Stop the Rot – Managing Poor Performance ~ Part 2

Managing Poor Performance, Think OakIn part 1 of this two-part post I covered the potential impacts of poor performance, the causes and your responsibilities as a manager. In part 2, I’ll be guiding you through a seven-step process to help you deal with a poor performer.

Tackling Poor Performance

Many businesses do have policies and procedures around performance management and I’m not suggesting you don’t follow them. However, I’ve found a more informal, coaching approach to improve performance works in the vast majority of cases. Only once this approach is exhausted would I move down a more formal approach and this is normally the exception rather than the rule.

1. Prepare

Before you engage in a meeting with your poor performer, ensure that you have a detailed understanding and examples of poor performance as well as the impact that this under performance has had on the team, your customers, the business, yourself and the individual. Also, think about examples of good performance and behaviour that the person has shown in the past.

By spending some time preparing for the meeting,  you will have had a chance to gather your thoughts, examine the evidence, think about the evolution of the relationship and mentally frame the meeting in broad and flexible terms.

2. Set up a meeting with context

You should set up a meeting with at least a couple of days notice. You should be very clear in explaining exactly why you are arranging the meeting, that you will be discussing their recent performance and that you would like to have a discussion around how you can work on an improvement plan going forward.

To help your employee prepare for the meeting, you could suggest s/he gives some thought to a few questions, for example:

• How successfully do the two of us work together?

• How good are our communications and overall relationship?

• Which aspects of your job do you find easiest?

• Which are you most comfortable with?

• And which do you find most difficult?

• To what extent do I help you perform?

• Are there things I do that make life more difficult for you?

• Overall what can we do to improve your performance, my performance, our joint performance and our relationship?

The Performance Meeting

3. Agreement with your employee on the symptoms of the problem

It’s really important that you and your employee agree that there is a performance problem and agree the specific examples of when performance has been poor, the impacts that this has had and the importance of getting back on track. Try not to get into the why’s and wherefores at this stage. We’ll come to that. Just get agreement that behaviours or deliverables were not at the desired standard required for your team and business.

4. Understanding the causes of underperformance

Together, you and your colleague need to arrive at a common understanding of what might be causing the weak performance. This step assumes the person will be willing to participate in a genuine discussion of his/her strengths and weaknesses. Very few people will see themselves as perfect and in no need of any improvement. However, some people do overestimate the quality of their work performance and are unaware of their weaknesses. A major reason for this is likely to be that their previous managers have been reluctant to confront the employee’s shortcomings. In the absence of past negative feedback an employee could be genuinely shocked by your feedback and tempted to reject it as biased and personal.

It might be useful at this stage to review the answers to the preparation questions you gave them in step 2 to tease out some possible explanations. Ensure that you also point areas of performance or behaviours that are good, or have been in the past and spend some time on these also.

This stage of the process can be emotive. Keep calm and spend time working through the detail if necessary. Don’t forget that you already have agreement that there was poor performance. If you can’t agree on the why at this stage, you may need to move on to offering some suggestions on a way forward.

5. Creating and agreeing an Improvement Plan

Find out what motivates the individual: People are motivated by very different things.  Find out what’s important to the individual and shape and ‘sell’ the development plan accordingly.

Fit development action plans to learning style: Different people learn in different ways and this should be considered when planning development.  Understand which is the best learning strategy for that individual and shape the plan accordingly.

Focus on development priorities: Don’t overload people with too many things to focus on.

Use a range of development techniques: Development doesn’t solely result from attending training courses.  The success of development efforts will depend upon picking the right blend of development activity for the individual.  Good development plans draw on a combination of learning, practice and reinforcement.

Ensure that the plan has SMART Goals and by SMART, I mean:

S – specific, significant, stretching

M – measurable, meaningful, motivational

A – attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T – time-based, timely, tangible, trackable

Ensure that the individual owns their plan: Getting them to come up with ideas and to actually write the development plan themselves will ensure that they buy-in to the plan and feel that it is their own.

Make sure the plan is documented – either fully during the meeting or an agreed skeleton is produced during the meeting and an agreement that plan will be delivered back the following day.

6. Create Confidence and Commitment

A good manager wants their people to succeed. This stage is all about building confidence in the person and inspiring them to improve, to develop themselves and to take the initiative.  People with high levels of self-belief set themselves more demanding goals, show greater effort and persistence in trying to achieve, and cope better with stress and difficulties.

Put a lot of energy into encouraging the individual to develop themselves and improve. Spend some time making the individual believe they can turn their performance around. Offer structured support as part of the improvement plan, but tell them it’s their responsibility to deliver against it.

7. Follow up

You must follow up on the agreements made. You and individual will have agreed to make certain changes, perform certain actions and/or reach certain performance targets by a given date. The onus is on both of you to ensure maximum high quality communication occurs during the period of the agreement. Don’t wait until the end of the process to discuss progress. Ideally the agreed objectives will be specific enough and the communication process during the contract period effective enough that both parties will agree on the assessment of the outcomes.

By implementing timely follow-ups and encouragement throughout the process, you should start to see demonstrable improvement.

Should performance not improve during the process then you must then set the expectation of the consequences which would be a more formal process. Although this process was not part of your company’s formal process, the documentation produced and meeting notes would be able to used as evidence as part of most formal procedures.

You won’t always succeed in turning around poor performance, but by following these steps you will have given your poor performer every opportunity to turn performance around.

I hope you found this post useful. As always, I’ love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

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Stop the Rot – Managing Poor Performance ~ Part 1

Managing Poor PerformanceEarlier this year the Roffey Park Institute published their excellent annual report – The Management Agenda. A staggering 46% of UK managers reported that poor performance is not tackled at all well in their organisation, rising to 60% in Public Sector managers.

So what do I mean by Poor Performance? Simply put, poor performance is the failure of an individual to do his or her job, or to do it at an acceptable level. As a manager, you have a responsibility to manage the performance of your people. If you have witnessed poor performance (including inappropriate behaviour), or you are in receipt of a complaint or grievance, you must address this with the people concerned.

Impacts of Poor Performance

In my experience, the impacts of under-performing individuals run much wider than the results of their own performance, or lack of them. Poor performance observed by a supervisor or manager is normally only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of the issue and is only observed after a period of under performance already being noticed and talked about by members of the wider team.

If these behaviours or lack of performance  goes unchecked then the minimal implication for the manager who allows this to continue, is a loss of respect from the team he or she manages. Under-performance in key roles in your department could have a serious impact on you meeting your own department or business objectives, which may have wider personal or business consequences. If you are committed to performing at a high level, and if you expect high performance from everyone, then you as the manager must address poor performers and quickly.

By failing to address poor performance, you are sending a clear message to other team members that they need not meet their performance expectations and they should not expect any consequence for their unacceptable behaviour. Poor performance normally gets worse over time – rarely does it correct itself without action on the part of the manager or supervisor. Taking action against one individual does not lower morale amongst other team members. In fact, the opposite is often true. Often taking action leads to a more productive work environment.

