In a fast-paced startup environment, it’s easy for founders to develop lazy or sloppy communication habits and to think team members are up-to-date on emerging issues when they are not. Integrity of communication means ensuring that all relevant people are kept in the loop, and that you, as a founder, are aware of the ideas, concerns, and opportunities in orbit around you. Healthy communication is a multidirectional process, an infinite loop of outgoing and incoming data and meaning. Although each conversation is a building block, it pays to put broader practices and mechanisms in place early in your startup process to knit together information and thinking across the venture. These can include daily or weekly huddles, email updates, regular phone calls, lunches or happy hours, and, of course, meetings of all varieties. It’s popular in today’s leadership literature to slam meetings as a perversion of human nature, to be avoided at all costs. But problems with meetings always stem from controllable factors, and anyone who says they hate meetings can also recall a few that they enjoyed and benefited from. The solution is not to eliminate meetings, but to ensure that they are judiciously scheduled, well planned, and efficiently led.
Overcommunicating does not mean communicating everything that comes to mind, but rather clarifying what core messages need to be shared, then repeating these with numbing regularity. J. C. Faulkner Is known as a charismatic speaker, but his outgoing communication style during D1’s growth years was surprisingly simple and redundant. This was by design. In regular monthly meetings with his entire staff, he would recap D1’s direction and priorities by addressing three basic questions: Where have we been? Where are we now? Where are we going (and why)? In the next month’s session, he would follow the same format, adapting his comments to reflect any changes. And if you bumped into him in the hallway at any point in between, his thoughts would follow the same familiar pattern. His goal was to ensure that every single person in the venture was fully informed about his intentions and his thinking. He believed the stakes related to overcommunicating were far too high to leave this to chance.
In every interaction, J. C. was also intently focused on gathering new data and learning from others. He reserved a quarter of his time for working on communication and culture throughout the business and would often circulate among employees at all levels and in all areas. A gifted conversationalist who quickly put people at ease, he usually appeared to be simply shooting the breeze. He was, but he also followed a consistent process of asking questions to understand the guts of the growing business from the ground up. His ready grasp of D1 from top to bottom, which seemed to come so naturally, was the hard-earned result of his commitment to overcommunication. “I have heard a lot of business leaders say they wanted to make communication an underpinning of their company,” observes Bob Tucker, J. C. Faulkner’s long-time business attorney. “I have never seen anyone focus on it to the degree that D1 focused on it, and I think it is easy to underestimate how much effort it takes to create good thinking. Communication is a very, very effective way to enhance the odds of that coming about.”