What Does it Take to Truly Be In Communication?

Standard

Most people consider the phenomenon of “being in communication” to be a simple matter: it’s the state which follows a discussion between two or more persons. But is this standard high enough to get your organization through challenging times?

Others believe that communication is just about sending messages in the general direction of their intended recipients. Based on what we know of electronic messaging, that’s also not true. It’s too easy with new technology to blast another person with loud, confusing or random notes that do nothing to achieve the precious end-result of “being in communication”.

A definition: to “be in communication” means to be on the same page as others. People are together and in sync, achieving a high level of cohesion. A large frequency of authentic conversations occur which put prior issues to bed.

Take a look at working groups in your office. Sometimes, the least effective ones are stuck with a list of matters which cannot be discussed. The breakdown in communication inevitably drags down performance, making it hard to complete the simplest of tasks.

Given these realities, what should leaders do to bring about a new level of communication to their organizations?

Understand that Being in Sync Is Unnatural

Functional teams are an aberration. Getting people to work well together is always going to be an ongoing, uphill challenge. Why?

To explain, it’s somewhat abnormal for a group of individuals to “be in communication”. If anything, our survival instinct leads us to scan our world for threats. We have a natural, inherited suspicion.

This invisible vigilance treats vulnerability and openness as weaknesses to be shunned. In other words, our very nature constantly pushes us out of communication with each other and ruins teamwork. Unfortunately, these are the very traits that teams need to bring into reality in order to “be in communication.”

Just take a look around. Most people would rather stick to themselves and share as little as possible with others.

In spite of this challenge, too many managers prefer to effect a level of casual nonchalance in their working groups which makes things fun and easy in the beginning, but causes havoc when the going gets tough. Instead, the best leaders don’t let their guard down.

Fully aware that mediocrity is always at the door trying to sneak in, they prepare themselves to communicate in group settings in a focused, intense way. Others react by calling them anal. But they persist, insisting that certain processes be followed by every high-performing team they  sit on, bar none.

What are some disciplines your leaders can implement to ensure quality teams operate from the same page?

Tune into Group-Based Routines Which Work

Here is a process Caribbean groups should follow to allow communication to flow. First, it’s important to start every team activity by giving people an opportunity to connect. Once that requirement is satisfied, the approach is the same as that used in other countries: define the purpose of the gathering, the agenda / steps to be followed and the logistics which must be in place. (I was taught to use PAL – Purpose, Agenda and Logistics.)

When this formula is adopted, “being in communication” becomes easier to accomplish because the team’s core activities are already being managed in the background. In other words, taking care of the basics yields added bandwidth. It can be applied to the careful speaking and keen listening required to get on the same page and stay in communication.

Tune into the Group’s Connections

When humans aren’t working closely together, but should be, some surprising behaviors manifest. For example, they may start blaming each other for what appears to be minor matters. This sometimes escalates into name-calling and even acts of verbal violence – “Bad Mind”.

As a leader, you must be hyper-aware of these small gaps before they become major issues. Often, all that’s needed is an insistence that people talk to each other, rather than rely on electronic channels. However, in extreme cases, you may need to intervene with outside help.

Therefore, it’s essential to learn how to tune into and monitor the degree to which individuals in your team are in communication with each other. Call this a kind of ESP if you will,

an ability to tap into intangible, emotional data that your inner self serves up. Most of the time we ignore these private urgings, but a leader should never do so.

The success of your enterprise may rely on the accomplishment of difficult goals. They won’t happen without the deep cohesion that brings people together on the same page. It’s a phenomenon which most leaders must consciously will into existence or it just won’t happen.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20191006/francis-wade-what-it-takes-be-truly-communication?

Why You Need to Sweeten Up Your Emails

Standard

As a manager, have you ever been shocked at someone’s adverse reaction to a seemingly innocuous email message? Perhaps you also wondered “What is wrong with him?”, then questioned your own judgement. The answer is that neither sender nor receiver is at fault. People’s response to email messages is unique, making this communication skill a must-have for leaders of all organizations.

Daniel Goldman, brain expert, confirms something you may already know: email  can be dangerous. While it’s a necessary element of corporate life, problems often  arise when no harm is intended.

Why? Compared to visual and auditory channels, text communication is bereft of all the emotional cues we, as humans, are conditioned to distinguish. Consequently, miscues occur.

For example, someone asks you a question and you respond with a one-word answer. Their conclusion? “You are probably angry.” Or, you get busy and take a bit longer than usual to reply. “You must be unhappy,” they assume.

