Why Managers Now Need to Communicate Until It Hurts


Why do managers fail to get people moving in the right direction? More often than not they blame their staff, even as they lack the drive to push themselves to communicate outside their chosen comfort zone. The answer to being a better motivator? Know your limits and exceed them.

If you supervise the work of others, consider my observation: most managers chronically under-communicate.

While I can’t prove the above assertion with research data, my anecdotal evidence suggests that many of your employees may find themselves stranded. Without sufficient dialogue and adequate answers, they arrive at their own conclusions with only the help of others who share their skewed thinking. A yawning gap emerges which can only be spanned if you take the initiative.

You must do more than sit in your office or meetings, feeling safe in the belief that your intentions are being well-understood. They aren’t. The only reason you don’t realize the problem is that most employees are reticent, reluctant to confront you. Only after a disaster strikes, do you see the truth: some time ago, you left them far behind.

To prevent this outcome, borrow a trick from weight-lifters who accept that their development only comes from “progressive overload”—the addition of extra pounds. The principle is simple. Muscles become bigger and stronger when they are subject to increasing loads. Added stress produces growth. It’s the very opposite approach taken by the typical manager who is trying to reduce pressure, not increase it.

One solution is to engage in the following three practices to be executed by you, as a manager, with a kind of systematic, ruthless diligence.

  1. Use New Technologies

When I started in the corporate world as a 20-year-old, internal communication occurred via the printed word or in speeches. Today, if you stick to those approaches, employees are likely to associate them with you and your message: i.e. as stale.

Use improved, enriched forms of communication if you hope to steal your employees’ attention away from their devices with their continuous barrage of multi-media distractions. To keep up, you must learn how to adopt the latest popular technologies.

For example, today it’s as important to master social networking tools as it is to know Word or PowerPoint, with one difference. The social network’s features are evolving more quickly, implying that you need to be a permanent student, experimenting and learning how to communicate with today’s employees.

  1. Use Interactive Channels

As new hires, my colleagues and I understood that information was meant to be sent in one direction. Down. Thirty years later, this just won’t do. Now, employees who are the targets of one-way communication offer up bored, blank looks, especially if they are Millennials.

The fact is, they have been raised with an expectation that problem-solving is a joint activity, regardless of who initiates the interaction. Don’t think of a sermon. Instead, study Facebook, Netflix and Snapchat to understand their addictive, game-like qualities. Their interactive design is the new norm.

To thrive in today’s world, you must be persuasive, using blogs, podcasts, live dialogs and the written word in ways that provoke employees to interact. Like masterful Internet marketers, you have no choice but to keep pushing the envelope in order to inspire others to action.

As you do so, expect these interactions to change you as well. No longer is communication about “delivery.” Now, if you aren’t being transformed during these dialogs, both live and virtual, then you should suspect you are either being boring or irrelevant.

  1. Over-communicate

As I mentioned at the beginning if you are a manager it’s likely that you are not communicating enough. You may talk a lot when given the chance (perhaps even drowning out others) but that’s not the same. Most managers aren’t equipped to deliver the high frequency of communication required to proactively answer employees’ questions and concerns. Understand that if they are using WhatsApp to touch bases with every other important person in their life several times per day, then your monthly update meetings fall far short.

The worst managers resist such requirements, convincing themselves that “I am paying these people, so they should listen, be content and perform.” It’s old, outdated Bakra thinking. He also believed that feeding and housing slaves was enough to earn their loyalty.

Don’t fall into that trap. Instead, use new technology, interactivity and over-communication until you find yourself far outside your comfort zone.

When it starts to hurt consider that a good sign. It’s what you need to grow into the kind of manager who is meeting employees where they are, rather than where you wish they were. Embrace the new level of receptivity, sensitivity and openness which is now required to be a great communicator.





Got a Backlog of Anything? Use Process, Not Psychological Solutions


What can local companies do when faced with backlogs of any kind? From lists of overdue phone calls to folders of email messages, this nagging issue is difficult to solve. In this article I argue that we are better off staying away from pop-psychological diagnoses in favor of process-oriented solutions.

Case in point: Our justice system shows evidence of several, alarming backlogs. As citizens we agree that they partially cause our increasing crime rate. When suspects never become inmates, criminals are emboldened. When an unsolved murder takes five years to come to trial, people lose hope.

Like folks in other Caribbean countries we find it easy to provide psychological reasons for these problems. This tendency might just be a function of the times: the twentieth century defined a new focus on mental states – their origins, manifestations and abnormalities. In time, managers followed suit. The hypothesized happenings in employees’ heads, invisible to the eye, gained a new primacy that arose after Freud’s theories regarding the unconscious became popular.

Today, we ascribe a wide range of workplace ills to these mysterious hidden forces. Low performance is due to laziness. Black people’s true role model is not Marcus Garvey but Bredda Anansi. A backlog is caused by rampant disloyalty and even by “poor ventilation.”

That’s not a misstatement. Recent Gleaner articles on the topic of backlogs in Supreme Court matters, divorce cases, public sector audits, PPV licenses and elective surgeries have offered a wide variety of causes.  One blamed the lack of efficiency in some government offices on the need for better louvre blades. (I’m not making this up.)

Setting aside the dubious link between window treatments and performance, let’s focus on the more popular belief that workers produce backlogs because of their psychology. It’s a mistake. While this notion makes for interesting verandah talk, the research indicates that the truth is more nuanced. Apart from a few hardy souls, most of us who join an organization for the first time readily conform.

In other words, if you put the most motivated workers in the middle of a backlogged department, it won’t take long for them to start contributing to the problem. But it’s not because their mindset is faulty. Instead, credit a more natural occurrence well understood by industrial engineers.

