Don Khouri Blog

Three steps to Overcoming Procrastination

Posted by Don Khouri on Fri, May 21, 2010

Procrastination has been a hot topic recently with a few clients, and I wanted to offer some tips on overcoming it.  First let's take a look at the reasons people procrastinate.

Reasons People Procrastinateprocrastination, productivity, technology, tomorrow

Lack of Commitment.  It may be that you are no longer committed to the task.  At one point it was important, and now it is no longer important.  You may not have even realized that this is the case, so it stays on your to-do list or in your head, and your stress level increases each time you come across it.

Lack of Clarity.  The second reason is that you haven't decided what you are going to do about it.  For example, let's look at putting an estate plan in place.  On your list, you have something called 'Estate Plan'.  It is important to you.  You are still committed to doing it for all the right reasons (minimizes taxes, family is protected, etc.).  The only trouble is you can't do anything about Estate Plan as is.  Part of the problem is you're too smart.  When you look at something on your list that is too big and too difficult to do, you process that in your head for a few seconds, and move on to the next item. 

Overwhelm.  The third reason people procrastinate is because they are overwhelmed by too much to do.  Some will be frozen by this sense of overwhelm, and as a result they end up doing nothing.  As David Allen says, "there is always more to do than you can do." 

Finally, people procrastinate because they are not focused.  It is very easy to get distracted today with all of the information, interruptions, and details coming at us. 

Overcoming Procrastination

The next time you come across something that you are putting off, something that every time you look at it you skip right over, try the following actions:

  1. Decide if you are still committed to doing it.  If you are go to step 2.  If you are not, then take it off the list.  Perhaps you are not committed to it right now but may be at some point in the future.  In that case, move it to a parking lot list or someday list that you can come back to at a later time.  Sometimes, it is more important to decide what not to do, that it is what to do.
  2. Now, decide what to do.  Going back to the estate planning example, you are not going to write yourself.  So you may need to hire an attorney to do it for you.  How are you going to do that?  Perhaps you are going to get a recommendation from a friend.  Great, how are you going to do that?  Well, perhaps email Sue regarding estate planning attorney.  Fantastic, that is something you can do.  Now, you've decided what you are going to do about it, i.e. email Sue.  By distilling the project into a clear action item, you can begin to make progress.
  3. Stay focused on that item.  Think about the times when you are most productive, lose track of time, and cranking on all cylinders.  It is when you are focused on one thing at a time.

It is that simple.  We just make it more complicated by skipping over these steps unconsciously.  When we do, things pile up and it becomes more difficult to catch-up. 

Don's Coaching Questions:

  • What are you procrastinating about right now?
  • How committed are you to completing it?
  • What do you need to do to move this item forward?


Tags: productivity, leadership, technology

Five Leadership and Productivity Lessons from the MWRA

Posted by Don Khouri on Wed, May 05, 2010

We can learn a few things from the leaders of the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA) -- communicate, set expectations, be visible, say thank you, and focus.

For those that are not in the Boston area, on Saturday there was a water pipe failure in Weston, MA which resulted in an interruption in water service and a boil water order issued for drinking water for 30 communities in the Boston area. Here are a few ideas that the MWRA did well in handling this crisis. 


The MWRA got the word out early and quickly.  I first heard about it on Facebook, then read the press release online, and saw the news report later that evening.  In downtown Boston, the police canvassed the neighborhoods with large bullhorns to get the message across. They were also very clear about various uses of the water (okay for bathing, not okay for drinking, brushing your teeth, washing dishes).  We knew exactly what we should do and what we shouldn't do.

Set Expectations

Very early in the process, I heard MWRA officials explain that there was a three-stage process to correct the problem -- secure the leak with concrete casing, test to ensure the pipe can handle the water flow, and finally test the quality of the drinking water.  Throughout the process, the officials explained where they were in that process.  They also explained that this three-step process could take several days to resolve.  In general, people saw it as a minor inconvenience.  If MWRA had communicated that it would be resolved in 24 hours and then taken two days, I think people would have been less understanding.

Be Visible

There was at least one press conference led by the MWRA Executive Director, and several by Governor Patrick keeping the communities informed of the status of the repairs and reminding people about the water boiling requirements.

