Saying ‘no’ to a colleague, boss or customer can be difficult. It can also build trust and strengthen your business (and personal) relationships. How? What’s more important than the words you use is the intention behind them. Try these problem-solving tips the next time you have to decline a request. For more information on Communicating to Engage, email me at email@example.com.
Functional experts are often promoted into bigger and bigger roles without preparation for the adjustments they need to make to truly lead. Essential to bridging the gap from technician to leader is building and sharing a vision that stirs employees’ passion and creativity.
Top leaders align their vision around the organization’s strategy. They:
Develop a story that engages employees in the organization’s strategy, inspiring and motivating their teams and employees to action.
Improve relationships with boards, shareholders, partners, their team and critical stakeholders by providing a vision that’s simple, clear and memorable.
Simplify the link from their vision and the organization’s strategy to the impact on customers, clients or products.
If the idea of creating or telling stories has you tied up in knots, check out this article for the 4 essential types of stories leaders tell to engage their people.
Recruiting Millennials is the easy part, now how do you get them to stay?
In our Harvard Business Review article, Motivating Millennials takes more than a flexible work policies, Tracy Benson identifies five ways executives can adapt management and communication styles to engage Millennials, and improve productivity and outcomes across the board. What strategies does your company use?
What is an introvert? A lot has been written about this topic over the years, though many people mistake being an introvert as shyness. In spite of being quite outgoing, I am an introvert — a concept that was a bit perplexing prior to deeper understanding of introversion. Although I enjoy my work, the back-to-back demands of consulting, meetings and conference calls result in socialization burnout.
Here are conversation highlights from the interview
Tracy made a career around establishing not only more effective, but genuine communication. In spite of being quite outgoing, she identifies as an introvert. She made the decision to start her own consulting firm and make the best out of her introverted qualities. She began to notice that many people who were involved with similar work were introverts as well.
It’s important to properly communicate the mission and goals behind your business. Clear communication is not only a necessity when it comes to potential customers and partners, but also quite useful for rallying employees and fostering a meaningful company culture. Tracy introduces the concept of storytelling as a means of helping people to make connections with your business. Ever-shrinking attention spans mean that it is more important with every passing year to establish a meaningful, emotional connection with others. There are several key components ranging from storytelling and active listening to crafting a call-to-action that encourages input. It is of the utmost importance that people feel that you, and your brand by extension, are trustworthy. Tracy offers her best advice on establishing trust and explains why it plays to introvert strengths.
With planning season upon us, it’s time to plant the seeds for the next big idea. In the world of transformation, there is a way to go slow and fast at the same time to achieve the desired lasting outcomes.
We came across this concept of go slow and fast – “Design for Action” – in the September issue of Harvard Business Review, which brings to mind three key thoughts:
1. “If a (leader) simply imposed his own ideas, buy-in would depend largely on authority – not a context conducive to social transformation.”
2. “Understand the “participative approach to strategy making.”
3. “The answer is iterative interaction with the decision maker.”
You’ll want to click on this link to read the “Design for Action” article. Save it for the weekend because it’s that good and deserves the time.
Consider this: When you’re shopping for that perfect dress or suit, you have to stand in front of a mirror that reflects at three angles in order to see the whole picture.
In our day-to-day lives, we normally only see the mirror that’s straight in front of us. Feedback provides the side angle view, the perspective that makes our understanding of how we are perceived and how we are performing complete. It compensates for our blind spots and creates opportunities to achieve excellence.
This perspective is key to making feedback a positive experience – whether you are the one giving or receiving.
In other cases, it may be necessary to address broader performance issues. Here are five tips for how to deliver feedback so that it is indeed constructive:
1. Schedule time with your associate and immediately establish your intent. Frame the conversation as an opportunity to discuss development needs and opportunities. This signals that you are investing in your employee’s success rather than being critical.
2. Prepare in advance – you want to stay on point and ensure your feedback is delivered clearly and is understood. It pays to spend some time gathering your thoughts. You may even want to prepare a few bullet points to capture your key messages.
3. Begin the conversation by recognizing strengths and / or successes. After all, it is because your employee is a valued member of the team that you are having this conversation. (Otherwise, you should be having an altogether different conversation.)
4.Next, let your associate know that you want to drill down on two or three (or whatever the number is) performance issues that need work. When introducing these, be crisp and clear. At the same time, avoid being accusatory, e.g., “You did this” or “You didn’t do this.” Ask questions to ensure understanding.