Perhaps you yearn for the day when recipients of your messages will simply read your words without adding unintended meaning, but that’s not likely to happen soon.  In fact, Goleman reports, “people interpret your positively intended email as neutral, and your neutrally intended email as negative.” Their survival instincts thwart your best intentions.

You may complain that this isn’t fair.

However, you are better off adapting to this reality, while correcting for the fact that we live in a nation with a violent past. Even today, disrespect sometimes triggers death.

It’s no wonder then, that your email style may need a makeover, especially when communicating with those below you in the chain of command. Here are some recommendations.

  1. Never send emotionally fraught communication via email.
    While some managers have fired employees via email messages, avoid this temptation. Instead, reserve your text communications for good news and sharing information. Don’t try to coach, give feedback, correct, counsel or apologize for anything critical.

If you must have a paper trail, write it out before the conversation and send it afterwards, as clarification. But never let it be the first point of contact if the message is likely to be a sensitive one.

The reason is simple. Imagine if your note is read an hour after the recipient receives news of someone’s passing. Obviously, if you were speaking to her in person, you would sense that the timing is bad and change gears. However, it’s easy to violate this accepted norm via text.

But what should you do to prevent a face-to-face conversation on a difficult matter from escalating into a shouting-match? Instead of looking for shortcuts, practice the challenging discussion with a colleague who can provide feedback in real time. This technique, often used by life coaches, should become a part of your regular training.

  1. Never communicate in haste.
    The worst moment to hit “Send” is when you are upset. A better alternative is to save the message in your drafts until you have calmed down and can reconsider your options. After a night’s sleep or a day’s work, things may look dramatically different and you want to be in your best, right mind when you make your final decision.

However, if you have difficulty knowing when you are upset (or in denial about ever being off-kilter) then try improving your Emotional Intelligence (EQ.) Doing so will benefit every aspect of your life.

  1. Learn modern writing skills.
    You may hate emojis. Ending a sentence with an “LOL” might be something you think you should never do. Perhaps in your world, “GIF” means nothing.

Even if you believe that these elements of modern communication “are not my style”, consider adding new skills. These seemingly silly add-ons are now part of the language most are using because they impart important, emotional context to dry textual content.

Here in Jamaica, for example, WhatsApp has long surpassed email as the most effective form of daily communication. One reason is due to its flexibility. A short message can be sent in multiple ways, via a range of media, enhanced by a variety of optional elements. The result is a faster, more precise method of sending brief messages that reduces the risk of misunderstanding.

But these fancy add-ons are not the point. Instead, the idea is to use every tool at your disposal to convey the emotional intent of your communication. Remember, Goleman tells us that recipients are likely to downgrade your message from  positive to neutral and from neutral to negative. To be an effective leader, you must compensate for this tendency.

If you willfully refuse to sweeten up your messages, be warned: it’s only a matter of time before they bear bitter fruit. Don’t blame the recipient. Instead, improve your skills.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2018, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

How to Lead When Technology Makes People Less Productive

Standard

Do all technology improvements have a positive impact on productivity and the bottom line? No, but in some cases, the reason is not because of unintended consequences. Leaders in your organisation must learn to consciously constrain technology in cases where the overall benefits are outweighed by the costs.

The best executives I have met care deeply about the role of worker productivity as a driver of bottom-line results. Like most, they embrace the promise of new technology. However, they also look for the hidden cost of innovations.

Case in point: sending someone a written message used to be an activity reserved for the office. Typing pools were required to transmit even the shortest letter.

Fast-forward to today’s world in which technology allows us to send text messages at night when we should be sleeping, while driving when we should be focused on the road, and during conversations when we should be listening. As a consequence of the latter, our meetings take longer than they should.

Furthermore, each employee has the power to drag down the productivity of their colleagues by simply using the cc: function. We have all been there. Two people engaged in a disagreement cc: other employees to gain support. By copying them on messages, they entangle hundreds of innocent bystanders.

These are all cases in which technology-based improvements in personal efficiency can lead to overall disastrous results. They all have a negative impact on the bottom line, even though they are supposed to have the opposite effect.

What should leaders do to prevent technology from running amok? Should they become Luddites, ridding themselves of email? Here are three practical suggestions for your organisation.

1. TRACK WASTE

In most organisations, bad expenditures are difficult to hide for long. However, the time lost in low-quality social interactions involving email and meetings is an open secret that’s never confronted. Why? Only the rare company tracks group or individual time usage so the cost is invisible.

As a result, people who convene meetings or send bad emails never receive clear feedback. At best, they may overhear some vague murmurings or hear a passing mention in a performance review session. But the chances of a true change in behaviour are slim.

