Informal And Formal
In international projects formal communications represent a
risk. Every time you get up and make a formal presentation, you are risking
quite a bit of the project. People may want to look good at your expense. You
risk exposing your lack of knowledge and sensitivity to the culture in a
location. Being in a formal presentation may feel threatening to the audience.
They may feel that they have to do something. You have to make formal
presentations and cannot avoid it. The guideline is:
Make as few formal presentations as possible.
What should you do? Concentrate on informal communications. Try to
get to people to communicate one-on-one.
Informal communications are a critical success factor for
international projects. You can bring people up-to-date on the status of the
project. You can solicit their ideas about issues. You can get support in terms
of resources. How do you arrange for informal, casual communications? Planning.
Try to get to people in person or by telephone early in the morning in their
time zone before they start work. If you can do this in person, run into them
casually as they walk into work. Another good idea is to talk to them in the
restroom or where they smoke (if they smoke). When people smoke, many tend to
open up and talk more frankly and honestly about situations. If you are not a
smoker, try to put up with second-hand smoke. These techniques sound crude and
sneaky. But they work! For employees, go out where they have their breaks or
lunch. Just sit there and listen. Then you can ask questions.
When you communicate with people informally, you should always
have these three things ready at all times:
Status of the project from their point of view.
Issues that are active and unresolved that are of interest
A story or anecdote from the project that might be amusing
or interesting to them.
Give them the status. Then if there is interest shown, move to
issues. Put the story into your discussion when discussing the issues. On issues
follow these guidelines:
Have three issues ready.
The first issue is a very small one that be disposed of
quickly. This establishes a pattern of success in the meeting for dealing with
issues. People are happy.
The second issue is a major political or business issue for
which there is no immediate solution. They cannot give you one. They feel bad,
because they could not help you.
With the pattern of success in dealing with the first issue
and the guilt of the second issue, you can now discuss the third issue. This is
the one that you really need a decision. They will tend to make decisions more
Never, ever, go to someone with one issue. They will feel that you
are putting their back up against the wall. You will not likely get the result
you desire. Also, by going in with a group of issues, you show that you are top
of the project from technical, business, and political perspectives.
You should keep a record of what people you have communicated with
informally. Try to evaluate both your informal and formal communications. Figure 9.1 consists of a score card
for your formal presentations. Figure
9.2 presents one for informal communications over a period of time in the
project. Here are some added comments about some of the items in these figures:
Figure 9.1: Score Card
for Formal Communications
Figure 9.2: Score Card
for Informal Communications over a Period of Time
Percentage of audience reached before the presentation. This
indicates your success at the reach toward the audience.
Time of presentation/time of meeting. The numerator in this
fraction is the time required without questions and interaction. The fraction
indicates how much time was spent in questions and discussion.
Extent of change in presentation before final presentation.
This percentage indicates how much feedback you received after getting to
managers prior to the presentation itself.
Understanding of the project by the audience. This is often
revealed by the quality of questions and comments at the end of the presentation
versus at the start.
There are two measures of response—one immediately after and
a second one week after.
Number of contacts made/number of contacts attempted. This
reveals your success rate in making informal contacts.
There is also the item in informal communications of the
number of times that a manager brought up an issue to you first. What is this?
If a manager calls you up or comes to you with an issue before you brought it up
with them, you failed in communicating. Why? Because they were taken by
surprise; surprises tend to be unpleasant. The person may think that you are not
on top of your project. They may now feel that they cannot trust you as the only
source of information about the project.