Say Thank Youthank you, productivity, leadership, mwra

During the press conference on Monday morning (24 hours before the boil water order was lifted), the Executive Director thanked his team for their tireless effort to resolve the problem.  This came across in a very sincere and appreciative way.  It is always important to thank your team for their commitment and for good work.


From what I can tell, resolving this problem in less than three days was a project that required laser focus.  The team worked around the clock until the pipe was repaired.  Remember, we are most productive when we focus on one project.  During a crisis, we naturally clear our head of all the other distractions and focus on the task at hand.  The trick is to do that in the absence of crisis. 

Don's Coaching Questions:

  • What can you thank your team for now?
  • How good are you at setting expectations?
  • What are you working on right now that requires your focus?


Tags: productivity, leadership, technology, communication

Is Your Personality Right For Getting Things Done?

Posted by Don Khouri on Thu, Apr 29, 2010

This post is also available at GTD Times.

You may wonder how your personality supports your ability to get things done.  In this article, I will elaborate on various preferences and the connection to Getting Things Done® (GTD®).  This is a follow-up to my response to David Allen's post about GTD and mbti, getting things done, productivity, technologyPersonality Types.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® instrument (MBTI®) is a self-assessment which measures people's behavioral preferences across four dimensions.  Learn more from the creators of this instrument.

Let's start with the fourth MBTI dimension which is our attitude toward the external world and how we orient ourselves to it.  Judgers (Js) prefer structure and lists; Perceivers (Ps) prefer experience, flexibility, and options.  Js like GTD because they like to plan, enjoy having lists, and finishing things.  Ps do not like making lists as much as the Js do; they like having options available to them.  GTD facilitates this very nicely because when making decisions on what to do, there are options available based on your energy level, time available, and context.

The third dimension identifies how we make decisions.  Thinkers (Ts) make their decisions based on facts and principles.  Feelers (Fs) make their decisions based on personal values.  When defining next actions, Ts may be likely to focus on the tasks and problems, Fs may be more likely to focus on relationships.  GTD can help strike the right balance between tasks and relationships.

The second dimension identifies how we take in information and the type of information we prefer.  Intuitors (Ns) see possibilities and connections, and are future-oriented.  Sensors (Ss) prefer facts and details and live in the present.  Thinking about the Horizons of Focus, Ns will be better at the top of the pyramid - purpose, principles, vision, and goals which are all future-oriented.  Because of their propensity for connections, Ns are more likely to want to make the connection of next actions to projects.  Ss may prefer to work at the project and next action level - the detail and more here and now.  We may say, Ns like perspective, Ss like control.

Coming back to the first dimension of MBTI, this identifies how we get our energy.  Extroverts (Es) get their energy from being with other people.  They focus their energy and attention outward.  Introverts (Is) get their energy from spending time alone, and they focus inwardly on thoughts.  The weekly review requires time alone, thinking, and focus.  For this reason, Es who prefer to be out and about with people and things may find this process more challenging.  It will work better for Is since they enjoy time alone, thinking, and the inner world.

There is much more to explore here recognizing that the combination of these preferences (the 16 MBTI types) has its own set of characteristics.  All MBTI types certainly have the ability to get things done, and the key is self awareness which will help leverage the strength of behavioral preferences.  The beauty in GTD is in its flexibility.  So by recognizing your MBTI type, you can customize GTD to cater to your preferences.

Tags: productivity, leadership, technology, GTD

How Technology Leaders Stay Focused

Posted by Don Khouri on Mon, Apr 12, 2010

Technology leaders face increased challenges. Don shares insights on how effective technology leaders manage incoming information. 

Get Everything Off Your Mind  

A popular expression claims that "all words ever spoken by human beings" could be stored in approximately 5 exabytes of data.  Today, the global monthly internet traffic is estimated to be 21 exabytes.  In case you were wondering, an exabyte equals one trillion gigabytes.  By 2020, there will be three billion people using the internet which will be 1/2 the world's population.  

how to be more productive, keys to productivity, Don Khouri Massachusetts

Technology leaders, and many other leaders, are dealing with increasing levels of complexity and rapidly growing amounts of information. 