The way to tackle this issue is to create a mindset: the path to success requires a sustained effort to eradicate waste, especially when it’s caused by new technology. Employees who are able to see waste clearly are more likely to try to eliminate it. As they look back to the past, they recall times when they suffered from the effects of poor-quality meetings and email messages.

2. IMPLEMENT TRAINING

The best way to create this new mindset isn’t to exhort staff through speeches, slogans or posters. While these may help, there are more effective methods.

While all have been trapped by at least one poor meeting or email, that’s not enough. The right training can help bring them into a shared experience. Here’s how.

Design an online game that gives employees opportunities to solve issues related to technology excess. The goal is to help them appreciate why these issues are so challenging and require everyone to tackle them at once. As they play, they’ll be free to explore different decisions without incurring real-life repercussions.

Such a shared experience can be used as a starting point to generate solutions.

3. IMPOSE FRICTION

Sometimes it’s possible to claw back some of the dangerous freedom that technology affords. Take the reality of 24-7 email messaging. Most firms have no policy against it, which means that staff has to continually check their smartphones, just in case something new has been sent. This forces them to develop bad habits, which affects sick days, holidays and vacations.

To fix the problem, some local organizations implement written rules along with sanctions for those who break them. (Some are actually forced to do so by financial regulators.)

Other companies (like Volkswagen and BMW) turn off their email servers on nights and weekends. This blocks staff from working for the company on their own time, when they should be resting.

Leaders who create such policies on their own accord have developed the ability to look ahead and predict the adverse impact a new technology will have. For example, if your organization were to give smartphones to the drivers of its delivery fleet, you should probably expect that texting and driving would ensue, along with its catastrophic consequences.

Multiply this simple case several hundred times across your enterprise and you may see: it pays to anticipate the moments when free technology destroys productivity. As an executive, you must balance the gains against the risks and do what no one else can do: implement limits in order to preserve your bottom-line results.

Responsibility, Authority and Accountability

Standard

What is the difference between responsibility, authority and  accountability? Does it matter to most Jamaican  companies?

One of the challenges that faces your organization  is simple: how do people relate to each other to achieve goals  that its individuals can’t accomplish alone? A part of the answer lies in the following quote:

“Responsibility is always taken. Authority is given, but Accountability is negotiated.”

Of  course, this is no ordinary list. In fact, it corrects a  problem staff have in most companies who use the terms   interchangeably.

The reality? They  aren’t the same. And when your employees mistakenly merge them into one, it perpetuates a confusion which blocks the path to high achievements.

Here’s how you can untangle them.

Responsibility

The  quote indicates that people who are responsible create a special  relationship with particular results. Furthermore, they do so using nothing more than an inner  will or conscious intention.




While this requires a level of intrinsic motivation, it’s also true that the trigger to initiate a new “zone” of  responsibility may come from anywhere. Possible sources include a direct invitation  from another, a catastrophic event or an inspiring biography.

Therefore, don’t think that you can “hold someone responsible.” The most important step takes place within the individual who exercises his/her free will.

However, some managers argue otherwise:  they honestly believe they can use force to conjure up responsible  subordinates. The result of their muscle? A Jamaican workplace full of Bredda Anansi-like  fake-responsibility.

It’s tricky to spot: At the start it appears that someone has truly stepped  up. The truth only reveals itself later, when the first big obstacle  shows up and the blame game starts. Consequently, it becomes clear that they weren’t in the responsibility game at all: they were simply taking credit  while things were going well.

Beyond such shenanigans, the amazing thing is that anyone  can take responsibility for any outcome they wish. Our National Heroes  were elevated precisely because they willingly did so for a large number of  people, putting themselves in harm’s way to accomplish a grand, shared  objective.

Most of us may never take responsibility at that  high level. Fortunately, your organization doesn’t need you to be famous or a life-risker.  All it asks is that you keep generating fresh zones of responsibility  in service of shared goals. It’s up to you to continually  define these areas and act accordingly.

Authority
By contrast,  authority is granted by the leaders in an organization to  those who play pivotal roles. Ideally, authority would only  be given to employees with a long track record of responsibility. By virtue  of stepping up to be responsible repeatedly, they would already have garnered a  critical mass of credibility.

Unfortunately, most organizations don’t wait for this to happen. They promote people (even to the highest levels)  whose only skill is buck-passing and complaining. According to one  Caribbean CEO to his new subordinate: “I learned ages ago to never sign  my name to anything around here. All you get is grief.”

Perhaps you can also recall a leader you met who is that twisted.

Sometimes,  such persons are exposed as the frauds they truly are, but it happens  too rarely. More often, they are tolerated and enabled by others who are petrified by the authority they wield.

