Creating a Communications Contract

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When was the last time you were frustrated because a project wasn’t completed on time, and you didn’t find out until the due date? Creating an environment that promotes open communications can eliminate many of these frustrations. The best way to begin is to hold your staff both accountable and responsible for their projects – we call this process our internal communications contract.

Accountability means that the person in charge of the project is ultimately responsible for the project’s completion and it means that there will be an associated consequence to the failure to achieve results. Who is accountable is determined by an individual’s position or role in the company. Being responsiblemeans having a direct impact or hands-on charge of accomplishing the task at hand. For example, the director of marketing is accountable for all marketing projects within the company, but the specific tasks are assigned to the marketing staff which is responsible for completing a research project or getting the company newsletter out. The staff is responsible for completing the work, but the director is accountable for the overall success of the marketing program.

The manager’s job is to transfer responsibility through delegation in a way that makes people feel valued and respected, and that produces the desired result. Making this transfer of responsibility part of the management system, will allow you to get work done through others while creating an environment where employees enjoy the challenge of the work and have the resources to accomplish the task. The communications contract is a system that offers a set of concrete steps that inspire people to accept responsibility, so they can be held accountable in order to succeed at their jobs, and that makes them feel part of something bigger. There are four basic steps:

  1. Step 1. Identify the work or result you want to assign, and then determine to whom you will delegate it. Remember that delegation should be to a job function rather than an individual. Too often managers tend to overload more capable or reliable workers rather than delegating tasks to those who should be accountable.
  2. Step 2. Ideally, define the delegated task in writing and assign a due date. Depending on the nature of the task or project, delegation can be as formal as a detailed project form or as simple as an email exchange, or you can use project management tools such as Basecamp.
  3. Step 3. Discuss the project with the employee frequently. As part of delegation, it’s the manager’s responsibility to make certain that the task is clearly defined and that all the necessary tools and resources are available for its successful completion. A meeting or even a simple email exchange may provide a sufficient discussion to ensure success.
  4. Step 4. Gain the employee’s agreement. A contract requires both parties to agree to the terms. Achieving agreement allows the employee to take responsibility and empowers them to be accountable.

As part of the contract, there needs to be an opportunity to handle variations and contingencies. For example, if the deadline for newsletter delivery cannot be met because lack of content or some other impediment, there has to be a contingency plan so the deadline can be renegotiated well in advance of the due date. If the deadline cannot be met, it is the staff member’s responsibility to approach the manager and request a meeting to review options, review other priorities or negotiate a new deadline and keep a record of the new agreement.

The communications contract model serves as the foundation for clear and open communications. It removes any opportunities for miscommunications, and eliminates last-minute excuses when the day of the deadline comes. This communications model also serves as a template for all corporate projects, both inside and outside of the organization. It defines who is accountable, delegates responsibilities, negotiates deadlines, and makes clear what tools are needed to capture these steps in writing. By implementing this type of communication environment you might see big changes happening in your organization. You may have to take a closer look at your own sense of urgency for some projects, the number of projects on hand, and your ability to hold your managers accountable.