How do technology leaders effectively master increasing levels of complexity, and stay ahead of the curve?  Capture Everything!  The only way to deal with this level of complexity is to focus on it, and the only way to do that is to capture what has our attention.  Our minds are phenomenal with respect to the amount of information they can process.  Imagine the potential if we could give our minds the opportunity to process and focus as opposed to remember.  There was a study done several years ago by American psychologist George Miller who concluded that humans can hold about seven things in our short term memory.  Anything more than that and we start to forget.

For this reason, it is critical to get those items off our mind, and into a system that has the following characteristics:

  • Trust.  We have to trust ourselves to use it.  If we don't trust it, we will try to keep everything in our mind.
  • Portable.  The system needs to have enough flexibility such that we have a way to capture things anytime anywhere, and that we can refer to it when necessary
  • Personal.  The format of the system must be personal to you, Is in a format that is personal to you; some prefer paper, some prefer electronic.

There are a number of projects going on in your work and life (David Allen, productivity expert, estimates 50-100) that are unfinished.  It is unrealistic to think that we can track all of those projects effectively in our head.  We need a way to keep these projects moving forward without having to think about them all the time.  Allen says, "there is an inverse proportion between on your mind and getting it done."

Let me bring your attention to a few things that may need to be captured in some way.

  • Everything on your mind, as we have discussed.  Take some time and write down everything that is currently in your psyche.  It is an empowering exercise.
  • What's on your desk that is not equipment, supplies or decorations.
  • The emails in your in box, read and unread
  • Voicemail that you have not acted on.

These are all items that are not in the state you intend them to be in when they are finished.  They need to be captured and tracked in some way.

My suggestion here is simple.  Review your capture tools and identify ways to improve them so that you can free your mind to focus on solutions as opposed to remembering.  When you remove remembering tasks from your mind, you automatically and effortlessly start focusing on the bigger picture items like goals, vision and purpose.  These are the things that you are really being compensated to do. 

Don's Coaching Questions:

  • What improvements can you make with your capture tools?
  • What is on your mind now that is not getting done?
  • What is on your desk that is not finished that you would like move forward?

Get more done

Join Don as he shares with you some concepts and methods to track and categorize what has your attention which facilitates your progress effortlessly. 

Please click here to register 

Space is limited, reserve your spot now!

Tags: productivity, leadership, technology, multi-tasking

How Asking for Help Makes Effective Technology Leaders

Posted by Don Khouri on Wed, Mar 24, 2010

Ask for Help and Be More Productive

I was sitting in a Starbucks the other day, having a cup of coffee, and processing email until my next appointment.  There was a young woman, perhaps in her early 20s, struggling to get her coat off.  As it was zipped up almost to her neck; it was difficult for her to even see the zipper.  She asked the girl sitting next to her to help her unzip the coat.  She tried for perhaps 5 minutes and could not solve the problem.  The whole section of the store was engaged with this process, thinking they could help with their hope.  So, I offered to help thinking a good tug would be the right solution.  You know the situation when the zipper catches the fabric on the other side and gets jammed.  I also failed to get it unzipped, partly concerned I may rip or damage the coat.  So, off she went to the ladies room to try herself.  A short time later, she came back with coat in hand.  ask for help

This got me thinking about the leadership lesson here -- Know when to ask for help.  She was probably sitting alone for less than two minutes before she reached out and asked for help.  She could have sat there in agony, sweating, and uncomfortable.  The problem would have stayed on her mind, distracted her from what she was trying to do, and ultimately negatively impacted her productivity for a much longer period of time.

Why ask for help?  There are three key reasons why you should ask for help at the right time.  (1) You will solve the problem more quickly.  There is only so much you will be able to do on your own.  (2) Asking for help makes you feel better knowing that you have people that you trust and can rely on for help.  (3) You will build stronger relationships when you ask others to help you.  People feel better when they can offer their help.

