As part of our interview, I asked Genentech CIO Todd Pierce to describe the most important thing he'd learned about effective communication in the course of his career. He gave me not one but seven critical facets of great communication.
Know your audience: Really know who you're communicating with and what you're communicating.
Ask questions: [The best communication] doesn't advocate; it inquires and helps people get to an insight or an inspiration or an action. And it gives you the information you need as well.
Be responsive: Ask, “Is this a good use of our time?" If the answer is no, you have to be able to stop the meeting or reengage in a different way or drop your content and move to where you need to be. People build presentations or communications for their own logical path, and 99 percent of the time, that's not somebody else's path. Sensing that early on and being able to move is key.
Be concise: I work on my own communication skills every time I speak to my leadership team. That's 130 people once a month. I set a goal for myself to not speak more than 10 minutes, and to not use any visual aids. I was used to speaking for an hour with as many visual aids as I want. Ten minutes is about all people can retain.
Get rid of jargon: ... and not just IT jargon. Words like inflection point and strategy – things that sound like they mean a lot but have lost their meaning. You need to really strip all that away. I've learned that at Genentech, because they're talking about cancer – how cancer grows or how antibodies work. You can't teach people 20 years of biology, so they figure out how to strip all the complexity away and still leave you with the relevant points.
Simplify: Too often people relish the complexity – I did – you know, this is so complicated, let me show you how complicated it is. It's a given it's complicated. What people really want you to do is find the simplicity on the other side of complexity – and don't communicate until you do. Say, “we haven't figured that out yet but we're working on it." We've spent a lot of time on that.
Do more showing, less telling: Interactivity with IT is so much bigger now. People no longer wonder if technology can do something; they accept that it can do just about anything. But would you want to use it, will you use it, and how useful would it be? That's a much bigger part of the dialogue. I tell my team: assume [the person's project] is two hours past due, they're working from a hotel room after two drinks at 10:00 over a VPN. Is it going to feel good? How do we make it so easy that they can't resist it? We do more demo'ing and less justifying and explaining.