How to introduce a communication rhythm to your business (Rockefeller Habit #3)
Rhythms are a natural part of life. We’re all familiar with the rhythm of nature, the regular cycle of the seasons, the continual movement of days into nights. Their consistency and predictability reassure us and provide a framework for our lives. Rhythm is also essential to teamwork, particularly in sports like rowing. Think of a successful crew. When they’re in sync, their oars dip in and out of the water at the same time and the boat skims along effortlessly. If even one team member loses this rhythm, the whole boat is thrown out of control.
Similarly, successful businesses are built on rhythm. Whether it’s meetings, goals, budgetary cycles or communication frequency, you need every member of staff to be pulling in sync. They need to understand and prioritise rhythm. Ensuring it’s embedded in your organisation takes sustained effort and consistent application.
It’s worth the effort though. By creating regular rhythms, you’ll make a massive difference to the day-to-day functioning of your business. Introduce them as early as you can and they’ll maintain momentum as you start to grow. They’ll also optimise business efficiency, working like compound interest for your company and ensuring an unparalleled growth trajectory.
The third Rockefeller Habit is all about communication rhythms. So what does it suggest, and how do you put it into practice?
Start with daily huddles or standups
I can’t stress enough the importance of staff meeting daily in their teams, for no more than 15 minutes. This is essential. Quite often, when I suggest it to clients, I get push back. ‘How can I do that? Have you seen my diary?’ There always seem to be 100 reasons why it isn’t possible. It’s so easy to spin into a negative mindset – you don’t know what the upside is until you’ve done it. All you can imagine is the downside.
A short huddle every day should give you a 5x or 10x return on the 15 minutes it takes – emails you don’t need to send or read, conversations you don’t need to have. The whole point is to make sure everyone’s spending their time wisely. Are they doing the one thing that will move the quarterly theme forward? Are they going too fast or too slow relative to everyone else? If they’re stuck, how can the rest of the team help?
Try running your huddles as stand-ups. This will help to keep them short and to the point. Make sure they have the same format every day – I suggest that you start with good news and then move on to priorities. Research suggests that most employees average a solid four hours of productive work per day. So, talk through how they’re going to carve out this time to get their one main priority done today. Thinking ahead, is there anything about tomorrow they need to talk about today?
Make sure the timing of your daily huddle works for everyone and stick to it. I recently read that it can be helpful to start at a slightly more random time e.g. 8.27am or 9.03am. This makes it more memorable and people are more likely to add it to their routine. If people are joining remotely, they should do this via video. Some teleconferencing systems can be just awful. One of my clients uses an archaic system where you have to type in a nine-digit number and six-digit passcode. This really slows things down and makes life difficult. Everyone has smartphones – get a platform that supports multi-dial-in video.
Daily huddles need to be compulsory – for everyone. Non-attendance should only be possible when people are on holiday. They should be prioritised above client meetings. This needs to be crystal clear otherwise people will de-value the huddle. If someone absolutely has to go to a client meeting, then it’s down to them to move the huddle to a different time and communicate this to the rest of the team. You need to encourage personal accountability amongst your staff. People should know they’re expected to turn up at the right time and, by doing this, show respect for their team-mates. It’s about the culture you want to create.
By meeting every day, you’ll find that staff waste far less time. How often are things changed in companies but it takes forever for information to cascade down to the right people? Far better for them to know on the day rather than months down the line.
You’ll also find increased levels of engagement flow from daily huddles. Going back to those Gallup Q12 questions, ‘Someone in this organisation cares about me’ and ‘In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise’. Daily meetings give managers opportunities for praise, compassion and empathy. They can also nip in the bud any frustrations over team members not pulling their weight or other resentments that might be creeping in. Ensuring a constant flow of information will prevent corrosive, idle gossip that often occurs when people feel they’re being kept in the dark.
As well as huddling every day, your teams need to meet for a longer meeting every week. This is where they can review progress on their 13-week sprint and refer back to their 90-day priorities. It’s important to iron out any issues. Make sure they go around the room and pick up on any problems. These need to go up on a board and a log needs to be taken. Some issues will be the same as the previous week. Others will be new. They should be prioritised and the first one or two knocked off. As a group, the team needs to decide how best to use their time and the issues they’re going to fix. Remember, everything should link back to progress against the 90-day objective.