When to ask for help?  Technology leaders deal with a great deal of complexity in their work -- all the normal complexities of leadership, productivity, and high performing teams along with the complexities and speed of technology.  So, knowing when to ask for thelp can be a challenge.  Here are a few signs that you are ready to ask:

  • You have tried a number of solutions on your own without success
  • The situation will get worse if you wait
  • You are frustrated with the lack of solution

Who to ask?  Don't discriminate -- you can ask your team, your peers, your managers, your coach.  A good coach will help you think about the problem in a way that you have not thought about it before.  A good coach is a good thinking partner.  It is wise to identify two or three key partners from the groups above to start with.

You never know who may have some insights or experience to help you, or may know someone that does. 

How to ask for help?  The way you bring the problem forward can influence the help you get.  You have an opportunity to increase credibility with the way you ask for help.  So first, frame the problem in such a way that it is clear what you are talking about.  Next, describe what you have already done.  This will show your creativity and commitment to solving the problem, and avoid re-covering ground you already have.  Third, be very clear about what you are asking.  For example, it would be better to ask, "what are some ways you have dealt with similar situations," or "who do you know that has some experience with this".  Finally, listen and accept the suggestions without trying to filter or responding, "yeah, but". 

This is such an empowering act, to have the confidence in yourself to reach out and get others involved in your struggle, build strong relationships, and improve your productivity as a result. 

To finish the coat story, I asked, "how did you get the coat off?"  The young woman responded that she gave it a good strong tug and the zipper released.  She ended up resolving it herself, largely due to the help had she already received.

Don's Coaching Questions

help button
  • What problem do you need help with?
  • Who can you ask to help you?
  • How can you frame the problem and ask for specific help?


Tags: productivity, leadership, technology

What the CEOs Think About Productivity AND My Comments

Posted by Don Khouri on Thu, Mar 18, 2010

Inc Magazine recently published an article with lessons from 15 American CEOs about productivity.  Just so we are absolutely clear about this, I wanted to separate these in to three categories for you: bulls eye, on target, and missing the mark.

Bulls eyebullseye, productivity

These productivity ideas are right on the mark, and I like the insights of these executives.

The idea:  Answer the phone
The Executive:  Jordan Zimmerman, founder of Zimmerman Advertising
My take:  Communication is key.  The richest form of communication is face-to-face and next to that is the phone.  Choose your communication medium based on the context.  Email, online is not always the right answer.  Keep in touch with your customers, your team, your partners.

The idea:  Organize Your Daily Interruptions
The Executive:  Danny Meyer, CEO Union Square Hospitality Group
My Take:  This is a unique idea which is to have your assistant or someone capture all of the potential interruptions and summarize them at the end of the day.  Now, part of being effective is making conscious decisions in the moment about the importance of an interruption relative to what you are working on.  This helps compartmentalize it a bit.  If you don't have an assistant, you could emulate this in some other way.

The idea:  Use a Wiki to Capture Ideas
The Executive:  Garrett Camp, founder of StumbleUpon
My Take:  Your job is knowledge. Capturing information and ideas from your team in a structured way that team members can refer to as needed is a big productivity boost.  A wiki is great technology to do that.

The idea:  Schedule time to focus on the big picture
The Executive:  Scott Lang, CEO Silver Spring Networks
My Take:  It is easy to get bogged down in the day to day demands of you job, and react to the latest and loudest.  It takes discipline to block time to think -- about strategy, vision, goals.

The idea:  Avoid multitasking
The Executive:  Douglas Merrill, former CIO of Google
My Take:  The simple truth is, and the research supports this, that we get more done when we are focused on one thing than we are when we try to do multiple things simultaneously. 

The idea:  Always be interviewing
The Executive:  Kevin P. Ryan, Double-Click and AlleyCorp
My Take:  The spirit of this idea is very good which is to stay in touch with your team, your extended team, and your entire team as appropriate.  Keep looking for and assessing talent.  As Jim Collins says, "people are not your greatest asset, good people are your greatest asset."

On Target

These ideas are good but need a clarification to make sure you are making the most of them. 

The idea:  Skip meetings
The Executive:  Mark Cuban,  Dallas Mavericks owner and CEO, HDNet
My Take:  Yes, some meetings are worth skipping.  And meetings 8-10 hours / day every day do not make sense.  In the spirit of face-to-face communication, meetings are worthwhile.  Face-to-face communication is important.  To make sure meetings are worthwhile, the planner should invite the right people, communicate an agenda 24 hours ahead of time, and be clear about the successful outcome.

