Rage. Rancor. Resentment. Disgust. Celebration. Defiant. Fervent. Partisan.
These words, and others like them, have dominated news reports in the U.S. over the last few weeks. Just when we thought the country could not feel more divided than it was leading up to and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, recent events surrounding Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh’s hearings demonstrate that emotions – and strongly emotional responses – continue to escalate in nearly every forum from dinner tables to not-so-friendly conversations among friends to classrooms to workplaces. And with mid-term elections one month off, the tenor of public and private discourse is likely to become even more fraught.
These are risky times for leaders and managers committed to engaging workers in a shared strategy for their organizations. We know that among the most critical skills engaging leaders demonstrate is active listening. But how – and where – to draw the line between encouraging open dialogue and providing a cover for divisive behavior (especially covert, masked behavior) is a major challenge.
These three actions will help CEOs and senior leaders build trust and keep at-work relationships productive during volatile times.
- Name the elephant in the room. Acknowledge that these are trying times for many, with extremely strong emotions having been stirred across the political and personal spectrum.
- Establish clear expectations – and boundaries. Remind employees that diverse opinions and perspectives are critical to solving business problems and innovating new ideas, products and services. And on the flipside, personal opinions and perspectives on divisive issues simply do not belong in the workplace. Encourage workers who have personal concerns about workplace practices or actions to take them promptly and directly to a designated resource, such as their Human Resources professional or an Employee Assistance Program advocate.
- Recommit to the dignity of every individual. This is one example of where “say-do” is sacrosanct. We often talk about respect in the workplace, and many companies include that word in their values statements. That’s good. Now scan the way you carry yourself, the way you interact with colleagues at all levels – the words you choose and your body language. Make sure that you are “doing” respect as much as you are talking about it. Whether or not they realize it, employees are watching you for cues about what is acceptable behavior. If you are a senior leader, you are used to living in a fishbowl. Recognize that this is truer now than ever.
For more on communicating during divisive times, check out this article, posted on Inauguration Day, 2017.
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.
Communicate openly – employees deserve it…and they can handle it. The most successful leaders practice three simple and fundamental principles when it comes to engaging their employees around these priorities.
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.
For more information, feel free to email me at email@example.com.
For many U.S. voters, today (Inauguration Day) is a day of reckoning. Depending on your perspective, it’s the day you’ve been longing for or the day you’ve been dreading. If there is one thing to be learned from this past U.S. Presidential election, it is this: As a society, we haven’t been listening. And, as a result, we also haven’t been heard.
Business leaders have noted that election results have fragmented their companies. PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi said that her employees were “crying.” Some CEOs have even encouraged such division; GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney said Trump supporters weren’t welcome in his company. Now that the outcome is a done deal, what can CEOs and other business leaders do to heal such divisions and move their companies forward?
When people are denied a voice, for whatever reason, they begin to feel marginalized. That feeling of being unseen and taken for irrelevant, can build in intensity, and over time, lead to hostility or worse. PepsiCo’s Nooyi said that the real issues that face us as a country “such as technological unemployment, global trade, immigration” were not addressed in the lead-up to the election. Instead, the focus was personal and emotional.
Lacking dialogue about meaningful, substantive topics that affect us all has created a deep divisiveness that is not surprisingly finding its way into companies and other organizations. Unmitigated, leaders risk this deeply personal and vindictive energy overtaking the corporate narrative. In that kind of environment, divisions run even deeper and lead to employees becoming disengaged with their company’s purpose, strategy and outcomes. That’s not good for their customers, their shareholders, or our economy.
The most important lesson we can take from the surprising outcome of this election is that open, civil and thoughtful consideration of divergent perspectives is the glue that binds any society – be it a country or a company. And that presents a spectacular and critical opportunity for today’s business leaders.
Strategy #1: Dust off some fundamental communication skills
The road to healing requires leaders to practice four skills as part of their everyday interactions with colleagues:
- Active listening: Make a choice to listen for understanding rather than simply listening to hear. This means clearing your mind of your own thoughts, preconceived ideas and agendas in order to thoroughly consider what is being shared.
- Model constructive dialogue: Repeat key ideas that you are hearing in your own words to confirm alignment and ask probing questions to dig for deeper understanding. Adopt the mindset that you are studying for an exam rather than ramping up for a debate.
- Provide context: When sharing your thoughts, decisions or direction for the business, frame the issue thoughtfully. Many leaders forget that employees have not been immersed in analyzing an issue as thoroughly or for as long as they have and jump straight to the punchline. This robs the workforce of the opportunity to make the mental journey with you, arriving comfortably (or at least rationally) where you have.
- Create forums for open, hierarchy-free dialogue: Activate a mix of contemporary, digital platforms and traditional, in-person ones so that employees across the demographic and preference spectrum have opportunities to participate. Participate regularly in these forums, and clearly share with direct reports your expectation that they do so as well.
Strategy #2: Check your ego
Participating in the respectful exchange of views and ideas is one of the most humbling activities a leader will undertake. To be genuine, you must relieve yourself of the notion that you have all the answers. Isn’t that how we got here in the first place?
What is it that employees want from their managers? Simply put – timely, respectful and relevant communication. And even more precisely, the April 2015 Gallup study finds that employees want to know that they can approach their manager with “any type of question,” indicating the importance of an environment of communication openness.
Asking for help shouldn’t be scary. Here are four tips managers can implement to help create a not-so-spooky, more open and collaborative work environment.
Team communication can make or break your business.
Communication is an enabler of engagement, and employee engagement is the emotional and functional commitment an employee has to his or her organization. Companies with engaged employees outperform those without by up to 202%. So… strengthening your team’s communication skills will lead to engaged employees that support a high-performance culture.
To build a strong team be clear about roles and responsibilities, play to strengths, gather the team together daily and know your priorities. For more information about leader communication and communication training, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a leader, you may not have all the answers. That’s okay. Leadership is about building a vision, informing employees and simplifying so people know what to do. Leaders create clarity out of ambiguity, simplify the complex, convert challenges into opportunities, and make strategy come alive… inspiring and motivating employees to action.
Tell the Story
Articulate a story that inspires and aligns employees within the organization around the vision. The story explains where we’re going, why and how, and importantly – what employees can do to help achieve the vision.
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.
When faced with the unknown, let your vision be your guide.
Corporate communications is no longer just about talking TO employees. It’s also about building internal digital communities that facilitate communication AMONG those employees. In today’s world, we have to be able to foster and maintain effective virtual communities to help connect employees in different business units, geographic locations and time zones.
Here are five things successful communities have in common: http://bit.ly/1U6IrM5. What would you add?
For more information about employee engagement and leadership communication, contact me at email@example.com.
Feedback is a blessing.
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?
For more information on how On the same Page can help you become a more effective leader, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.