This isn’t a reporting back meeting. It’s not about what’s happened. They’re there to problem solve. Why are they behind? What are they going to do? If they’re ahead of plan, what are they doing with the slack? Are they forecasting overachievement on the quarterly objective? Make sure you get ownership when it comes to fixing things.
Going through this process weekly rather than monthly is so much more effective. Yes – it’s a greater investment in time, but it’s worth it. The problems just don’t get as big. You have a chance to fix them before they impact on other parts of the business. Weekly team meetings can give a real sense of pace and forward momentum.
I’m also a big fan of weekly 1:1s with managers. These make a massive difference to productivity. Marcus Buckingham gives some strong evidence in his best-selling book, ‘9 Lies About Work’. He describes how Cisco moved to a weekly rhythm of 1:1s with managers but this was rolled out inconsistently. They got an amazing set of data tracking performance against the frequency of 1:1s. If these took place weekly, there was a massive uptick in productivity. This dropped dramatically when 1:1s were monthly and at six weeks or more, they had a negative impact, meaning you were better off not doing them at all.
It adds weight to my view that annual appraisals are a total waste of time. Just ditch them! If you’re looking for something to make a difference to productivity, introduce a coaching intervention every week.
Do your executive team meet with managers every month? If not, they should! Most companies have monthly SLT meetings but don’t bring frontline managers into this. Here’s your opportunity to pull together all those responsible for managing people. Why is this important? Because research shows that an employee’s experience of work is viewed entirely through the lens of their team. So, it’s vital that they’re well managed!
By getting managers and senior leaders together, you can ensure they share expertise, work on skills and, through this, build your culture. It just can’t happen enough. The only way to get consistency or spot bad practice is by working on this stuff together. Soft skills are where it’s at.
At every company I’ve run, we’ve had a celebration rhythm of an ‘all-hands’ meeting every month. Total transparency was important – we shared financial information and asked each of the managers to say three positive things. They were briefed to catch people doing the right thing and call this out, awarding bottles of champagne to members of staff from other teams who’d been particularly helpful. This behaviour always linked back to one of our core values. We also asked employees to share the praise they’d written about teammates for the employee of the month award. Doing this in person, in public has much more impact.
Quarterly and annual strategic meetings
To keep on track with strategy, it’s important to meet quarterly and annually with your executive team. Re-visit your purpose, values and BHAG each time and review progress towards your 3HAG (3 Year Highly Achievable Goal). I love this approach. Created by Shannon Susko, 3HAG gets rid of the annual budgeting cycle. Every quarter, you do a retrospective on the last quarter and set priorities for the next. Your 3HAG then naturally moves into the next quarter. So, no more annual peaks and troughs.
If I’m working with a client who’s new to this approach, we start with a two-day kick-off. We go through all the tools in outline – purpose, values, BHAG, 3HAG, 12-month objectives, quarterly objectives, functional chart, key process flow map, core customer, profit per x, one-word strategy, brand promise with guarantees… it’s pretty thorough! As it’s a kick-off, we stay top level on everything. I know we’ll go more deeply later. The first set of quarterly objectives are often pretty vague. It takes time to build muscle around doing this well and several quarters before objectives and key results (OKRs) are properly constructed.
At every subsequent quarterly meeting, we start by going through the strategic pictures, checking whether they’re still true. Quite often, we’ll spot areas that need further work and someone will take this away. Down the road, we’ll start looking at more advanced techniques such as activity fit map, attribution framework and swimlanes. There’s a constant sense of forward momentum towards strategic goals.
Rhythm is everything in business. Whether it’s regularity of communication, monthly meetings, daily huddles – it’s within your power to optimise the rhythm of your business. This needs careful management, sustained effort and consistent application to ensure that everyone feels the beat and stays in time. Getting it right will grease the wheels of your company like nothing else, creating a culture of accountability and transparency. Essential ingredients for scaling up!
Written by business growth coach Dom Monkhouse. Find out more about his work here.