See if you can pick out the most useful comment from the list below.

They're from my company's internal employee Net Promoter Score survey from 2009, in which we asked "On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to refer HubSpot as an employer?" For a startup with almost 100 employees, we scored a healthy 55. Typical of the comments: 

  • Lots of change with explanations of the how and why.
  • The management team is great and listens to what we have to say and our opinions on how to make things better.
  • Great, smart people here, but....growing too fast is never a good thing.

I have a fairly informal communication style, and it was encouraging to hear that it worked well for our three-year-old company.

That third comment? That actually was a harbinger of broader dissatisfaction. A year later, with 150 employees, our score had plummeted 23 points. This time, the comments read like this:

  • Our internal communications need a big overhaul given our massive growth.

  • We're a mid-sized company acting like a startup so the level of change can be whiplash-inducing. 

Wait, what? Whiplash? The main culprit for the negative feedback was -- of course -- problems with communication. What worked with a 100-person organization was outmoded beyond the 150-person mark. 

I'll spare you the suspense -- by the next year, we were back up to 52. Our entire leadership team contributed to that uptick. Here are the six scale-up communication techniques I discovered that had outsized leverage in managing a growing organization:

1. Over-communicate.

Getting people to understand what you say is hard, but insufficient. Getting people to remember what you said is even harder, and still insufficient.

Getting them to repeat what you say when you are not around is the hardest yet -- and that's probably when you can ease up a little. When I am trying to make a point, I have to resist the temptation to think that everybody understood my thoughts and intention perfectly -- and that there will be no loss of fidelity in the eventual game of telephone as the message is passed along.

When someone begins to finish your sentence for you, that probably means you are halfway there.

2. Present well.

A small investment in speaker training, or a stint with Toastmasters, can help identify some of those latent high impact techniques and mannerisms.

One of my strong suits, I've discovered, is to white-board my thoughts in front of a group, where I can visually depict what I am saying -- trend-lines, or a segmentation of our customers or partner or employees. It's good non-verbal feedback when I see employees taking pictures of the board.

And it's even better confirmation when I walk into a meeting room and see a reasonably good facsimile of my drawing on the whiteboard.

3. Write well.

Employees will not just read, but devour, a well constructed note from their boss. People have a huge appetite for written information.

I'm fortunate that writing is part of the way I think and crystallize my own thoughts, so I usually have a good list (and maybe a 2x2 matrix or a set of x-y axes) to work from when I craft a written message. I post it on our internal wiki rather than in email, since the post encourages commentary and "likes" that give me a sense of how well it has penetrated the collective consciousness.

4. Maintain visibility.

Whenever I have a meeting on the 4th floor that ends at 2:00 pm and a meeting on the first floor that starts at 2:30, I take the long way and walk down the stairs to the 3rd floor. I say hi to folks, walk down the stairs to the second floor, walk through and say hi to folks, and so on.

This effortless when we were all co-located on a single floor. As we reached scale-up mode, I became more intentional about it.

5. Maintain energy.

I concentrate less on how I dress, and work on just having more energy. If my body language is tired -- head down, mind distracted, shoulders slumped -- employees will see it, and they will feel tired. 

6. Delegate and empower.

When HubSpot was still in startup mode, I was necessarily in the weeds many days making decisions. In scale-up mode, the ratio of decisions-to-CEO went completely out of whack.

We created a new role -- the Directly Responsible Individual, or DRI -- who speaks with the authority of the CEO on this particular issue, who can drive change and tell people what to do across the whole organization. Employees appreciate having another go-to person instead of waiting for me to spell something out.

Published on: Jan 30, 2018