Accountability
However,  when authority works in daily life, it’s comprised of individual accountabilities. These  are defined as discrete agreements (or partnerships) between a leader  and a stakeholder to produce a particular outcome according to specific  conditions of satisfaction.  For example, I may promise my manager to “Sell x units  by Sep 30th at a 50% profit margin.”

Such agreements are the  sinews of an organization. Without them, it’s impossible for my manager to have a proper follow-up conversation with me on October 1st. In other words, when  accountability is missing, any result will do.

Once again, in an  ideal world, persons promoted to positions of authority should  have a firm grasp of this unique relationship. Usually, they can point  to a number of accountable partnerships which helped them produce  results, and explain the special role of this ingredient.

Unfortunately,  you probably also have met managers who occupy important positions  but  don’t know how to hold people around them to account. Therefore, when good things happen, it’s by sheer luck;  not because they reinforced  the sinews of accountability.

For example, sometimes weak leaders are  fortunate to hire great employees. These rare workers reverse the tables, forcing (or shaming) their manager into an accountable relationship by insisting on high standards.

As a result,  such cases are few and far between. For too many staff-members, their manager fails to create either accountability or responsibility. These rich worlds simply don’t exist.

Companies who separate and teach these three elements empower everyone. When they occur together, but separately, they open the door to outstanding results individuals cannot produce by themselves.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2018, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

On Making Sure Your Innovation Works

Standard

Introducing a new product or service is risky business. For your firm, it may be the only way to grow, so how can you ensure that your hot, fresh idea doesn’t fail?

Top leaders may relate to the following quote from Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran: “The most important lesson you WON’T learn in school is to get out there and try 100 things and get over the fact that 98 of them won’t work!”

Perhaps you are like most business-owners who are trying to improve that dismal prediction. At first you may have applied sheer energy, like I did early in my career. My “youthful exuberance” helped me come up with new ideas every other day. Just like Corcoran predicted, few worked.

Now that I am a bit older and a lot greyer, failure has taught me to spend more time thinking before acting. As a result, I am planning a book launch using the Jobs to Be Done (JTBD) concept. (You may remember that I originally shared the idea in a Gleaner column of 20-11-2016.)

To recap, JTBD dictates that before you create a new product, delve into the world of the customer to understand how they are attempting to meet a specific unmet need. What half-measures are they taking? If they are still dissatisfied, that signals an opportunity. In the launch, I’m going to focus on meetings.

Many executives I consult with express their frustration at the total number of person-hours lost in meetings. I suggest  that they should be proactively reducing this metric, while preserving profits. Doing so should immediately increase the total productive time employees have available to them each week.

Executives want answers like these delivered in digestible ways, so my idea is to create an interactive, mobile game that can be completed during the book launch within just a few minutes. During the design process, I have learned the following three insights about the JTBD they have of improving meetings that apply to all innovations.

  1. People are trying
    In my consulting work, I often run into leaders who are working to simultaneously reduce the number and duration of meetings, while minimizing attendance and increasing quality. Their attempts include: complaining aloud, coaching chair-persons, passing around tips, offering training, mandating books to read, putting up posters and giving out checklists. But these measures have little impact. (In many cases, CEO-led meetings are some of the worst.)

From the JTBD perspective, an innovative approach would replace some of these activities. When they play the interactive game, I want them to discover these solutions, thereby moving them past their sense of defeat.

If you happen to be an innovator, the frustration experienced by people trying to complete a JTBD can be a good sign. If your solution works, the unique value it creates will have an emotional component. Conversely, a lack of frustration may indicate that you are barking up the wrong tree.

  1. Your prospects need a new mental model
    As attendees play the interactive game on their phones, I want them to experience what it’s like to solve the meeting problem using a fresh paradigm.

In most firms, meetings have become the worst time-wasters. Thanks to email, any staff member can call a meeting, and invite anyone. Due to a lack of feedback, if they execute the event poorly they may never realize that an improvement is needed.

In the new line of thinking I’ll introduce, meeting time should be managed like money. As a shared but scarce resource, it must be budgeted, monitored and spent with care. Giving an employee the total freedom to call meetings is like allowing them access to blank checks. This mental model destroys that practice.

  1. They may respond to a new experience
    It’s no longer enough to blast customers with: “My New Innovation is Better Than Anything You Are Doing!” Instead, it’s better to offer an experience that allows them to draw their own conclusions.

Think of new car salespersons. They don’t merely show pictures and point out features on a screen. The test-drive simulates the experience of ownership by immersing the buyer in a brand new, multi-sensory environment.

