Communicate, communicate, communicate. How often have you heard it said that you can’t communicate enough?
A best practice for CIOs is to have “all staff” meetings at least quarterly or semi-annually. Regardless of the size of the IT department and the logistical challenges of getting people in one place, these meetings have value. Depending on the geographic spread of the IT team and availability of meeting space, you can always leverage technology to allow staff to dial in from their workspace.
Connecting with colleagues that they only hear on conference calls or “see” via email has value. If you are able within your budget to provide food, all the better to encourage social time before or after the actual meeting.
Such meetings allow you or guest speakers to provide the big picture on your organization’s strategy and priorities so everyone understands how their work fits in. You can communicate key updates and information on major projects and new processes that impact all or most of the staff. You can use it as a forum to provide education on key topics that all IT staff need to understand such as cybersecurity or bring in a motivational speaker.
At one organization where I served as CIO, shortly after I started, one of my direct reports was quick to tell me the exact number of years, months, and days since their last all staff meeting. How do you really feel about that was what I wanted to ask him. But I quickly understood he was representing staff who missed those meetings and wanted them re-introduced. I did ask why they were discontinued. The story I got was that the previous leader was asked a difficult question by a staff member, felt on the spot and didn’t want that to happen again.
As a leader, I welcome questions, even if I can’t answer them. The communication principles I learned during a period of significant change when I was at Partners Healthcare have stayed with me. They are simple:
- Tell staff what you know when you can
- Tell staff if you don’t know something yet and when you might
- Tell staff if you know something but are not ready to communicate it
In the absence of formal communication, people makes things up, rumors start and take on a life of their own.
Remember, these forums are not just one-way communication from you the leader. It’s also an opportunity to listen. There may be concerns that people want to share with you in a public forum. The key is to listen and not be defensive.
This week, we had our quarterly “All Hands” IT meeting as we call them at Stony Brook Medicine. It’s the second one since I started this interim CIO engagement in early March. After introducing new employees and announcing the Employee Recognition Award recipient for the quarter, I provided an overall CIO update including the latest on our permanent CIO search. Our Chief Technology Officer and Chief Information Privacy and Security Officer did a security presentation to raise overall awareness on the growing threats and steps that we are taking, and that individuals need to take. Our Project Management Office director did a quick review of upcoming go lives for the quarter. And our Stony Brook Medicine Chief Financial Officer provided the quarterly executive update.
This final talk was very well received and appreciated by staff. Last quarter, our hospital CEO gave the executive update. This part of the meeting helps staff connect beyond their day to day project and support work in IT to the larger organization and strategy. It reminds them of our mission – why we do what we do every day.
Belonging to something is important. We spend more time at our jobs than we do with our family. People want their work to be meaningful and purposeful. Bringing people together on some regular frequency to review the bigger picture is one way leaders can achieve that.
There will probably always be a few naysayers who say they don’t have time to attend and the content wasn’t useful to them. If you can get from them some constructive feedback and suggestions for content at future meetings, great. But don’t get stuck there. Focus on the majority of your staff who appreciate the opportunity and want that greater sense of purpose.