The idea: Live by the "two-pizza" rule which is that project teams should be small enough to feed with two pizzas
The Executive:  Caterina Fake, co-founder Flickr
My Take:  Artificial team sizes and random meeting end times can actually hurt your productivity.  I would rather see the spirit of the rule followed to keep teams small and use your judgement.  Again, make sure meeting agendas are clear, and use the time necessary to get done what you need to, even if it is less time than scheduled.

The idea:  Hire for flexibility
The Executive:  Julie Ruvolo, co-founder and COO of Solvate.
My Take:  Nothing really new here, businesses have been hiring contractors for years. 

The idea:  Use email to document
The Executive:  Karl Hoagland, founder of Larkspur Hotels and Restaurants
My take:  Again, nothing really new here.  Yes, email is a great documentation tool, and you should use it to schedule meetings and confirm appointments.  It just wouldn't make my top 15 productivity concepts.

The idea:  Always save time to exerice
The Executive:  Mike Cassidy, CEO Ruba
My Take:  Yes, in fact schedule time to exercise.  If you save time, it will never happen.  Schedule around it like you would any other appointment.

Missing the Mark

These next few items are just not good productivity best practices.  I am sure they work for those executives, just be cautious about accepting them broadly.

The idea:  Rank items on your to-do list
The Executive:  Barbara Corcoran, Shark Tank panelist
My take:  David Allen, productivity guru, says that priority is actually the fourth criterion to look at when deciding what to do.  Number one is context (where you are and what tools you have available), number two is time available, and number three is your energy.  Then priority.  Your number one priority may require two hours and if you only have ten minutes right now, then do something else.

The idea:  Be extra-productive during off hours.  Choose work over social life.
The Executive:  Seth Priebatsch, CEO SCVNGR
My Take:  I know the lines between work and personal are blurring and they have been for a number of years.  We are doing personal business at work and vice versa. I advocate keeping an all-life to do list, and working on it at the appropriate times.  The bottom line is be productive when it makes sense, not more or less during off hours as Mr. Priebatsch suggests.  And make time for social, fun, family, and whatever else is important to you.  Balance.

The idea:  Shrink your mental deadlines
The Executive:  Krissi Barr, founder of Barr Corporate Success
My Take:  Generally, we underestimate how long things take to complete, proven by research called the planning fallacy.  So this concept of working faster to complete something is less time than you think it will take is unrealistic and will put unnecessary pressure on yourself.  It seems to be prone to mistakes.

The idea:  Review your productivity at the end of the day
The Executive:  Bob Compton, CEO Vontoo
My take:  A daily review of your schedule and actions is critical to help you stay focused on the right things for the day.  A weekly review of your full inventory of actions, schedule, and important to keeping it all up to date.  Othwerwise, your actions get stale and you don't trust your lists.  Adding yet another review to see how you did at the end of the day is superfluous and is not the best use of time.

Don's coaching questions:

  • Which of these can you implement immediately to be more productive?
  • What is your personal most productive time of the day that you can plan to get your most challenging actions complete?
  • How can you use technology to support your productivity practices?

I would love to hear your ideas on productivity, and how they help you and your teams.  productivity, technology


Please click here to take my
Free Productivity Assessment.

Tags: productivity, leadership, technology, multi-tasking

Develop Your Team Members and Develop Yourself

Posted by Don Khouri on Mon, Mar 08, 2010

Develop Your Team Members.  Bob Reynolds, the former Vice Chairman of Fidelity, in an address to senior executives said, "I see it as a failure of our company when we need to hire leaders from outside."  It was a message to all of us in the room that part of our job was developing the next generation of leaders.  As a leader, a big part of your job is doing exactly that.  Block the time to do it!

Here is a five step process you can follow with your team members to begin the leadership development process.

  1. Identify with each person their strengths, and one specific area for improvement. 
  2. Look for assignments that will leverage the strengths and help stretch the improvement opportunity.
  3. Help them find the right resources to support those areas -- training, articles, other mentors.
  4. Be a coaching leader.  Provide timely positive and constructive feedback, be supportive, and spend time with them to encourage their growth.
  5. Monitor by discussing progress in your 1:1s and observing yourself.