In the interactive game, I hope to do the same. As participants play, they assume the role of a fictional CEO who must solve his company’s meeting problems. Just like in real life, they have limited information, and uncover hidden surprises, plus the  consequences for their choices.

The big lesson is that new innovations start with the JTBD your prospective customer is doing, not with anyone’s bright ideas. If you begin in the right place and apply enough rigour, you can dramatically increase the odds of success for your new idea.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2018, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

Why Electronic Messaging is a New But Critical Competence

Standard

Why aren’t people replying to your emails? At first blush, you may believe it’s personal, but it’s not. You simply may not be using an approach that suits the preferences of your intended recipient.

Contrast your experience with the one I had taking my first Uber a few months ago in Washington, DC. On the ride, I immediately understood why traditional taxi service was dying. It can’t compete. Uber delivers custom messages via numerous channels (mobile and PC) that are a near-perfect fit for the individual customer. He/she can tailor the information the company delivers with the click of a button, making them feel unique.

It reminded me of the 1990’s when email was first popularized. Back then, you sent a message and expected a timely response. It’s receipt was a rare and special event.

However, the strength of email became its downfall. Because it’s free and quick, people receive too many messages. They fall behind. And those who send them without seeing an answer complain bitterly.

Try this approach: become as precise as Uber. Consider that the days of massive “email blasts” are over. Now, you need to be exact to pierce your customer’s Inboxes. Here are three strategies for you to try.

  1. Pick the right channel
    A few short years ago, WhatsApp was hardly used in Jamaica. Today, it’s become a replacement for email for many people who find the channel to be more versatile.

Also, while their Inboxes are filled with thousands of messages, they respond to WhatsApp within minutes. Others prefer to use Facebook Messenger, Instagram or Twitter.

As for voicemail? Many don’t even bother to activate their accounts.

The point is, in 2019 each person has their preferred mode of communication. If you choose the one they habitually use, you’re more likely to receive a timely response. And no, you can’t send the same message to every channel , hoping that one will work. That’s just a creepy practice.

  1. Pick the ideal time
    Once you have chosen the right channels you need to be be careful about your timing. The hours before noon on Monday morning are often the worst, according to research. Why? As someone enters the office and struggles to adjust to the loss of their weekend, they must face all the incomplete communication from the prior week. Plus, anything delivered on Saturday or Sunday also sits waiting.

If they were away for a few days, it’s even worse. Upon their return, they are only in the mood for brutal culling and your message could get cut without ever being read.

Instead, use a version of the Golden Rule. Send messages as you would wish they were sent to you – on your preferred schedule. Do so skillfully and you’ll improve the odds dramatically that it won’t be lost.

Thankfully, scientists have given us some further clues. In a recent summary of 14 studies on the topic, Coschedule.com reported that Tuesday is the best weekday, followed by Thursday and Wednesday.

The optimal times of day? Just before lunch or before bed.

Unfortunately, these are US studies where work norms are somewhat different. You’ll have to do your own experiments to determine top results.

  1. Use automated software
    A surprising number of local organizations don’t collect any kind of contact information. As a consumer, this puzzles me. After all, once I have become a customer, I am quite likely to repeat the purchase, if only I were reminded via electronic messaging.

My sense is that the practice is uncommon because decision-makers at the top of the organization are simply backward. They don’t understand the power of internet marketing and can’t imagine the impact of a custom, online campaign. Consequently, they hire people who, like them, prefer old-fashioned interruption-marketing i.e. advertisements in print, television, radio and billboard. The poor decisions they make aren’t questioned.

Fortunately, automated messaging on both email and social networks is relatively inexpensive. They also allow you to collect data easily, often putting the onus on customers to join via your landing pages.

Furthermore, once they join your network, you’re able to track their behavior and learn a great deal about their individual preferences. Once you analyze this information, you can understand how to speak to their needs in increasingly surgical ways.

The fact is, if your company isn’t using these tools and knowledge you are setting yourself up for disruption: the moment when a competitor figures out that your business is stale. Don’t be like the taxi companies who may never catch up to Uber. Adjust your digital communication to fit your customer’s needs.

The Difference Between Having a Strategy vs. Being Strategic

Standard

Why is it that strategic plans often languish on the shelf? Some would say it’s a matter of lazy executives but experience shows that it has more to do with creating the right context from the start.

A client I work with has an idea: “let’s put up our own website.” At first blush, it makes sense. Every organisation has one. It’s an easy, inexpensive way to let the world know you exist.

However, a brief survey of websites of similar organisations reveals an inconvenient truth: they are all embarrassingly stale.  The layouts look tired. Not a single site is current, or has been updated in ages. Whoever had the original vision has long gone, leaving behind an obsolete artefact.

