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