Communication Failures

clip_image002I’ve been following a communication disaster on LinkedIn this week that could have been avoided so easily, and yet, as easy as it is to say that, I might just make a similar mistake. Toastmasters International released a new dashboard for district officials to review their district stats, and lots of people had a lot of problems. The new version was built in Silverlight, and wouldn’t run on Linux systems, older Macs, and most mobile devices – #fail. After over 100 comments were added to the discussion, it was announced that an HTML version is coming “soon”. After the comment count climbed even higher, it was announced that an iOS version is also “in the works”. When you combine those and other answers, you have a really good story. The problem is: they never actually told the story. Communication failures occur for a variety of reasons, but the big three include:

I Never Told You – Information is like money during periods of high inflation. The longer you keep it, the less it is worth. Unlike money, information’s value can actually turn negative if you hold onto it too long. If someone ever earns the right to say “when did you know that?” – you are in trouble. Companies have lots of reasons for withholding information, including not wanting to disappoint investors or give a head’s up to the competition. Internally, there is no reason to withhold what you know from your customers (I’m trying to not call them users). We are currently telling people what our plans are, and we are letting them know what is/may be coming in the future that will impact those plans. We are talking about SharePoint 2013, about Windows 8 and about the next version of Office; we are even offering to let people look at our test installations. We are also talking about ECM and why the things that make SharePoint different from the K:-Drive really matter. There’s very little downside for us in sharing what we know, when we know it. Notice that I didn’t mention the next version of SQL Server – see the next point.

I Didn’t Translate – The folks at Toastmasters started out talking about Silverlight requirements, Intel chipsets, screen resolutions and monitor size, long before they said “oh wait, there is an HTML version coming.” The only thing that those comments did was add to the confusion. People outside of our department don’t want to hear anything with version numbers, hardware/software requirements and service packs. In addition, there’s a list of words I really try to avoid, including: platform, content, repository, database, Data View Web Part, JavaScript, HTML, web service and many, many more that only serve to make their eyes roll back in their head. We are trying to remember to talk about SharePoint in business terms, or in terms of the business process we are working with. Not only do our customers understand those terms, they appreciate the fact that we do, too.

I Told You My Problems – Those of us working the IT side of the fence always have a new language to learn, a new version of something on the horizon and a new bug we can’t crack. Newsflash – nobody cares! In the old George of the Jungle cartoon series, there was a cartoon called Super Chicken. When his sidekick would complain, Super Chicken would chide him with “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it, Fred!” Well, we all chose to work in this field. Droning on and on about how hard you are working, all of the things that should be but aren’t working or even how awesome your last accomplishment was, doesn’t count as communication. Save those stories for the next user group. Your customers want to hear about the progress you are making on the new feature they asked for. They want to see a demo and they want to hear you describe things in a way that tells them you really do understand the business requirements they trusted you to meet.

The Toastmasters discussion is still raging on LinkedIn. People are getting defensive on one side and angry on the other. Messages are being written in UPPERCASE. It’s reached the point, like all long discussions on LinkedIn, where newcomers who haven’t read the earlier comments are repeating complaints that have already been aired. There’s no way to stop this; there’s no ‘Undo’ option on a communication failure. These are mistakes you simply have to avoid making in the first place.