But it’s likely that when the idea was first pursued, people were excited. They invested personal energy in the project and when it was done, felt satisfied that their vision had come to life.

Unfortunately, they also made a deadly mistake. In their minds, the purpose of the activity was to produce an object (a website) versus to launch a process (a way to keep staff in touch with the public.) In other words, the context they created for the project was limited.

This particular error happens every day. Imagine the typical family. The kids want to adopt a dog, but their parents refuse. The fact is, the older, wiser heads know that owning a pet is more than possessing an animal object. It also means engaging in a process of feeding, exercising and cleaning that takes time and money. They understand that this job is likely to fall into their laps when their children lose interest.

As adults, they see the real cost.

This also happens in strategic planning retreats when companies try to compress the activity into a single day. It’s possible to create a report in this time-frame if the team focuses solely on producing unlimited visions of the future. They walk away feeling inspired, as if they have just adopted a dog or launched a website.

However, the typical second day is usually focused on adding in real-life constraints – the true cost. Once they are included in the plan, tradeoffs must be considered which lead to the team making difficult decisions. Among them is a choice to kill certain initiatives.

The sad reality? There just isn’t enough time, manpower, money or energy to accomplish all the goals set on day one. That initial mood of boundless creativity must be balanced.

Apart from spending two days on this activity, what else is required to be strategic versus just producing a plan?

  1. A Context of “Being Strategic”
    Paradoxically, the main output of each planning exercise may not be the plan. Perhaps, it’s better understood as the start of a process which engages everyone.

In this process, a new paradigm is introduced which reshapes everyday work. Now, instead of simply doing their job, an employee is doing so for a greater purpose which inspires them.

This means that the plan should be changed as often as necessary in order to play its role as a guide for daily actions. These updates keep it fresh and relevant.

Some companies unwittingly rob employees of learning how to “be strategic.” First, they  hire outsiders to write their strategy. When the final document (the object) is handed over, the company finds itself unable to execute because no-one possesses the requisite way of being to be successful. It disappeared out the door with the consultants.

  1. Make Concrete Commitments
    In prior columns I accused executives of failing to treat their time with the same level of rigour as they do their budgets. Consequently, their strategic plans are unrealistic and are treated as if they can all drop their overfull schedules at a moment’s notice.

One antidote is to book the same time in each executive’s calendar for implementation: e.g. Monday morning from 9-12 am. Doing so means cancelling or delegating existing commitments. It’s a way to ensure that the new projects and processes in the plan have a chance of survival in the real, post-retreat world.

  1. Make Behaviour and Process Changes
    Pay attention to those strategic initiatives which are as painful to implement as the challenge of learning to write cursive with your non-dominant hand. At both the individual and corporate levels, old habits and processes will assert themselves, resisting the planned changes.

Instead, put in place new systems for performance management, rewards, recognition, training and automation. Hardwire these improvements to reduce the possibility of failure.

Part of being strategic is acknowledging all these obstacles and finding ways to work around them. Admittedly, they are harder than simply producing a document but they will ensure that your plan is realistic and provide a unique pathway to future success.

How to Fix Execution Problems

Standard

Most adults who live and work in Jamaica are used to watching everyday transactions like hawks. Every invoice, payment or message must be tracked carefully due to the mistakes companies make in even simple matters.

A $300 bill becomes one for $3000. An email with a straightforward request gets lost. A phone rings without an answer. Most Jamaican organizations have an issue dealing with their own recurring errors.

Compare this to the environment surrounding our world-class athletes. In post-race interviews, they often contrast their planned versus actual execution. They continually examine their performance to remove faults in ways our companies don’t.

But there’s a bigger problem afoot. In the public sphere, while we laud the construction of grand highways, we fail to fix ordinary potholes. Ribbons are cut to launch projects to widen roads, but within days the site looks like a war-zone, as if project management were never invented.

The challenge is that we focus on the initial vision and the  excitement around it, but when it wears off, a series of recurring mistakes become par for the course.

Is your company facing a similar test? Do you put a lot of effort into launching new initiatives but fail to solve repeated mistakes?

If you are in doubt as to the answer, ask employees. They are the ones who complain about these maddening execution problems. But what drives them nuts is not the issue itself, but the manager who chases symptoms rather than causes.

The plain truth is that complex issues require people to cross functional or hierarchical boundaries. This means they must put themselves at risk, but it’s far easier to fire-fight and complain than to be brave.

This managerial cowardice allows execution problems to continue.

If this phenomenon sounds familiar, how can you transform the situation?

1. Re-Define Execution

The problem with a common term like execution is everyone thinks they know what it means and therefore uses it loosely. After a while, it loses whatever meaning it ever had.