Causes of Poor Performance

I firmly believe that no-one comes to work with a desire to fail. Although at times it may appear that an employee tries to perform poorly, most people actually want to do a good, or at the very least, an adequate, job. So why is it that people sometimes do fail at work? Poor performance can normally be attributed to one or more of the following:

  • Lack of clarity of the Why, the What and the How of their role
  • Lack of feedback and action from their previous or current management
  • Lack of skill, knowledge, or motivation
  • Inability to manage perception or pressure
  • Failure to prioritise
  • Conflict of personalities or styles
  • Over-promotion, where the person is actually out of his or her depth
  • Lack of resources, support, training or cooperation from others
  • Personal issues manifesting themselves at work

Given the cost of recruiting and training new people, helping under-achievers move  from poor to acceptable or better performance is almost always worthwhile.

Your Responsibilities as a Manager

Before moving into tackling the poor performance of your poor performer, you need to ask yourself some key personal questions:

1. Have I set out my performance expectations clearly? – If the person concerned doesn’t understand what is expected, it will be very hard, if not impossible, for them to meet those expectations. Providing clear expectations doesn’t necessarily require you to lay out precisely written, detailed instructions on every performance component. Generally, the question you should ask yourself is: “Would a reasonable person understand what was expected?”

2. Have I been having regular reviews with the poor performer and been giving them feedback? – Such feedback, both positive and negative, whether given in regularly scheduled meetings or in unscheduled discussions, is crucial to ensuring that expectations are understood. Frequent feedback lessens the likelihood that an employee will be surprised if it becomes necessary to take formal steps to resolve poor performance.

3. Have you provided the individual with the tools and training to do their job effectively? – What support have I / could I be giving to help raise performance going forward?

4. Is poor performance a new issue? – If the person in question has always performed adequately in the past, what has changed for them for their performance to dip? Is it a one-off mistake or has there started to become a pattern of events?

If you have answered these questions honestly and you answered ‘No’ to any of them, I would suggest that the poor performance starts with you. It’s never too late to start however!

In part 2, I’ll take you through a 7-step process to guide you through improving people’s performance.

As always, if you have any comments or feedback, I’d love to hear from you.

Avoid the Mushroom Culture – The Seven Deadly Sins

Mushroom CultureI’m sure many of you have heard people say – ‘They treat us like mushrooms. They keep us in the dark and feed us manure or nothing at all!’

Nothing stifles an organisation’s possibilities more than poor communication. Actually that’s not strictly true. Three things do – telling lies, partial truths or nothing at all.

In this post, I’d like to highlight some of the common pitfalls around communication or lack of it.

Common Communication Pitfalls – The Seven Deadly Sins

1. Not Communicating The ‘Why?’

As Simon Sinek says in his fantastic leadership book , ‘Start with why‘, he says ‘People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it’. In your organisation, do your people know the ‘why?’ Do they know why they didn’t get a pay rise this year? Do they know why headcount needs to be reduced? Do they know why you’ve just restructured the organisation? Do they know why their job is important to the organisation? Do they know why your organisation exists at all? Do they know why customers buy from your organisation?

As Simon also says in his book, and I paraphrase – ‘Every single one of us knows what we do. Most of us know how to do our jobs, but how many of us know the ‘Why?”

When communicating any message, good or not so good, it’s hugely important to impart the ‘why?’. In my experience, people who are motivated, passionate, and really good at what they do, tend to understand the ‘Why?’. In fact I’d go further and say that I believe the ‘Why’ drives the passion and motivation. It might be a personal ‘Why’, but it will be there.

In today’s economic climate, most people understand that difficult decisions need to be made, but you need to tell them AND the authentic reason for them to buy-in to the message.

2. Communicating Too Slowly or Not At All

People assume the worst when they hear nothing. Good and passionate employees want to know what’s going on in their organisation, and beyond their department boundaries. They want some visibility into the organisation’s plans and where they fit within them. Senior managers who can’t  or won’t discuss their organisation’s goals, strategies, vision and performance are all but guaranteed to spend a great deal of time recruiting. Marketable top performers want to be engaged and involved and won’t stand for being left in the dark without the information they need to do their jobs well.

Just as damaging can be when senior managers hold out for so long on making an announcement that employees start walking the corridors for information. Very often, they are forced to draw their own conclusions (and often the wrong ones!) about the reasons for what’s going to happen or has happened. Perceptions about the company withholding information are often more damaging than providing the “negative” news in the first place.

3. Not Being Honest

The very worst you can do in communicating a message is to lie and only marginally better, to not tell the whole truth. You WILL be found out, and your personal credibility and /or that of your organisation will be damaged, possibly irreparably.

I will make a bold statement. Your people can handle it. You don’t need to couch your message in fluff or half-truths. If your organisation is publicly owned or the message or timing is sensitive, be as honest as you can be without breaking confidence or legislation AND when you are able to say something more, make sure that you do at the first opportunity.

4. One Size Fits All Communication

People process information differently. For some of us, we like to be walked through in a great level of detail in order to fully understand a change or a message. For others a quick email will suffice. For others they may need to hear the message a number of times before the impact of a change on them is understood. Organisations that send out a  single global email imparting important news are failing to get their message across and failing their people. A mix of communication channels need to be thought about carefully when delivering important news or change. Face to face communication is always best, but with the geographic spread of many organisations and service organisations with call centres and shift patterns, this may not always be practical.

I find that a mix of communication channels is the most effective. Further detail on communication channels can be found in a previous post Communicate or Fail Part 1 and Part 2.

5. Assuming Your People Wouldn’t Understand

Organisations don’t employ stupid people. If they do, that’s a whole different blog topic and a short-lived organisation! People have mortgages, children, debt, cars, bills to pay, personal challenges to deal with, bereavement, stress, relationship challenges…I could go on. They can deal with difficult messages. They may need support, but they can handle it! They are also very aware of when a message is being dumbed down or the full story is not being told. If you have a complex message to deliver, make sure that you consider how the message is going to land, what reinforcement might be needed, whether you need to engage with external agencies to help you and what you want and need the outcome to be.

6. Not Checking That The Communication Has Been Understood

I am astounded at the number of businesses that do not measure whether messages or change initiatives are understood, never mind effective. In some cases huge sums of money are spent on internal ‘campaigns’ that are completely ineffective at best or actually have a negative impact on the people that they are trying to motivate. It’s hugely important that all communications campaigns – either external or internal are measured. Even anecdotal feedback from across key influencers within your organisation will give you an indicator of how a message has landed and whether further work is required.

7. No Reinforcement Of Communication By Managers and Supervisors

The ‘Marzipan’ layer as I call it, is rife in many businesses and public sector organisations. Information often stops at the senior management layer and gets no further, at least not consistently if it does. It’s not news that managers are key to effectively delivering messages and engaging employees. When leaders and managers convey confidence to employees, they build trust, which can help stoke employee engagement. In many ways, managers and more importantly team leaders and supervisors are the face of the organisation for employees, vital for translating mission, values and strategy into behaviour and action.

The best companies recognise this connection and go beyond simply providing managers with information to pass along to employees. They prepare managers to move away from cascading corporate messages and toward sharing the meaning of these messages with their team – back to the ‘Why?’. This requires engaging with managers, listening to their reactions, supporting their personal change journeys and crafting content that can be delivered in a manager’s own voice.

By avoiding these 7 deadly sins you’ll have a much better chance of engaging your employees in change.

As always would love to get your feedback and thoughts. Until next time…

007 ~ An Agent For Change – Think Oak! – 50th Post Edition

Agent, Change AgentAs both James Bond and myself are sharing a 50th anniversary I thought I’d discuss Agents, Change Agents and how we should all aspire to be one!

