At the Risk of Repeating Myself, Let Me Repeat That

To be an effective Tech Manager, people need to know what you are thinking, developing, standardizing, structuring, or managing. That happens via communication. I have spoken and written much on this topic. Good managers must be good communicators. When I read anything that emphasizes the need for good communication, I am further convinced that it is critical to success.

I recently read an article online by Paul Leonardi, Tsedal Neeley, and Elizabeth Gerber, titled “How Managers Use Multiple Media: Discrepant Events, Power, and Timing in Redundant Communication.” This article states, “Several recent studies have found that managers engage in redundant communication; that is, they send the same message to the same recipient sequentially through two or more unique media.”  I have found that to be true; in fact, I find that when I interact with higher levels of leadership and management, I hear the same message many times over many conversations and through many kinds of media. Then I looked back and noticed that I do the same thing.  I tell the same story, deliver the same message, and transfer the same data many times in many ways.

But the article did not stop there. What the authors found when they dug deeply into the data and compared statistics between managers with positional power and those without is where my take away came from.  Positional power is the “formal authority associated with holders of a particular position” i.e., The Boss.

The Research − Media Pairing, Message Delivery, Timing, and Redundancy

The authors’ research and review of prior studies uncovered two types of communications that entail multiple media methods.  They call it Media Pairing—the method of using differing tech and non-tech tools to get the message delivered.

The first is synchronous pairing, which is two or more media employed at the same time.  A typical synced pairing is being on the phone in a conference call and connecting to others via a back channel such as desktop chat, texting, or Google Hangouts. While the call is in progress you are checking the reactions of others, fact-checking statements made, or joking around with sarcastic remarks about the speaker. All at the same time. There is much research on this type of pairing and how it distracts or undermines good communication by slicing up the focus of the manager.

The second type of Media Pairing is sequential pairing. This is the one the authors focus on, while admitting they spent less time studying this pairing. Sequential pairing happens much more often than synchronous pairing. A typical sequential paring is the use of one media followed by another. It might be a face-to-face conversation followed by a summarizing email or a text followed by a phone call.

They further classify communications by dividing it between instant and delayed messages. Instant are real-time tools such as IM, group chat, face-to-face, and phone. Delayed is email, texting, voice mail, forum postings, etc.

The unique nature of their research was to see how these sequential pairing methods of instant and delayed communications are used by managers. Further they looked at managers who had positional power and those who did not. Positional power is “formal authority associated with holders of a particular position” (did I just repeat myself?). Bosses can tell you what to do because you work for them or are below them in the org chart. Non-positional power stems from persuasion (we work together, but I am not your boss).  Tech managers live in the world of non-positional power most of the time.  They have to get things done while working through and with people who do not directly report to them.

The researchers further narrowed their analysis to redundant communication methods used when disruptive anomalies (they call them “discrepant events”) were introduced into the workflow. These events include project delays, broken equipment, do-over processes that failed the first time through, departure of key team players, etc. Items like these tend to make projects go awry and miss deadlines.

All that being said, here is their question. “How do discrepant events, power, and communication timing affect the use of redundant communications?”

What They Found

The authors found that managers with positional power responded to disruptive anomalies in workflow with delayed single media messages, then with unplanned, multiple, instant, redundant messages. Managers with no positional power responded with planned, multiple, instant, redundant messages followed up by redundant delayed messages. To put it another way, the bosses expected their orders to be followed, so they gave orders, often delayed and indirect. When the orders were not followed, they communicated multiple times directly with staff.  “Do this,” then later… “Do this now,” then even later… “Don’t do that—do this.”

Those managers who were not the boss communicated with team members via single instant “requests” or negotiations, followed by planned redundant messages. They talked first and then documented the agreed upon plan to the point of being redundant. They document what they have already said. They document the agreed upon process or conclusion of the “buy in” discussion they have just completed via many delayed media such as email, texts, project timelines, charts, etc.

Managers with power tend to give directives and then follow up with motivation (often negative).  Managers without power, like most of us in tech management positions, tend to motivate and persuade, followed up with redundant documentation of the planned direction.

The findings show that 21 percent of messages sent by managers without power are redundant. Only 12 percent of messages from managers with power display redundancy. Managers without power must remind and persuade. Managers with positional power expect to tell people once and be done with it. Tech managers usually do not have positional power over those they work with. They need to get things done through people with whom they have no positional clout. To do this, they need to communicate well.  To do this they get better results when they are redundant in their communications. 

Didn’t I Just Say That?

So my takeaway after reading the article is that repeating yourself is not bad; it is actually good.  Most managers know that, but do we actually plan on repeating ourselves? Moving from instant communication to delayed communication methods is better when working with folks who do not report directly to you. Garnering support and ensuring positive team momentum are key ingredients in the world where tech managers live every day. By using direct, sequential, instant communication methods and tools first, followed by planned indirect, delayed communication to document the agreed upon approaches, your chances of keeping things running smoothly are increased. 

So plan on giving the same message via multiple venues and media. Send it in an email, post it on a forum, stick it into weekly updates, add it to the standard meetings, write it in a newsletter… whatever it takes. You are more effective when you repeat yourself.

Tech managers usually do not have the power to just order people around. This study shows that it is more effective for managers without positional power to talk with people first, using their persuasion and negotiation skills to define direction and provide motivation. Then to move to redundant communication methods such as email and reminders to document the agreed direction and keep momentum and focus going.  Repeat as needed. As Yogi Berra said, “It’s like Déjà vu, all over again.”


Tech Manager – A New Title

I have started using the term Tech Manager. I use this as an all inclusive title for CAD, BIM, CAM, CAFM, 3D Design, Makers, and so many other manager titles.  I think the term “tech manager” embodies the breadth of duties and responsibilities that have grown past CAD, embraced BIM, and fully encompass design, production, manufacturing, fabrication, and management using Autodesk and other technical design tools. The areas of influence and impact for this position often bleed into all areas of technology use within a firm. It includes skills and talents on the technical side, the art of management, the coordination of production, the guiding of projects, and the oversight of people.

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