Research shows that sometimes issues recur when companies don’t have a rich enough language to describe them. In other words, they can’t even talk about the challenge in a fruitful way.

To bring an over-used concept to life, you’ll need to redefine it afresh so it meets the unique needs of your environment.

For example, let’s imagine you coin a phrase: “flawless execution.” It could equate to “completing a function or process such that there are no mistakes which create further problems.”

With that in mind, “flawless execution” can be adapted as a new universal standard that everyone is taught to use. It should become part of the performance management system as well.

2. Own Execution

Many companies are happy to employee workers who simply take orders without taking any additional initiative. In other words, the manager’s job is to think and direct, while those underneath them should merely follow.

In modern organizations, this common approach leads to disaster.

While passive employees may be able to solve simple problems, challenges which require some thinking and coordination with others demand more. In other words, staff must have the power to take the initiative without the manager being involved.

Managers who try to micro-manage end up becoming overwhelmed. So do those who try to do all the thinking.

The solution is for  managers to transform all the ways in which they undermine  employee initiative. The best leaders are vigilant: they actively seek feedback on their approach to managing others to discover where they are preventing staff from problem-solving. They get themselves out of the way, and ask employees to let them know when they become controlling or otherwise offensive.

But is this enough?

3. Teaching Problem-Solving Skills

Unfortunately, even motivated employees find that solving tricky process problems isn’t easy. Not only are excellent communication skills required, but a capacity for critical thinking and data analysis are a must.

Most employees are weak in these areas and lack training. A smart leader will develop these competences in a systematic fashion, knowing that as they do so, they help staff solve recurring execution problems on their own.

In other words, it’s the only way to implement a new ideal like “flawless execution”.

Given the fact that our athletes and coaches use these techniques every day to achieve world class standards, it makes sense for our organizations to try to do the same. Even though it’s more difficult to do so in groups of people, the rewards are more far-reaching.

How to Help Employees Exert Emotional Labour

Standard

The challenge that organizations have is that they haven’t trained, rewarded or permitted their frontline employees to exert emotional labor to create human connection when it’s most needed. Seth Godin

Now and then I come across a quote which makes me stop and think. Here’s why this one brought the local customer experience to mind.

Most Jamaicans who travel to the United States are struck by how well-trained service workers are. At first blush, it appears that they really know how to smile, be polite and seem interested.

However, those who end up staying to live in North America tell a different tale. They recall a discovery: five minutes after a seemingly meaningful interaction the provider can’t remember your face or name. It was all an act.

Where it comes from is obvious – those who have peeked behind the scenes say it’s the result of thorough training tightly coupled with swift, harsh consequences for non-compliance. It gets the right behaviour, but does it produce genuine feelings?

Contrast that situation with the experience of tourists who visit Jamaica repeatedly for several years, making lifelong friendships which start with chance encounters on the beach, village or bus. These extraordinary, unscripted stories end up bonding entire families from different cultures. Sometimes, they even cross generations, in spite of the geographic distance.

How can these two contrasting experiences be reconciled by you, a manager who must develop staff to serve local customers? Godin’s quote offers a few clues.

1. Faking isn’t Creating

I suspect that frontline workers in the US have been trained to “fake human connection” on demand – to go through the motions, following a set of actions they have memorized and practiced. Unfortunately, they also haven’t learned to separate true emotion from fakery.

How to get past this obstacle?

If you believe that your front-line workers are acting the part but not actually creating authentic experiences, they may need deeper training. Noticing real emotions in the middle of a transaction isn’t easy, especially when the customer is upset. Most of us can’t: it takes a kind of emotional maturity few possess.

2. Doing Feeling Work

However, when we bump into someone who can regularly provide this experience in the worst of circumstances, we tend to think of their emotional maturity as a rare gift or talent. Unfortunately, this explanation puts them up on a pedestal, far beyond the reach of the unlucky majority.

Godin implies that this thinking is false.

“Emotional labour” is really what’s missing, he explains. It’s the trained effort most companies’ leaders just can’t be bothered to develop – the expense is too high. Their lack of care begins with haphazard hiring and continues with non-existent onboarding. Employees who receive this basic training are left to their own devices, never given the tools to produce emotional results. Then, when problems occur, most managers simply blame the employee: they fail to accept responsibility.

But Godin goes further: he hints that many companies don’t even “permit” their front-line employees to provide emotional labour. They actually make it hard.

Have you ever received a quiet act of kindness from an employee who put themselves in harm’s way to make an exception in your case? That’s someone who is working around the limits implemented by a blind, callous leadership.