Firstly what is a Change Agent?

A Change Agent is a person who leads change within an organisation, by championing change and by helping to communicate the excitement, possibilities, and details of the change to others within the organisation. A change agent doesn’t need to be a full-time, formal role. It can be simply the way someone chooses to be in an organisation.

What are the personal qualities of the ‘007’ of Change Agents?

The Best  Change Agents ‘LIVE AND LET DIE’

L – Love Change!

Probably not a surprise to you that the best agents of change, love change! They thrive on being involved in new ideas, initiatives and projects and are not afraid to roll their sleeves up to get the job done.

I – Innovative

I’m not talking of their ability to develop exploding pens, but innovation in the way they communicate, engage and enrol others in the change effort. They don’t just come up with ideas, they know how to apply them.  Great Change Agents are curious, experimental, and they apply their discoveries to the organisation’s goals.

V – Visionary

Great change agents help to shape the future. They can see very clearly where the change effort needs to go and have a clear vision of what the future will feel and look like, and more importantly the key steps to take the organisation there.

E – Enthusiastic

Change Agents need have enthusiasm in abundance. It can often be a tough role and often requires a great deal self-motivation to keep momentum in an organisational change effort.

A – Articulate

Communication is THE most important part of being a good agent for change. The best of the best have the ability to articulate the WIIFM – ‘What’s In It For Me’ at all levels of the organisation. They know what makes people tick and know how change will impact individuals and teams alike.

N – Not afraid to speak the truth

This one is certainly near the top of my list for a killer Change Agent. Change Agents, by their very nature, speak to people on the shop floor right the way up to Chief Executive levels in organisations. They hear what the ‘troops’ are saying and they see how the senior management interact and behave. By being effective, and by speaking the ‘awful’ truth when necessary, they can be the conduit from bottom to the top of an organisation, conveying key news, good or bad, straight to the people who can change things for the better.

D – Deliver + 1%

Bond always delivers and then some. So do great Change Agents. They always go the extra mile to ensure that everyone that is impacted by change are engaged, enrolled and bought in to what is required of them. They work tirelessly to engage with the key influencers to ensure that the organisation is as prepared as they can be for change.

L – Listening

Those that are avid readers of Think Oak! know of my passion for generous or active listening. Great Change Agents are masters at listening for what is being said and more importantly for what is not being said, taking time to really understand the challenges that individuals, teams, departments and functions face. They take this feedback and tailor communications and training as well as feeding the learning back into the wider organisation.

E – Empathetic

To many people, change is unsettling, at best and to some downright scary. A solitary piece of generic communication to the organisation is unlikely to affect change and unlikely to address people’s questions or concerns. Change Agents invest time to understand people’s worries and address them with empathy to get the right results.

T – Trusted

For Change Agents to be effective, they have to a reputation of trust with their peers and others in the organisation. They always do what they say they’ll do.

D – Decisive

Change Agents can’t be procrastinators. Decisions often need to be made quickly especially around people issues and business impact challenges. Great Change Agents act with urgency and aren’t afraid to deliver difficult messages to senior management or management teams.

I – Influencer

Stakeholder awareness and management is crucial to the success of any major organisational change programme. An effective Change Agent is a key influencer in an organisation. The have the ability AND relationships, to overcome issues and barriers quickly. They very often anticipate the challenges ahead and engage with key stakeholders in advance to smooth the road ahead.

E – Egoless

Top Change Agents are not in it for themselves. They are 100% behind the change itself and the success of the organisation.

So whilst a ‘007’ Change Agent isn’t quite as glamorous an individual as James Bond, they’re still pretty special.

Hope you enjoyed the post. As always, would love to hear any feedback you may have.

Six of the Best …. Failures

Following on from my last post Fail to Learn, Learn to Fail, I’ve done some research into some famous business people to see how rocky their road to success was. I was surprised by a few names and fascinated by others, so I thought I’d share some of them with you:

Walt DisneyWalt Disney

‘All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them’

Today Disney rakes in billions from merchandise, movies and theme parks around the world, but Walt Disney himself had a rough start. He was fired by a newspaper editor because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” After that, Disney started a number of businesses that didn’t last long and ended with bankruptcy and failure. Legend has it he was turned down 302 times before he got financing for creating Disney World. He kept going with his mantra – Dream, Believe, Dare, Do and eventually found a recipe for success that transformed the dreams of millions of children and adults alike. Unfortunately he wasn’t alive to see his Walt Disney World vision become reality.

Winston Churchill

‘Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.’

This Nobel Prize-winning, twice-elected Prime Minster of the United Kingdom wasn’t always as well-regarded as he is today. Churchill struggled in school and performed poorly. After school he faced many years of political failures, as he was defeated in every election for public office until he finally became the Prime Minister at the ripe old age of 62.

During Churchill’s political career, he made numerous decisions that would turn into failures. In the First World War, he led the troop who invaded Turkey in order to establish a southern link with Russia, which resulted into a complete failure and loss of many young soldiers from Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, ANZAC. In the Second World War he was chiefly responsible for taking over Norway and he was defeated by the German army. In spite of all the failures and criticism, Churchill is regarded as one of the greatest leaders and orators of the 20th century.

In 1953 he received the Noble Prize for Literature for the book ‘The Second World War’, In 1963, the US Congress granted him an honorary American citizenship. In 1940 and in 1949, the Time magazine honoured Churchill with the “Man of the Year”.

J.K. RowlingJ. K. Rowling

‘It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.’

Jo Rowling is a huge success on a global scale due to her Harry Potter stories, but before she published the series of novels she was nearly penniless, severely depressed, divorced, trying to raise a child on her own while attending school and writing a novel, which incidentally was rejected by 12 publishers before being published by Bloomsbury. Rowling went from struggling to survive on benefits to being one of the richest women in the world in a span of only five years through her hard work and determination.

Richard BransonRichard Branson

‘You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over’

Richard Branson has tried many different things in his life. He likes to compete and prove to bigger players that the smaller ones can indeed win too in business.

Virgin Cola, introduced by Richard Branson in 1994 as the rival to Coca-Cola, has practically disappeared. Virgin Clothes, launched on the stock exchange in 1996, folded with losses to shareholders, after debuting with promising new trends in providing more edgy wardrobe to the young. Virgin Money was launched with a viral and somewhat controversial advertising campaign, panned by critics with Richard Branson emerging naked from the sea, but did not deliver the expected big financial rewards to its shareholders. Then came Virgin Vie, Virgin Vision, Virgin Vodka, Virgin Wine, Virgin Jeans, Virgin Brides, Virgin Cosmetics and Virgin Cars – All the major brands who wanted to compete and earn a huge market share from established brands in those areas, failed to live up towards expectations.

He has lost millions upon millions, if not billions, over the years. Many people would have given up along the way. But he hasn’t allowed his failures to stop him from trying again. He has learnt from his mistakes and gone on to be extremely successful again and again. It is his willingness to give things a go that has seen him succeed. He sees his failures as a step to success.

Albert EinsteinAlbert Einstein

‘A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.’

Most people would come up with the name Albert Einstein, if you asked them to name a genius.  Yet even for Einstein genius did not come easy.  He had speech difficulties as a child and was once even thought to be mentally handicapped. As a teen he rebelled against his schools reliance on rote learning and failed.  He tried to test into Zurich Polytechnic, but failed again (although he did very well in the mathematics and physics section!  A few years later he had a PHD and was recognized as a leading theorist.  A few years after that he had a Nobel prize for physics and began to be recognized as the genius of our modern era.