5. Most important: Focus on outcomes.
Here’s an example: We were working with a CEO to create a communication to his organization announcing the sale of the company. As the “go live” date drew nearer, activity (and changes to the plan) accelerated. One member of our team was responsible for capturing all of the changes to the plan and incorporating them throughout all of the many communication channels we were preparing. When it came time to review the “final” documents before sending them to the client, we found some of the changes had not been captured. Naturally, we pulled the team together and got the work done properly.
Then, after the announcement took place, we held a team debrief to uncover what happened. Rather than blame our team member for the last-minute scramble, we asked questions like: How specifically were you capturing the changes – via handwritten notes on your hard copy of the draft? In track changes mode to the Word documents? Electronically in a separate document? We learned that our teammate had been using a combination of these methods, and agreed on one method that would work best in the future.
By focusing on outcomes, you create an environment in which individual performance improves, and the team is open to sharing learnings and best practices. What could be more constructive than that?
Organizational transformation is complex and ambiguous. How do we mitigate these challenges when high-expectation investors, escalating global competition and disruptive technologies all demand rapid, seamless and effective change?
Check out my three-part blog on transformational change for The CEO Magazine. I’ll walk you through:
Beth Swanson and I teamed up to write a piece called, “What to Do If Your CEO Suddenly Dies” – featured in Ragan’s PR Daily. Generated by the sudden death of SurveryMonkey’s CEO, this is a timely and sensitive article on what to do in the aftermath of a leader’s death. While it is unpleasant to think of this happening in anyone’s organization, it is necessary to plan for when in business.
This article includes a six-point plan to enable you to lead with confidence and composure during a difficult time. While it is unpleasant to think of this happening in any organization, it is necessary to plan for in business. Below is a preview of the plan. For more information, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I went to my traditional internist the other day to talk about some nutritional guidance I received from an “alternative” practitioner. With a not so subtle scowl on her face, the traditional doc said: “First do no harm.” While I was disappointed in her ability to think creatively about my health, it occurred to me that this abstraction of the Hippocratic oath could double as a guiding principle for employee communication.
These are, as the Chinese proverb goes, interesting times…particularly when it comes to engaging employees. We are seeing more and more companies pulling all kinds of levers to drive cost out of their operations while simultaneously pursuing strategies designed to produce growth. Buried deeply within these organizations, it can sometimes feel to employees like their company is schizophrenic. Squeeze out cost while investing in growth? How in the world do we contract and expand at the same time?
And yet, this is exactly what the majority of CEOs are seeking. According to the 2013 US CEO Survey: Creating Value in Uncertain Times by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, “CEOs are seeking more from operational leaders than holding the line on costs. They’re also being asked to create value and contribute to growth.” With about two-thirds of those surveyed expecting some level of strategic change and changes to the organizational structure in the next 12 months (see Figure 1), now is the time to think seriously about how to engage employees in what seems at face value to be conflicting priorities.
Communicate openly – employees deserve it…and they can handle it
Messages about cost out and growth may seem contradictory. They’re really not – if the company and its leaders are extremely clear in communicating the direction and they see the link in freeing up resources from one area in the company in order to fund growth initiatives in others.
The most successful leaders practice three simple and fundamental principles when it comes to engaging their employees around these priorities:
Communicate openly and clearly about the company’s strategy.
Share the rationale for change.
Keep the customer front and center.
While these practices are always important, the complex and sometimes confusing dynamics operating within most organizations today make them downright indispensable. We find that while employees may not agree with all of a company’s decisions, particularly the ones that have a negative impact on them and their co-workers, they’re far more likely to respect their leaders and do what is asked if they understand the basis for the actions. Leaders often forget that employees are adults who in many cases run their own households. They understand the basics of revenues and expenses, and most are actively involved in addressing their own life challenges while balancing their household budgets.
Don Devine, formerly CEO of American Standard Brands (ASS) and now President of Custom Building Products, is a role model in this regard. While leading ASB through two acquisitions and a double merger, Devine was laser-sharp in his focus on a short set of clear messages, and passionate about educating the workforce about the financial basics – what it was going to take to turn the business around.
More leaders could take a page out of Devine’s book. The 2009 / 2010 Communication ROI Study report by Towers Watson found that while companies designated as highly effective communicators do a much better job of using communication to effectively connect with the workforce than the low-effectiveness companies, “there is room for improvement by all participants in communicating more effectively.” Figure 2 reveals just how much room there is, from explaining the basics to keeping the customer front and center.