3. Identifying Moments

These subversives are not only brave, but wise. They can tell when a human connection is most needed and act decisively to provide it.

But they aren’t just interesting: these moments are extraordinary opportunities to create lasting loyalty. Perhaps they explain why these tourists return to visit their newfound “family” in Jamaica. Their initial link was so positive, and so unexpectedly real, that they end up feeling closer to a Jamaican front-line worker than their actual neighbours or office colleagues.

Can workers be trained to identify these key moments in a customer’s experience?

They can, but if your employees have childhoods pock-marked with trauma, it’s much harder to do so. Unfortunately, given the low pay of our service providers, many have experienced such hardships and won’t get over them on their own.

If management steps in and provides the counselling, training and coaching needed to move past these obstacles, everyone benefits. The fact is, employees who are being trained to emotionally labour on behalf of customers who need a human connection need to deal with their own wounds first.

This puts them in the driver’s seat: able to respond to the customer without their history getting in the way. Now, they can deliberately create the kind of deep loyalty customers enjoy but rarely experience. It’s emotional labor which provides a win for all concerned.

The dilemma of the bored employee

Standard

Why is it that your employees who start out excited about their jobs lose interest so quickly? Is it a problem with their age, a cultural phenomena

or just fate? Can their experience be enriched by savvy managers?

The dilemma begins with most leaders who compare employees to cars and their jobs to long-term parking spots. In other words, all they need to do is slot people into positions and leave them. From that point on, the person is expected to perform the role faithfully and occupy the position indefinitely.

Unfortunately, that‘s not how things work. As you may know, there are a startling number of staff who merely go through the motions: “It’s just a job.” Long gone are the challenges which kept them up at night. All that’s left is a routine they can now do without thinking.

Predictably, they turn their attention to other life demands. They raise children to pass exams with top grades. They sign up for marathons. They become deacons in their churches and volunteers in community organizations. While there’s a great deal of good they accomplish in all these other areas, their career remains stagnant: the same job from one day to the next. A few convince themselves that the steady salary is worth the deadening sacrifice. Others refuse. They walk away, quitting to find a different career or start their own company.

Meanwhile, executives in your firm probably remain clueless about the real depth of disengagement: the high percentage who give their work-life the bare minimum. Understanding why employees are more dissatisfied than ever can help you produce a breakthrough culture.

The New Employee

Today’s entering staff member is often surprised at the stale environment found inside most companies. The truth is, little has changed over the years. People at all levels are still stuck in the car-and-parking-spot frame of mind.

Why are they shocked? They have been raised in a world of high engagement in which social media, entertainment and games occupy a great deal of their personal energy. Each of these platforms is  engineered to grab hold of a user’s attention and keep it for extended periods of time.

Creators of highly engaged online environments realize they are in a competition with other experiences. With every bit and byte, they intend to keep users interested and use attention as a measure of success. The makers of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram don’t want you to slip away.

By comparison, most jobs in the workplace seem to be designed to lose, disrupt or even destroy attention. It’s tempting to think this has something to do with technology: instead, it’s all about intention.

Unfortunately, there are probably few managers in your company who see their challenge in the same way. They fail to recognize that “experience design” is part of their job, instead pretending as if nothing has changed over the years.

The outcome? Employees who can hardly last 15 minutes alone or in a meeting without reflexively searching their smartphones for something better.

A New Challenge

Most of your fellow managers probably just shrug their shoulders, complaining. For them, the point of engaging staff is not to entertain them, but make them productive.

Perhaps they could adapt the mindset of game designers. One of their leading thought leaders, Amy Jo Kim, asks: “How can we create experiences that get better as employees become more skilled?”

In most companies, the focus has been on the opposite. HR has been trying to keep employees’ experience the same once they reach a certain level of skill: the old car-and-long-term-parking-lot model. The result is boredom.

Behind this unwanted outcome is a lack of responsibility. Most manager’s don’t believe that their job is to engineer an outstanding experience. In their minds, work is not a place for intrinsic fulfillment or purpose: it’s a crude exchange of money for labour.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to tackle this issue head-on. As a new employee at AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1988, I joined a system which made room for technical employees who had no interest in becoming supervisors. A technical ladder allowed many to be promoted and recognized without having the burden of direct reporting relationships.

At a micro level, your company can train managers to develop detailed ladders of skills. Imagine if, at any moment in time, your employees could know exactly which rung they occupy. Furthermore, they would also be able to pinpoint which skills they are developing. This way, they know what their next personal improvement target happens to be and when it is due.

This form of career gamification can engage even long-term staff, blocking the default – boredom – which thwarts your company’s goals.