James DysonJames Dyson

‘By fostering an environment where failure is embraced, even those of us far from our student days have the freedom to make mistakes — and learn from them still. No one is going to get it right the first time. Instead of being punished for mistakes along the way, learn from them. I fail constantly. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.’

While developing his vacuum, Sir James Dyson went through 5,126 failed prototypes and his savings over 15 years. By the time he made his 15th prototype, his third child was born. By 2,627, he was really struggling financially. By 3,727, Dyson’s wife was giving art lessons for some extra cash. Each failure brought him closer to solving the problem. It wasn’t the final prototype that made the struggle worth it. The 5,127th prototype worked and now the Dyson brand is one of the best-selling vacuum cleaners in the World.

Hope you enjoyed reading Six of the Best…Failures. I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes of the moment :

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

The Need for Speed ~ Driving Pace in Your Organisation ~ Part 4

Execution of the Plan

In part 3 of this four part series of blogs I covered the importance of PACE to improve organisational effectiveness and speed and specifically Communication:

PACE = Planning + Alignment + Communication + Execution

The fourth and final part of The Need for Speed ~ Driving Pace in Your Organisation will focus on Execution of your plan to acheive your One Magnificent Goal, your OMG!

Execution

Thomas Edison famously said, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” It’s true. And as the hallucinations of countless business leaders have proved, knowing what you want to do or where you want the company to be may be less than half the battle.

a) Co-ordination and control of programmes and projects

Failure to execute has several root causes. Below are several common reasons why companies fail to execute their strategic plans fully:

  • Poor prioritisation of resource – Every goal cannot be the top priority, but we set ourselves up for failure by treating them all as if they were equal. Organisations lack the energy or focus to take on too many goals at once. Even if the capacity were there to take on unlimited amounts of work associated with implementation of strategic goals – it is a bad idea to over extend.
  • Lack of detail planning to support goal achievement – Detailed planning involves breaking down work into smaller parts. It is far easier to solve a small puzzle than to launch into solving a massive one. Inch Pebbles not Mile Stones!
  • Poor communication and coordination – Failure to communicate and educate is a huge factor in many failed plans. Employees who are responsible and accountable for their scope of execution must understand what is to be done, when and how that affects the overall outcome.
  • Strategy and culture misalignment – Execution cannot be planned without consideration of the organisation’s culture.
  • Accountability missing from goals – Everyone is accountable in accomplishing their individual tasks that are required to achieve the overarching OMG and some, including the CEO, may be accountable for reinforcement of the tasks.
  • Poor governance – Governance enables organisations to manage the interrelationships of all underlying initiatives comprising their OMG. Governance also provides the boundaries and check points needed to keep programs in alignment with the plan.
  • Ill-defined initiatives – Once ambiguity creeps into the scope of any initiative, it leads to confusion and failure in execution. The language used to state goals is usually where the problems start. Initiatives must be carefully constructed in order to be crisp and well understood. In addition, they must be measurable.

To be successful a project must:

· Deliver the outcomes and benefits required by the organisation

· Create and implement deliverables that meet agreed requirements;

· Meet time targets and stay within financial budgets;

· Involve all the right people;

· Make best use of resources in the organisation and elsewhere;

· Take account of changes in the way the organisation operates;

· Manage any risks that could jeopardise success;

· Take into account the needs of staff and other stakeholders who will be impacted by the changes brought about by the project.

· Keep stakeholders and staff in the loop as to your progress and get them ready for any impacts of the project.

b) Ownership and accountability

At work, people who have a high level of accountability will take initiative to ensure the success of a project, provide early warning of potential problems, and try to resolve a problem even if it is not their fault.

One reason we hesitate to tackle the accountability problem in a timely way is a lack of clarity on what the person is accountable for in the first place. Discussions about accountability can be straightforward and potential conflicts less intense when everyone knows ahead of time what is expected and how success will be measured. Establishing this clarity also reduces the likelihood of having to have the discussions in the first place.

Being accountable comes naturally to some people. For many of us, however, the more natural tendency is to justify and explain why we are not responsible when things go wrong. Although you cannot change human nature, those of us in a managerial or leadership role can help create an environment that enables others to operate at a higher level of responsibility. The key is to set people up for success by clarifying expectations up front and building in time to make course corrections before the deadline. This helps avoid the need to make excuses.

When targets are missed, asking three questions can solve the problem: What can you do right now to get back on track? How did you contribute to this situation? What can you do in the future to ensure this will not happen again? This approach doesn’t try to pinpoint blame and helps minimise the threat to the person’s self-image. These three questions, along with techniques to deal with a defensive response effectively, also minimises the need to make excuses as you and the other person collaborate on finding a solution.

c) Rapid and Effective Decision Making

There are three things you can do to improve the quality and speed of decisions.

a) Make sure that people closest to the action are making the decisions. This can require a change in organisational structure and, when this is not possible, empowering people and holding them accountable for taking the initiative and addressing issues when they arise.

b) Involve the right people in decisions. This helps ensure that you include perspectives and experiences other than your own and also helps fill in relevant data that you might not possess.

c) Use an objective, systematic process so that you won’t let emotion or bias cloud the issues or simply default to the kinds of decisions you’ve made in the past. This will also force you to incorporate risk assessment in your decision-making.

These last two actions ensure that we have access to a range of perspectives and information that might not otherwise be available to us, and increases the likelihood that we will be more thoughtful when making choices.

Organisations that are the best at execution also create operating plans that are coordinated across departments and levels, expect and encourage top performance from everyone, hold people accountable for results, make high-quality decisions by ensuring that the right people are talking about the right things at the right time.

In summary, PACE – Planning, Alignment, Communication and Execution will drive speed in your organisation. You as a leader will need High Energy and Focus to keep PACE on track and you’ll need a strong team around you to deliver your OMG. The rewards in achieving your OMG will be worth it!

That concludes the final part of The Need for Speed ~ Driving Pace in Your Organisation. If you missed the first three parts please click Part 1 – Planning, Part 2 – Alignment and Part 3 – Communication.

The Need for Speed ~ Driving Pace in Your Organisation ~ Part 1

Driving PACE in your organisationSucceeding in today’s competitive business environment requires that your organisation be agile enough to respond quickly to internal and external change. To stay ahead, you have to explore new ways to grow your business – for example, by launching a new product or service or targeting a different marketplace. Speed and focus could become your biggest competitive advantages.

For this to succeed, you will need to rapidly align resources and people so as to drive speed, efficiency, and profitability. But how do you achieve this level of organisational agility – and ensure focused execution across your business?

The key is driving organisational alignment – an elusive goal for many companies. This requires strong executive alignment, an organisational mind-set that values performance management, and the ability to perform effectively. Once these elements are in place, you need baseline information to devise the right strategies, a clear understanding of interdependencies, and insight into where to deploy personnel and budgets. To drive adoption, you must communicate strategies to employees in ways that they understand and embrace and that are within the context of their roles. You must provide the right tools and incentives to help them execute on a daily basis and in alignment with corporate strategies.

However, if your organisation is like most, there is a significant gap between strategy and execution because of breakdowns in one or more of these areas.