Cost-cutting used to be a cyclical activity, with many organizational communicators we know in the habit of pulling out their “belt-tightening” messages every year at the start of the fourth quarter. However, these measures, which at one time seemed to be a quick fix to a moment in time, may be here for good. According to PriceWaterhouseCooper’s2013 US CEO Survey, 81 percent of participants implemented cost-cutting measures last year. In 2013, 71 percent are planning to do so. “In an environment of pricing pressure and slow demand growth, every element of direct and SG&A expense is getting a fresh look…CEOs seek opportunities for competitive advantage in their operating models to offer customers more and to do so at a lower cost.”
Remember – it’s about the people
It’s important to remember that behind all of the strategies, priorities and objectives are the people. And people are both emotional and rational, meaning they adapt to change at different rates of speed and in different ways. Particularly during periods where there is great ambiguity – before all of the questions have been answered – some may act out of fear or insecurity. Great leaders and managers understand this and work hard to be clear, consistent, respectful and compassionate in their words and actions. Larry Bossidy (former Chairman and CEO, Honeywell and best-selling author) said it best: “At the end of the day you bet on people, not on strategies.”
Earlier this week, Huffington Post reported that Yahoo has instituted the “stack-ranking” system of evaluating employees. The approach involves ranking employees of a department or team against each other on a bell curve, with the result that someone – or several someones – end up on the bottom of the curve. Those employees are typically fired or penalized in some way.
As the article points out, the system of stack ranking, or as some companies call it, forced ranking (which is really more accurate), has been around since Jack Welch popularized it at GE. And it has been controversial ever since.
The issue is very simple: You get what you measure. And in the case of forced ranking, you get how you measure. If the metric is about comparing the performance of individuals against each other, you’re going to get competition, secrecy, silos, and likely an environment and culture that becomes increasingly tense and risk averse.
This is the polar opposite of what we’re seeing smart companies doing today. Companies are facing tough external challenges, among them:
Rising competition from agile, global, lower cost competitors
Increasing pressure on profit margins
An urgent need to keep up with (or lead) the innovation race
Changing business models and customer buying habits.
The best companies are responding to these challenges by tearing down walls to create community and enable collaboration, thereby driving:
Faster, better innovation,
Deeper customer insights and intimacy, and
Better financial results.
Companies that create this kind of community also give rise to employee ambassadors, people who are passionate about the companies they work for, which in turn helps recruit great people, build a strong culture and deliver competitive advantage.
Companies searching for ways to stand out and thrive in a challenging environment would do well to ask themselves: Create community and collaboration or promote competition? My vote is to collaborate internally so we can compete externally.
There’s been a lot said about how Marissa Mayer is doing as Yahoo’s CEO. Whether you think she was the right or wrong person for the job, we can all learn something about managing the transition from functional expert to visionary leader.
Get Ahead as a Functional Expert
Functional leaders are often promoted into bigger and bigger roles, without preparation for the adjustments they need to make to truly lead. This may the case for Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, the self-proclaimed “geek” who some criticize for micromanaging, even while she has engineered many strategic acquisitions.
Bridge the Gap from Technician to Leader
Essential to bridging the gap from technician to leader is building and sharing a vision that stirs employees’ passion and creativity.
Tell the Story: The first step is to articulate a story that inspires employees and that aligns talent within the organization. The story explains where we’re going, why and how, and importantly – what employees can do to help achieve the vision.
Provide Tools: Next, the leader must provide managers and supervisors with tools so they can engage their employees in conversations about the vision and their role in achieving it.
The Benefit: Benefits include creating an environment where innovation and creativity can flourish because employees share the vision of the end-game and understand the parameters. This also strengthens retention.
Leadership is about building a vision, informing employees and simplifying so people know what to do.
The actions Marissa Mayer has taken appear to be focused on executing functional changes rather than sharing a bigger, more inspirational story that creates space for employees to stretch and innovate. It’s the difference between saying “Apple is committed to bringing the best personal computing experience to students, educators, creative professionals and consumers around the world ” and Mayer saying “We’re acquiring Tumblr and we’re spinning off Alibaba.”
Until now, Mayer has been approaching the organization as an engineer, adding this and removing that. But she has yet to express to employees what all this means; how will Yahoo! be different from Google or Bing? She can begin to cast her role as a visionary leader with purpose by sharing the big picture and – simply – explaining how the changes she’s making support this purpose.