Last week, we discussed tips on how you can manage ‘yourself’ as a director or head of department. This was building on previous articles which covered managing people, processes and delivery of results. Today, we will focus on communication. If you are to be a successful head of department, you need to be very good at all forms of communication, especially the oral and written communication. Communication is vital to good leadership.
The first key to good communication by a head of department is holding regular meetings. These meetings must be at a minimum once a month but I prefer once every week. I am talking of 30 minutes to 1 hour meetings with ALL members of your department. If you look around, you will find a huge difference between departments that hold these meetings and those that do not. Sadly, many departments do not have departmental meetings at all. Frankly, I do not know how one can run a department without having regular meetings.
If you do not hold regular departmental meetings, you lose out on many fronts. First of all, do not be surprised when you see many gaps and misalignments across the department. Many members of the department will be pulling in different and wrong directions because of lack of alignment and cohesion due to absence of the much needed regular departmental meetings. Secondly, I find that staff engagement goes up as you meet your staff regularly. This is not surprising because staff gain clarity of where the department and therefore, the company or organisation is going. Staff get really inspired when they regularly hear the voice of the head of department.
Regular departmental meetings give chance to your staff to give their suggestions on how best to run your department. Do not be afraid to hear their views. Some of the views will not make sense but a lot of them will add a lot of value to your management. Be open minded and flexible. Have a listening ear. This way, your team members will feel motivated because clearly, they will all be part of ‘management’. They will have little reason to blame you or management when things do not go right because they feel that they are part of the whole journey. You will therefore see a lot of sense of ownership and responsibility, accountability and zeal.
My team members keep telling me that the departmental meetings a good career development chance for them from many angles. They say that these meetings help them to see how senior managers behave, manage and run departments. This way, the junior members of the department learn how to do bigger jobs in the future. Secondly, they mention that the departmental meetings help them to make presentations before groups because they are far more comfortable within the departmental meetings as they build their confidence in speaking in public and making presentations. This then means that the departmental meetings should not be held like a ‘public lecture’ or a church sermon where only the professor or pastor speaks. Make it engaging and bi-directional for maximum effect and value.
Do not rely on the regular department-wise meetings only. Where necessary, hold one-to-one meetings with members of your department and even those outside your department on ad hoc basis depending on issues at hand. This means that you should not over rely on emails. Sometimes simple issues become complicated due to over-use of emails. At Shell there was one good communication guideline. That when you want to communicate with someone, first try to go and meet the person face to face. If face to face meeting is not possible then make a phone call. Only when face to face meeting and phone calls are not possible should you write email. This was based on research which had shown the decreasing effectiveness of communication in that cascade of rankings.
Finally, remember to also communicate regularly with your fellow heads of department and especially your boss who may be the CEO or equivalent. The rule here is do not let anyone of these members get surprised by anything from your department. Be proactive and be in control. Good luck!