You need to consider how to implement PACE in your organisation: Planning, Alignment, Communication and Execution

This first post, in a 4 part series, will focus on:

Planning

Why is planning so important and why must it be done in parallel with strategy? From a macro perspective, business today gets done in a global marketplace. Change is occurring at an unprecedented pace. Time and distance continue to become less and less relevant thanks in great part to the explosive growth and convergence of technology and the internet.

There was a time when strategic planning was done by only the biggest companies, and those who lead change. Now it is a requirement just to survive. Leaders of business must be looking ahead, anticipating change, and developing a strategy to proactively and successfully navigate through the turbulence created by change.

a) Clarity of Strategic Goals and Markets

How are you going to get somewhere if you don’t know where you are going? Everyone in an organisation needs to know what you sell or do, who your target customers are, how you compete and in which markets you operate. A good strategy will balance revenue and margin generation with productivity initiatives. Without strategic planning, businesses simply drift, and are always reacting to the pressure of the day. Companies that don’t plan have exponentially higher rates of failure than those that plan and implement well.

For many business owners and leaders, creating a vision, company values, and a strategic plan can be a daunting task for reasons like time, energy, commitment and lack of experience. It requires business leaders to accept that yesterday’s success does not ensure success in the future. It requires challenging the status quo, potentially changing behaviours, implementing new procedures, hiring different people, and putting new systems in place in order to deliver on the strategy.

Make no mistake; the best plans and ideas without great execution are just plans or ideas, they don’t result in much of anything. Regardless of the size of a company, a strategic plan is the foundation on which all business activities can be connected and “aligned”.

b) OMG! – One Magnificent Goal!

The idea for One Magnificent Goal is derived from the fantastic book by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras; Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies – They termed it ‘BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal’

OMG is THE goal that really stretches you to think differently about how you do business. It’s THE goal that is going to help you transform your business, rather than being satisfied with incremental change. It’s THE goal that’s going to inspire you to do your best work and outshine your competition.

What is THE ONE BIG aspirational idea that your people can really get behind; that will really make them deliver +1%?

  • It could be Target Driven –  JFK’s – ‘this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
  • It could be Competitor Driven – Crush Adidas! (Nike, 1960s)
  • It could be Role-model Driven – Audi’s OMG in 2005: To match the exclusive image of mighty Benz and BMW
  • It could be a Business Transformation – Amazon.com: Every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds

When you consider OMGs for your organisation here are some key points to keep in mind:

  • It should be so clear and compelling that it requires little or no explanation
  • It should fall well outside your comfort zone
  • It should be so bold and exciting in its own right that it will stimulate progress even if the leaders disappear
  • It should be consistent with the company’s core ideology

If your OMG doesn’t meet these criteria you should really think again!

c) The Plan Itself

If you are serious about reaching your OMG, you have to develop a plan that  clearly takes you through milestones or even better,  ‘Inch Pebbles’ to meet that OMG. If you don’t, you can’t even  expect to get close. You have to do more than you have ever done. You also have to look for  new and creative ways, to get to the result.

I’m not, in this post, going to be prescriptive about how you build a plan, but I would ask you to consider the following questions:

How do I bridge the gap? – How can you most effectively get from where you are now to where you want to go? And in what time-frame? What strategic initiatives are needed to bridge the gap?

What are the controls I need to put in place? What monitoring, project management, reporting, and performance management do I need to put in place to achieve these initiatives?

What people do I need to ensure I reach my OMG? Will the team you have today be enough to deliver your OMG? Do you need more people or different people? Do you need to change the people (training & development) or change the people (restructure & recruit)?

Can I afford to do this? What costs will be incurred in delivering the initiatives that will help you reach your OMG? Over what time frame? What would be the cost of not doing them? What contingencies do you need to put in place along the way if some of your initiatives fail?

Answering these questions will help you formulate your plan.

So, you understand the market place and your strategic ambition within it, your OMG. You have a plan to achieve it. Have you got the right people, organisational structure and culture to deliver it? In Part 2 of The Need for Speed – Driving Pace in Your Organisation,  I will be look at the second element of PACE, Alignment.

Playing Politics without the Politics

Politics without the Politics

Office politics is a fact of company life. Wherever there are two or more people working together, there will be politics and there will be opportunity for conflict. However, destructive office politics can demoralise people in an organisation, hamper productivity, and increase turnover of good staff,.

Much as you might like to avoid them, the best way to deal with political environments is to engage them, to turn toward them. To turn away is to abdicate your responsibilities as a leader and manager. It is to let down yourself, your team, and even the organisation as a whole.

Unless you reach out, engage others, and create active, on-going relationships — relationships you sustain even when there’s no immediate problem — you will lack the ability to exercise influence beyond your group. And even in your own world, your influence will be limited. If you’ve ever worked for a boss who lacked any organizational clout or credibility, you know how frustrating that is.

I’m not saying you have to play ‘politics’, but it’s important that you can see when it’s happening, build the right relationships and communicate effectively with key stakeholders in your organisation on an ongoing basis.

So how do you play politics without the politics? Be P.O.L.I.T.I.C.A.L.L.Y S.A.V.V.Y

1. Perform!

First and foremost, be a top performer. Do your job, plus 1%. Be known as a “Star”  — someone people want on their team. Volunteer for projects and new initiatives.

2. Observe behaviours

Observing your peers and managers act in certain situations can teach you a great deal about peoples’ inter-relationships, their allegiances and their battles. An understanding of these relationships and power struggles may help you in building the right relationships and avoiding unnecessary conflict in the future.

3. Lead by example

People in an organisation look to leadership to see how to act. Do you want your team to refrain from negative politics? Do you want to see collaboration and teamwork instead of petty rivalries, jealousy, and back-stabbing? Act the way you want your people to act, and they will follow you.

Stand for the right things. Reputations are hard to build and easy to destroy. Be known as a person who is trustworthy, reliable, honest and fair. Do what you say you will do. Speak up when you hear false rumours, unfair criticism or slurs. Even if you are not liked by everyone, you will be respected by most.

4. Invest in others’ success

We all have responsibilities and objectives, and those things should receive priority. Nonetheless, if it doesn’t take too much time, being helpful to others can reap benefits for you. Be willing to share your expertise, experience and insights with others. You’ll gain greater confidence as people develop and, as they advance, you’ll broaden your network and access to information, resources, etc. One way to convert your ‘competitors’ to allies: help them succeed.

5. Think Win – Win

Learn to think in terms of “how can we both win out of this situation?” This requires that you first understand the other party’s perspective and what’s in it for him or her. Next, understand what’s in it for you. Strive to seek out a resolution that is acceptable and beneficial to both parties. Doing this will ensure that everyone truly commit to the agree resolution and not pay only lip-service to it.

People simply don’t like to lose. You may get away with win-lose tactics once or twice, but very soon, you’ll find yourself without allies in the workplace. Thinking win-win is an enduring strategy that builds allies and help you win in the long-term.

6. Identify key players

To survive office politics, know who the key players are. Obviously, you can pick out the senior management team. There will be other people in the organisation who are looked to for answers and opinions, even by the boss. They may or may not be the most senior or experienced. You can pick them out because they will usually voice an opinion or provide input on most subjects. You will observe people going to them for counsel, advice and insight. Knowing who’s who in your organisation is important, as you need to learn from these people and understand what is being prized and rewarded.