Develop Yourself.  "Of all the things thapersonal development can have an effect on your future, I believe personal growth is the greatest. We can talk about sales growth, profit growth, asset growth, but all of this probably will not happen without personal growth." -- Jim Rohn.

So here is a process you can follow to work on your own self development:

  1. Clarify and fully understand the organization objectives so that whatever you do aligns with those objectives.
  2. Gather information.  Ask for feedback (manager, peers, associates) on what is going well, and what you can do to improve.
  3. Based on the feedback, set 1-2 goals for improvement -- leverage your strengths, improve your weaknesses.
  4. Get a team in place that you can rely on to help you monitor progress on your own goals. 

A good executive coach can help you with this process.

Don's Coaching Questions:

  • How much time are you spending weekly on staff development?
  • How much time do you spend relfecting and on personal development?
  • How can you ask for feedback on how you are doing as a leader?

leadership development


For a complimentary leadership development review, please click here

Tags: productivity, leadership, Fidelity, technology

What I Learned at Fidelity Part 6 -- "No" Is Not Acceptable

Posted by Don Khouri on Tue, Feb 16, 2010

It might be one of the first words we learn and perhaps one of the most powerful ones, however, the right answer is never a simple "no".  Anything is possible with the right amount of time and resources.  So, rather than start off with no, explain what you will need to make it a yes.  This is a similar concept to one of my earlier blogs, Say What You Can Do.

At Fidelity, there is a culture of figuring oucreative, no is not acceptablet how to do it, whatever it is.  As a software solutions provider, my teams knew it was never acceptable to tell our customers, "no, we can't do it".  Rather, it was a discussion about priorities, or a trade-off between time and other factors.  A good software project manager will prioritize the following items as part of the project start-up process:  time, quality, cost, and functionality. 

For example, Iwhen we were converting the payroll system at Fidelity, it became evident that there was no way we could deliver all of the requested functionality in the required time frame.  In this particular case, quality and time were the most important factors.  So, we got creative, and identified the core parts of the system that needed to be delivered initially, and agreed with the business sponsors on a phased approach for the less critical functionality. 

When you take this approach with your business customers, you will create an environment that opens up dialogue, builds credibility, and fosters strong partnerships.

Don's Coaching Questions:

  • What issues are facing you right now that seem like "no" is the right answer?   What can you do?
  • How clear is the relative priority of time, quality, cost, and functionality on your current projects?
  • What three things can you do to create a culture of creativity with your team?

Tags: productivity, relathionships, Fidelity, technology

What I Learned at Fidelity Part 5 -- Adapt to Change

Posted by Don Khouri on Wed, Feb 03, 2010

There is only one constant at Fidelity -- Change.  Change is what allows the organization to stay fresh, innovative, and entrepreneurial.  The speed of change is increasing, and that is fueled by technology.

Successful leaders anticipate change, embrace change, and influence change.  You can either manage the chanChange, adapt to change, technology leaders changege or allow it to manage you.  When you see it coming, ask questions, understand it, offer your input, and provide pertinent information that will help make the change better (for you, for your team, and for the organization).  I used to love the idea of change at Fidelity, whether I was initiating it or responding to it, because it was an opportunity for me to share what my team was doing, how they were contributing, and it was usually a way for us to better align with the company. 

As Spencer Johnson writes in his book, Who Moved My Cheese? "be ready to change quickly, and enjoy it again and again."  You may not always agree with the change, and that is ok too.  Take the opportunity to share your thoughts in a constructive way.  The change champions will appreciate your input.

How do you anticipate change?  To answer that question, ask yourself the following:  What do you notice in environment that is different -- people, conversations, meetings?   What is different about it?  Trust your instinct, notice your observations, and use this information as a signal to get involved.

Embrace Change.  Your involvement will allow you to keep abreast of what the change is all about.  In fact, the change will probably change, so staying current will help you adapt during the change.  Those that get stuck in the old way of doing things, although easier in the short-term, are at a disadvantage.  They miss the opportunity to improve how things work, and often more importantly, are viewed by the organization as a dinosaur.  This is a difficult stigma to overcome.   

