It’s August and my Red Sox are in last place. Everyone is talking about it. You can’t buy a gallon of milk without overhearing someone give their opinion on why they are failing. “It’s the pitching;” “too many injuries;” “the division is too tough;” “the beer is watered down at Fenway.” The General Manager, Ben Cherington says the problem is poor communication. Wow, I honestly didn’t see that coming. If you work in any kind of organization you can immediately relate to this. It’s the number one problem businesses face.
In an article in the Boston Globe Cherington says “communication has to improve for the results to follow.” How bad is it, the pitching coach was only communicating with the manager in one- or two-word sentences, and the bench and the bullpen coaches communicated with manager even less. When a player went to one of the coaches with a problem they were having with the manager, the player was encouraged to go over the manager’s head directly to the GM. Ouch. It’s sad, but there is a sick satisfaction to know that even the management of the beloved Red Sox struggle with the same BS the rest of us have to deal with.
Here’s what I would tell Ben Cherington:
- Get rid of the problem people. He already started by firing the Pitching Coach and trading the whiners. Good start, but you are going to have to weed out the rest of the chronic degrunts. That is, the employees so disgruntled there’s little hope for them ever changing. Degrunts completely stop communicating, they need to move on. Listen to: How to Manage Disgruntled Employees, by Manager Tools.
- Hire people who are dying to work for you. That’s not going to be too hard for you Ben, you’re the Red Sox. But even for the rest of us, it’s not impossible to find people with the right attitude. Read Hire for Attitude.
- Address the behaviors that are causing the poor communication directly. If they are behaving badly, employees need to be told what to do and what not do. Example – here’s what you should say, Ben: “Hey coach, next time a player comes to you with a problem with a manager send him back to the manager, not to me. If it happens again we will have a problem.” See how easy that is?
- Understand that people filter what they hear through how they see the world and the emotions they are feeling at time. If you think that your instructions are not getting through, ask for the recipients to repeat what they heard (yeah, like you do with kids). Check out Todd Smith’s post Six Ways to Avoid Misunderstandings for other tips.
- Create systems that encourage open communication. They call these systems “meetings.” The best thing I ever did to improve communication in my department was to have a daily 10 minute morning check-in. Agenda: What are we doing? What problems need to be addressed? (add more here, outcomes, etc) The book Death by Meeting changed my life.
- Communication needs to flow smoothly through the organization. In the Boston Globe article, one of the coaches said it perfectly: “Communication has to work upward and downward. If you consider [the coaches] between the players and the manager, then we have to work down and work up. It has to be circular. If it’s not circular, it doesn’t work.”
- You need to over-communicate the important things. Don’t expect people to get what is your mission, vision, major goals, and high priority areas are unless you tell them again, again, and again. Patrick Lencioni’s new book The Advantage stresses the importance of this.
In the article, Cherington says, “You can’t keep staring at the same thing and hoping it gets better. It needs to get better and it’s our job to make it better.” I have little doubt that the Red Sox’s and Ben Cherington will figure out what the need to do to fix things. But, I’m just glad the football season is starting.
How have you improved communication among your team?