7. Cast the right shadow

The best way to keep out of trouble politically is to be seen as someone who doesn’t play office politics. Do what you say you’re going to do, alert people to problems, and admit your mistakes. Others will respect you, even if they don’t always agree with you. More important, you have a lower chance of being a victim of politics.

8. Avoid Gossip

Gossiping is the fuel for workplace politics. Gossiping means that things are not dealt with directly and can be very damaging. Whatever has been said is usually distorted as it is passed around, whether intentionally or not. Be direct and deal with things professionally. Try not to gossip — and if someone tells you something, don’t pass it on. You can let your co-workers know (verbally or by your actions) that you don’t want to engage in gossip. This can be hard initially but once people see that you mean what you say, they will respect you for it. Take a step back and try and be objective — it will help you to keep a professional distance and avoid being pulled into politics yourself.

Resist the temptation to publicly blame and criticize those above you — they may not be
perfect but they’re probably doing what they believe is best. Work to see the whole picture of a situation but realise that you’re rarely privy to every piece of the puzzle.

9. Learn lessons fast

Be willing to own up to your mistakes and failures; people will respect (and, hopefully, forgive) you for your courage. Always look for the lessons learned so you don’t repeat them. If the company’s culture and politics are making you miserable, move on. Decide it’s time to go before you are asked to leave or before you have lost your self-esteem. When you leave, don’t burn your bridges. Use your lessons to find a role or company where you start with a clean slate and thrive.

10. Live and work by your values

It’s an unfortunate truth that there are those who’ll do anything to “win,” but character and credibility count. You don’t need to play underhanded games to rise through the ranks. According to research by the Political Skill at Work authors, the four competencies that demonstrate organisational political skill are: sincerity, networking, interpersonal influence and social astuteness.  These are all highly ethical and respectable behaviours, not the underhanded or unsavoury ones often associated with office politics.

11. Your inner voice is normally right

Learn to trust your instincts. They’re normally right.

12. Strengthen your Network

Few of us succeed without help. Cherish friends and supporters. Cultivate mentors and confidantes who will offer good counsel and share important information. Seek advice from people you can learn from, people who can influence your career. Ask for candid feedback regularly.

13. Anticipate

To get things done, you have to see the world through the eyes of others. Too many leaders spend too little time anticipating. They over-focus on what they’re trying to do and don’t think about the roadblocks others may put in their way. Before you say or do anything you have to understand the agendas of those around you. Anticipating the arguments they’ll make is the first of the skills you need.

14. Value your people

Imagine the success your business could achieve if you truly engaged and motivated your employees by developing a climate that provided them with absolute clarity about where the business was going and their contribution to the journey; a climate that inspired only standards of excellence where employees strived to offer nothing but their best and were free to innovate and create; a climate that recognised and rewarded individuals based not only upon their contribution to success but also tailored to satisfy their personal needs and values.

This type of climate cannot be achieved using a Terminator leadership style, which inadvertently kills employees enthusiasm and passion for the job that they do and the company they work for.

Business success today demands a different inspirational leadership style that understands the importance of finding out what makes employees tick.  A style that enables employees to understand why what they do is worthwhile and feel valued for doing it.  A style that develops employees who look forward to coming to work and who are willing to go to extreme lengths to deliver excellence in a job and company they are proud of.

15. Visibility with the Boss

Unless you have unique and irreplaceable knowledge or skills (or are related to the CEO), your boss has more power than you do.  Your manager also has greater access to key decision-makers.  So it’s better to have your boss as an advocate than an adversary.  Politically savvy people know how to “manage up”.

16. You have a choice!

Winning requires you to consciously choose your reactions to the situation. Recognise that no matter how bad the circumstances, you have a choice in choosing how you feel and react.

Thanks for taking time out to read ‘Playing Politics without the Politics’ – Hopefully you’re now a little more POLITICALLY SAVVY.

Would love to hear how you’ve dealt with Office Politics!

Communicate or Fail ~ Part 2

Personal CommunicationCommunicate or Fail is a two-part post focussing on communications at an organisational level and on a personal level. Part 2 will focus on personal communication. Click here if you missed part 1.

Effective communication remains at the heart of business. It is a crucial skill that must be mastered in order to be successful, even in today’s twitter-based world. While literacy levels continue to fall and good expression seems irrelevant to many, the ability to convey your message effectively will help you and your organisation stand out from the crowd.

From short emails, to mission statements, to large business proposals, effective communication is a skill you cannot afford to be without. If you can make your point or present a case clearly, you have a better chance of influencing people, gaining their support and motivating them. If you can give people clear instructions and information, they are better equipped for the tasks asked of them.  It could be the thing that helps you win that big client or a promotion!

Each person has a unique communication style. By getting to know your style, you can achieve greater self-awareness and learn how to develop more effective interpersonal relations with colleagues, customers and even at home.  Accurate self-knowledge is truly the starting point for effectiveness at work. Understanding other people’s communication styles improves working relationships by increasing our acceptance of other people and their way of doing things.

I personally find the DISC model and Myers Briggs the most useful tools to help you understand communication styles. Once you have established your natural communication style you can start to think about how you can adapt your style to drive the right outcomes with others. Adapting your communication style is not about changing who you are nor is it about changing your intended message. Adapting your communication style choice is only about conveying your intended message in the manner that the other person is going to be best able to receive and understand it.

The diagram below, based upon the DISC model, shows the four basic communicator styles: They tend to be called different names depending on the methodology used, but they’re all pretty similar.

Communication Styles

How to interact with each style:

Relators

Relators like to work with groups and build relationships. Security is important to them and they like consistency and focusing on areas of specialisation. You should:

  • Be sincere and personable
  • Take an interest in him or her as a person
  • Be patient in drawing them out
  • Use open-ended questions
  • Present new ideas in a non-threatening manner
  • Give plenty of time to adjust
  • Clearly define individual goals and roles
  • Offer and provide personal support
  • Focus on the benefit of his or her contribution to the group

Socialisers

Socialisers like recognition and pride themselves on being popular. They like freedom of speech and freedom from control and detail. They work best in an open environment. You should:

  • Create a positive, friendly environment
  • Give them plenty of opportunities to speak about ideas, people, and their intuition
  • Engage them with stimulating and fun activities
  • Reinforce conversations with written documentation
  • Foster a democratic relationship
  • Incorporate incentives for taking risks
  • Encourage him or her in thinking outside of the box

Thinkers

Thinkers know there’s a place for everything and everything should be in its place. Correctness and exactness are highly valued. You should:

  • Take time to prepare your case in advance
  • Make an appointment
  • Provide both the pros and cons of your plan
  • Support your ideas with volumes of data
  • Assure that you’ve eliminated all surprises
  • Provide a detailed plan with a precise explanation of how it fits in the big picture
  • Stay focused on the issue when disagreeing
  • Be prepared to provide many explanations with patience and persistence

Directors

Directors must be in charge. They pride themselves on achievement and focus on results. The bigger the challenge, the better they feel. You should:

  • Provide direct answers
  • Get to the point
  • Be brief
  • Stick to business
  • Show how your plan will get results, solve problems, and allow this individual to be in charge
  • Identify ways in which your idea will benefit the Director
  • Ask questions that focus on “what,” not “how”
  • Avoid direct disagreement

Communication Basics

There are 3 skills you need to hone to be an effective communicator, namely listening, speaking and writing. You won’t be astonished to read that, I hope! However, you would be surprised at how little effort people invest in them.