Influence change.  Now that you know change is inevitable, there is no reason that you cannot be the one to advocate for the right change.  What can be improved?  The Japanese concept of Kaizen tells us to make small incremental improvements every day. 

What I Learned at Fidelity


Take a quick look at this video and think about which character you are most like.
         Change Management


Don's Coaching Questions:

  • What is changing in your environment?
  • What needs to be changed in your environment?
  • What can you do to influence the change?


Tags: productivity, leadership, Fidelity, technology

What I Learned at Fidelity, Part 3 -- Master Communication To Be Productive

Posted by Don Khouri on Mon, Jan 04, 2010

This is the third part in a series of What-I-Learned-At-Fidelity-Investments-About-Being-a-Leader 

Mastering communication is a key component in succeeding as a leader.  It is not enough to have a good idea, or be a terrific project manager, or to be great at developing software, you also need to effectively communicate it.  Mastering the art of communication is so important because it is what keeps everyone on the same page, and enables you to take appropriate action.  Without communication, there can be misunderstanding or lack of action.  Ultimately, good communication leads to improved productivity.

In this article, I would like to layout a blueprint for a communication plan.


Think of yourself as a hub of communication.  The Leader is in the centehub of communicationr, communicating with all of those people around him / her, and must provide the right information to the right people in the right format for it to be effective.  Too much and too little information is not appropriate.

Your Team.  It is important to keep your team up to date.  I find it effective to do so using a number of formats -- staff meetings, 1:1s, and email.  In staff meetings, establish an agenda, seek input from your team, and have an open discussion about projects, strategy, and issues.  It is a time for your staff to learn about what is going on with their peers.  It is a time to encourage teamwork, and a time to identify how staff members can help each other.  It is also time for problem solving.

Your Peers.  It is equally important to keep your peers and business partners up-to-date on the status of your projects and your team.  In my leadership roles at Fidelity, I found it beneficial to set up recurring project status meetings with business partners to share the current status of projects, issues, risks and actions.  When all the data is on the table, it is easier to take appropriate action.  An open line of communication with partners and peers also helps to identify problem areas early and provides a forum for discussion.

Your Superiors.  With your immediate manager and other superiors, it is vitally important to communicate strategy, project status, HR / Employee issues, and vendor updates.  I found it helpful to structure the 1:1 agenda with my boss along these topics, putting the most important ones up front to ensure they were covered in the scheduled time.

Other Stakeholders.  Identify who the key stakeholders are and what means of communication are best suited for effectively reaching them. 


What should you be communicating?  Here are some things to consider:

Team -- Vision, project information, upcoming events, how your work fits into the organization, issues. 

Peers / Partners -- Project status, issues, risks, actions

Superiors -- Strategy, project status, HR / Employee issues, Vendor updates


Different situations call for different forms of communication.  Richer forms of communication, like face-to-face meetings, are best and not always possible.  So, as the sensitivity of topics decrease, other forms can be used.  Using multiple formats to communicate information will work best -- face-to-face meetings, email, phone calls.  Think carefully about the audience and content before selecting the most effective means to portray the information.

For example, use 1:1 meetings to discuss the progress of individual projects, to solicit feedback on targeted ideas, and to discuss individual development plans.  Use email for updates that require no discussion or interpretation.

Good communicators listen actively, use stories to communicate ideas, and are clear about what they are communicating. 


The simple answer is early and often.  Get the information on the table, and be transparent about it.  When the information is available, it is easier to solve problems.  When the information is not available, issues fester, and the longer they fester the more difficult they are to resolve. 

Each of these topics could easily be a blog entry on its own, and for that matter, a book.  The simple point is this -- mastering communication is a key to being a successful leader because it helps ensures all stakeholders are operating with the right information.  Hopefully, I have given you the start and framework for thinking about communication and developing a plan. 

Don's coaching questions:

  • When are you at your best communicating ideas?
  • What does your communication plan look like?
  • What actions can you take this week to improve communication?

Tags: productivity, leadership, technology, motivation, communication