As specialists in factory processes, they solve these challenges every day without the use of headspace remedies. On the contrary, they have learned that backlogs are naturally caused by a mismatch between volume and capacity. For example, as I have shared in previous articles, when someone fails to reply to your email, they usually don’t leave you hanging because of “Bad Mind.” Unfortunately, their 10,000 unprocessed messages are a product of inappropriate behaviours. They do their best: it’s just not sufficient.
If we extend that simple analogy to your organization, it implies that the answer to your backlog also does not lie in tackling psychological objects. Instead, look to make the kind of changes industrial engineers would implement, such as the following.

1. Understand the Process
It’s hard to improve the actions of a system you haven’t analyzed. As individuals, we do it often, purchasing the latest gadget without knowing its impact. Fortunately, the damage is minor. However, on a much larger scale a lack of analysis produces hundreds of thousands of backlogged items. In these cases found in most big organizations, introducing a major change initiative can even make things worse. Laying off staff, implementing a new piece of software, automating tasks, cutting budgets, culture transformation efforts: these are all attempts that often fail to meet their goals because they ignore the underlying processes by which work is done.

2. Check for Wasted Steps
In-depth process knowledge gained from an analysis reveals problem spots immediately. Before you rush into a big change effort, put in metrics to ensure that it produces the result you want. This is a must in complex systems where invisible cause-and-effect loops lurk in the background, ready to produce unpredictable mal-effects. They destroy your finest intentions.

3. Improve and Then Automate
Be cheap. Discover the impact you can have without spending a penny. A costly intervention should be your last resort after exhausting all other human-centred, behavioral solutions. Don’t be enamored by what you find in other companies, especially those overseas. Long before they put in place a flashy solution employing the latest technology, they took the necessary steps to remove waste in a steady, unglamorous effort that didn’t attract headlines.

In organizations of all sizes, there is no escaping the fact that backlogs are often produced by process failures. As an executive or manager, don’t fool yourself by insisting on psychological solutions. Instead, uncover the hidden system that connects the concrete, visible actions your people take. Give them the means to fix them and problems like your nagging backlog will disappear.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.


How to Close Communication Gaps For a New Corporate Strategy


As an executive in a large Jamaican company, how do you ensure that good strategic ideas spark the right conversations between important stakeholders? Too often, these dialogues get trapped at the top or bottom of organisations so that fruitful meetings between leaders and those being led never take place. Sadly, poor corporate results ensue leaving everyone mutually mystified, annoyed and disenchanted.

By contrast, small companies have it easy. In a start-up in which I’m involved, a person with a bright idea is never more than one or two steps away from someone who can implement it. There’s lots of opportunities to explore ideas in deep conversations, tearing suggestions apart in order to improve them. Obviously, this can’t be done via email, memo or in a speech. These channels just don’t get the job done.

If your company employees hundreds or thousands, quick water-cooler or coffee conversations simply don’t take place. They take too much work. It’s easier to let the Status Quo remain, along with stubborn, distant feelings. The top-down, one-way communication that remains is stilted, dry and dull. Over time, you’ll also see the following three problems crop up.

Problem 1 – A key exercise used to spur transformational ideas involves carving out a preferred 20-30 year future for the company. When this exercise is restricted to the top leaders, it becomes a predictable affair. They gravitate to short, comfortable horizons in which plans are limited to merely “The same thing we did last year, plus a bit of difference.” Also, they fail to take into account the impact their decisions (and indecision) have on the next generation of employees. After all, current leaders are close to retirement and won’t be around to experience the 20-30 year consequences of steps they failed to take.

Problem 2 – Many leaders fall into the trap of treating their younger staff like some die-hard followers of political parties – loyal to the point of stupidity. The result is predictable: the least able (who don’t think for themselves) remain in the same jobs while the most capable leave. The departed understand that long term trends are being ignored and question the ability of leaders to incorporate concepts they barely understand. Cloud computing? The mobile Internet? Robotic automation? Artificial Intelligence? Leaders pretend to have a grasp of these concepts, avoiding uncomfortable questions from young employees who should, in their minds, be just following orders.

Problem 3 – When there are communications gaps, chosen strategies become confused when leaders try to “cascade” them down the organisation. It’s only human nature. By definition, a fresh strategy involves a new course of action. It’s a cognitive and behavioural intervention, but many CEO’s under-estimate the challenge employees have upon hearing a new strategy for the first time. Whereas the top executive may have considered the new strategy for years, it’s folly to expect employees to grasp it after a mere one-hour presentation. It’s also crazy to ask them to believe it will work, then act on it with full motivation. Dialogue is required. Sometimes, making the strategy “stick” means encouraging staff to challenge it.

The net result of these problems is that key information and strategies never make their way from the top of your organisation to the bottom, and vice versa. Left to fester, this condition makes the company vulnerable to disruption by smaller, nimble competitors. A typical example? Jamaica’s Cable and Wireless in 2001 had leaders who ignored the threat of Digicel, even as many of their own employees knew better. How can your company and other large firms reduce the risk inherent in their size?

1. Offer internal strategy conferences
Conduct an internal symposium in which employees present critical trends and ideas. Demand a high standard of content and use it to shape the firm’s strategy. Where necessary, teach employees the complexity lying below the surface via structured learning opportunities.

2. Create long-term brainstorming sessions
In structured workshops, give employees a chance to look 25-30 years ahead to select a preferred future.

3. Conduct research
While companies often rely on outside experts to tell them which direction an industry is heading, motivated employees can often do a great job if given the same time and resources. Their findings may have higher quality as they will be informed by their exposure to daily reality.

When these three activities are performed well, including the right blend of leaders and employees, your company can provide the missing conversations essential to planning and implementing strategy. People at both the top and bottom of the organization benefit from in-depth, dynamic conversations which do a far better job than static, one-way presentations.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.