Listening

Listening is really where all good communication begins. Misunderstanding what another person is saying is one of the biggest obstacles to communication. Each of us sees the world in a unique way, and we usually assume that everyone sees it the same way we do.

Below are some barriers to effective listening. You’ll probably recognise that most of them apply to you at one time or another.

  • We can think faster than a speaker can talk, and jump to conclusions
  • We are distracted and allow our minds to wander
  • We lose patience, and decide we are not interested
  • We overreact to what’s said and react emotionally
  • We interrupt

So how do you become a generous listener?

1. Don’t talk. Listen. People want a chance to get their own ideas and opinions across. A good listener lets them do it. If you interrupt the speaker or put limitations on your listening time, the speaker will get the impression that you’re not interested in what he is saying — even if you are. So be courteous and give the speaker your full attention.

2. Don’t jump to conclusions. Many people tune out a speaker when they think they have the gist of their conversation or know what they’re going to say next. Assumptions can be dangerous. Maybe the speaker is not following the same train of thought that you are, or is not planning to make the point you think they are. If you don’t listen, you may miss the real point the speaker is trying to get across.

3. Listen for the ‘unsaid’. Concentrate on what is not being said as well as what is being said. Remember, a lot of clues to meaning come from the speaker’s tone of voice, facial expressions, and gestures. People don’t always say what they mean, but their body language is usually an accurate indication of their attitude and emotional state.

4. Ask questions.  If you are not sure of what the speaker is saying, ask. It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “Do you mean . . . ?”or “Did I understand you to say . . . ?” It’s also a good idea to repeat what the speaker has said in your own words to confirm that you have understood him correctly.

5. Don’t get distracted. Don’t let yourself be distracted by the environment or by the speaker’s appearance, accent, mannerisms, or word use. Paying too much attention to these districations can break your concentration and make you miss the point of the conversation.

6. Be open-minded. Don’t just listen for statements that back up your own opinions and support your beliefs, or for certain parts that interest you. The point of listening, after all, is to gain new information. Be willing to listen to someone else’s point of view and ideas. A subject that may seem boring or trivial at first can turn out to be fascinating, if you listen with an open mind.

7. Provide feedback. Make eye contact with the speaker. Show him you understand his talk by nodding your head, maintaining an upright posture, and, if appropriate, interjecting an occasional comment such as ”I see” or “that’s interesting” or “really.” The speaker will appreciate your interest and feel that you are really listening.

Hearing is natural. Generous listening is a skill that we learn.

Speaking

We’re not all born with a natural talent for public speaking or getting our message across effectively. Many people lack confidence in their ability to express themselves verbally – not necessarily all the time, but perhaps in certain situations or circumstances. However, talking to one another does tend to make things happen! It is not always what is said, but how it is said that can make the difference between good and poor speaking skills.

A good speaker:

  • Relates to the listener
  • Is respectful of others
  • Encourages trust
  • Shows empathy
  • Is purposeful and clear
  • Uses appropriate vocabulary
  • Speaks with fluency
  • Is confident and credible
  • Is approachable and responsive
  • Uses body language well
  • Involves listeners
  • Enables participation
  • Knows what to leave out
  • Generates interest
  • Uses silence well
  • Varies pitch/pace/tone according to the situation
  • Is passionate about their topic

By far the best way to improve your verbal communication skills is to practice, particularly in areas where you are least confident. Put yourself in situations that require you to communicate effectively, be that one to one, or to a group. Speak at work. Speak at your child’s school. Speak at a town hall meeting. Speak in your car. Speak in front of the mirror.

You won’t ever achieve perfection. But you will improve. Little by little, your practice will result in improvement. Feedback is crucial to improving your speaking skills, so take the good and the not so good on board and work on those areas for improvement

Writing

The first step to writing clearly is choosing the appropriate format. Do you need to send an informal email? Write a detailed report? Create an advert? Or write a formal letter?

The format, as well as your audience, will define your “writing voice” – that is, how formal or relaxed the tone should be. For instance, if you write an email to a prospective client it should have a different tone to that of an email to a friend.

Start by identifying who will read your message. Is it targeted at senior managers, your team, or to customers? With everything you write, your readers, or recipients, should define your tone as well as aspects of the content.

Composition and Style

Once you know what you’re writing, and for whom you’re writing, you actually have to start writing.

Start with your audience – Remember, your readers may know nothing about what you’re telling them. What do they need to know first?

Create an outline – This is especially helpful if you’re writing a longer document such as a report, presentation, or speech. Outlines help you identify which steps to take in which order, and they help you break the task up into manageable pieces of information.

• What’s in it for the audience? – For instance, if you’re writing a sales letter for prospective clients, why should they care about your product or sales pitch? What’s the benefit for them? Remember your audience’s needs at all times.

Identify your main theme – If you’re having trouble defining the main theme of your message, pretend that you have 15 seconds to explain your position. What do you say? This is likely to be your main theme.

Use simple language – Unless you’re writing a technical guide,  it’s usually best to use simple, direct language. Don’t use long words just to impress people.

Structure

Your document should be as “reader friendly” as possible. Use headings, subheadings, bullet points, and numbering whenever possible to break up the text.

After all, what’s easier to read – a page full of long paragraphs, or a page that’s broken up into short paragraphs, with section headings and bullet points? A document that’s easy to scan will get read more often than a document with long, dense paragraphs of text.

Headers should grab the reader’s attention. Using questions is often a good idea, especially in advertising copy or reports, because questions help keep the reader engaged and curious.

In emails and proposals, use short, factual headings and subheadings, like the ones in this article.

Adding pictures is also a smart way to break up your text. These visual aids not only keep the reader’s eye engaged, but they can communicate important information much more quickly than text.

Good luck with improving your Personal Communication!

Communicate or Fail ~ Part 1

Communicate or Fail!

Communicate or Fail may sound a little extreme. It’s not. Organisations and individuals can succeed or fail on the effectiveness of their communications. Communicate or Fail is a two-part post focussing on communications at an organisational level and on a personal level. Part 1 will focus on organisational communication.

Good organisational communication can help an organisation increase market share and competitiveness, improve customer service and satisfaction, and keep employees motivated and engaged. Poor or no communication, on the other hand, can be extremely destructive.

The communication landscape is more complex than ever before. We have a myriad of different channels at our disposal; audiences are more selective in how they use and react to these channels, and it is almost impossible to quantify the number of messages that compete for the attention of those audiences.

People learn and process information in many different ways. Research tells us that we retain 10% of what we read; 20% of what we hear; 30% of what we see; 50% of what we see and hear; 70% of what we discuss; 80% of what we experience; and 95% of what we share and communicate to others. On this basis, sending an email to engage an audience is probably not going to set the world on fire in its own right!

In considering organisational communication it is important to distinguish between formal and informal communication.  The most common form of formal communication within an organisation is communication downward (vertically) through the hierarchical structure of the organisation arising from top management level.

Many organisations attempt to facilitate upward communication within organisations through measures such as staff surveys and suggestion schemes.  Staff surveys are often used to help the organisation identify actions that will improve performance. But this in itself often presents its own potential problems and leads to misleading information being supplied to management.

By managing the proper integration across this mix of activities, a communicating organisation ensures that information not only flows up and down within the organisation but also flows across functional teams and between itself and external stakeholders, including its customers and suppliers.

So what forms of communication should you be thinking about for your internal communications?

Key Themes for Effective Internal Communication

1. A Shared Vision

“If you don’t care where you’re going, then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

—Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

If your people don’t understand where they’re going, why they’re going there and what happens for them on the journey and more importantly when they get there – guess what, you don’t have motivated, engaged and passionate employees. If they don’t care where they’re going, you’ve got a much bigger problem!

Communicating the vision of an organisation, a team or a new direction is an opportunity to invigorate the work force, explain the challenges ahead, and tell your story. It is an opportunity lost if it does not enroll the workforce in a call to action and stir people’s passions. So many times in my career, have I seen company vision statements that have been developed by senior managers or an agency and delivered via posters and mouse mats, and then management wonder why their people don’t immediately change their behaviours and get behind it?

Ideally you should work with your people to shape your vision. If your organisation is small enough, use everyone and get their input. If you work in a larger business use a good cross-section of people from all levels and departments. Where possible use your ‘rising stars’ that are passionate about, not only the organisation, but also driving change and influencing others.

I can thoroughly recommend Full Steam Ahead by Ken Blanchard and Jesse Lyn Stoner if you want to learn more around creating a shared vision for your business.

2. Senior Leadership Involvement

Visible buy‐in and engagement at the top is essential. Ensure that the head of your organisation is fully briefed on internal communications, has an opportunity to shape the strategy and is fully involved in key internal communications.  This is important not only as the CEO is a key communications channel, but also because his or her behaviour will help set expectations for transparency and authenticity. Consider opportunities to demonstrate a real commitment to information sharing, in order to illustrate that information hoarding is not acceptable within your organisation’s performance or culture.

It’s also important that the wider senior leadership team are bought into whatever you are communicating. At best they won’t be reinforcing the messages you are trying to get across. At worst, they could be sabotaging your efforts.

3. Understand Your Audience

Understanding your audience is crucial to building a successful communications plan; the bigger the message and impact on the organisation, the more important the analysis.

Before you communicate with your people, there is some basic information you need to discover about them. Ask them how they feel about the current level of internal communication. Discern whether they feel informed about changes, if they feel comfortable sharing their opinions, and how they would like to see communication improve.

Ask the hard questions. See if they would be willing to share specific examples of when they felt out of the loop or ignored. Try not to be defensive when they share; listen with an open mind.

Identify how employees like to receive information: email, newsletter, face-to-face, or other options. Ask if the method depends on what information is shared. For example, a weekly announcement can be communicated via email, but a major staff change needs to be shared in person.

4. Employee Engagement

There is nothing worse than being preached to or what I call communicating ‘at’. Your people will not get behind this kind of communication. Make sure that communication is two-way and you build in mechanisms to capture feedback, tweak your messages to your audience and keep reinforcing your message. Marketers often get bored if they have to do a ‘campaign’ more than once or twice.  The rule of 7 is a traditional marketing practice that suggests people must see a marketing message 7 times before they take action.  When communicating messages, whether to internal or external customers, the concepts remain the same.  Think of on-going communication with your teams; communicate it often and through various delivery methods.

What’s In It for Me? Employees will internalise any message communicated. How will this affect me?  What does this mean to me?  Will it make my job harder?  These questions are natural. The more relevant our messaging, the more our employee will be comfortable with the message.

Paint a picture of what this may look like: use examples representative of your audience. This kind of communication engages and excites employees, promotes teamwork and aligns everyone toward achieving company goals.

5. Line Manager Reinforcement

It’s no secret that the relationship between a line manager/team leader and their team has the most direct impact on engagement. Focus on the behaviour change and require managers to report results on actions they’ve taken to impact engagement in their teams. This should be weighted as an indication of performance when someone manages others directly.

Regular team briefings with managers can improve relationships and help your people feel involved and informed about developments that affect them. Cascade team briefings can quickly disseminate key messages throughout the organisation. This method is also very effective at quashing grapevine rumours.

The team environment means that no one is overlooked and it reinforces group motivation. Team briefings should not replace regular team meetings with the staff’s line manager – which is the most popular form of communication – but the brief can be given at the start of the team meeting.

A system for feeding back and responding to questions from staff should also be built in to the process. You need to monitor the system regularly to ensure that it is operating effectively across the organisation.

6. Multi-channel Communication Tools

  • Face to Face Communication – Wherever possible and practical, employee communication should take place face‐to‐face. In‐person exchanges are the most effective and trusted forms of internal communication. What’s more, that direct conversation can also unravel otherwise effective communications activities such as newsletters and intranet content if the spokesperson fails to establish trust or authenticity. Design communication strategies and tactics around meaningful opportunities for face‐to‐face exchange. If distance is a challenge, explore the use of web conferences as a means of bridging that geographical gap rather than relying on the passive and cold medium of email.
  • ‘Live Meetings’ – with the advent of applications like Microsoft Lync you can reach large numbers of people quickly, effectively and across the globe with multimedia interactive broadcasts to get your message across. These meetings can be extremely interactive if planned well and more personal than email or a conference call.
  • Enterprise Social Media – It’s no secret that social media is transforming the way people communicate in the workplace. As more and more companies are realising the value of engaging their employees online, social media is quickly becoming a preferred way of increasing knowledge sharing, encouraging teamwork and collaboration and adding value to the employee experience. To this effect, many businesses and organisations are using social media tools, like forums, blogs and social networks, to enable their staff and stakeholders to converse, collaborate and connect – Chatter via Salesforce.com and Yammer being two fast-growing enterprise-wide examples.Using social media as part of your internal communications plan has a number of benefits. For one, companies are able to have real-time, authentic conversations with employees. Plus the very nature of social media means that anyone can participate in discussions, allowing communication to flow from the top down, bottom up, and even from side to side. If you are part of a national or global company it also means you can connect with people all over the world on a more involved level than just email and phone.
  • Blogging – Blogs are a better communication tool when you want to get information out to people, and want to enable feedback, but keep the original text intact. Internal blogging is frequently used to communicate  activities like product development, support issues, product releases, planning events and conferences, providing informal updates on miscellaneous issues. Blogs usually encourage readers to comment, provide feedback open dialogue and exchange ideas in an informal context.
  • Intranet – Unless heavily adopted and promoted in your organisation, intranets are not the best place to ‘engage’ employees. They’re great to store information, get someone’s mobile number, read policies, log a fault on your PC and catch up on things when you have time. They’re not great by themselves to enrol your people in your message!
  • Email – Email is a good system for keeping track of conversations and saves on time and energy. You can email large groups of people and ensure that they were aware of the discussion because there is a common expectation of reading emails regularly. However emails are impersonal if used to large groups, prone to all types of mistakes and often ignored if used regularly.

7. Continuously Measure Effectiveness

Measurement is always an important part of any form of communication strategy, but it is especially relevant in the case of employee communication. Setting up clear indicators of performance will be vital in calibrating the strategy and tactics with appropriate precision. Internal communication may be deployed to track against outcomes such as morale, retention, recruitment, productivity, job satisfaction and/or employee safety. Being clear about “what success looks like,” and establishing internal alignment around that end state is instrumental to having high impact employee communication programs that deliver results.

Would love to get your feedback on this post. I know I’m only scratching the surface of this topic. Part two of Communicate or Fail coming soon!

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