Rather eye-opening before I even got into the book. It’s hard to overstate the importance of communicating well. I am on a constant personal journey to learn how to connect with others more authentically, to listen better, and to express myself more clearly.
Today I am excited to introduce you to someone who is a master teacher on the art of communication. His work has helped me, and I hope you enjoy our discussion.
Don Hutson is a world class public speaker and past President of the National Speakers Association. His decades of experience made him the perfect person to sit down and discuss the art of public speaking.
You say that there is a revolution happening right now and ignoring it will send your company to irrelevance. What is it and what forces are driving it?
The revolution is a desire among employees, customers and investors to leverage social good with their choices. This is a revolution of AND not OR. Employees want everything they have always wanted, but they also want a job that gives them a sense of purpose in a company they feel is doing good in the world. Customers want products that excite them at a good price, but they also want to leverage good with those choices—and certainly buy things that cause no harm. Investors was a return on money, but the fastest growing funds are those that also promise social impact.
In an age of commoditization, the marketplace is filled with many similar products, and purpose is a way for companies to create brand differentiation based on values, not just product.
What’s driving the revolution are four primary trends. The Millennials are now a global force with a strong set of values around creating social good and having meaning in their work. The boomers are moving into the “legacy” stage of life where the impact they leave starts to compete with ego. The rising middle class in the developing world is another major driver, as people rise out of poverty, they are able to think about the social good in their choices. Finally, business is both blamed for some of the world’s biggest challenges but also increasingly seen as the key to addressing those same issues through corporate social responsibility.
“Purpose is a way for companies to create brand differentiation based on values, not just product.” -John Izzo
How do leaders help employees connect purpose to work contribution?
The first step is to have a clearly articulated compelling purpose that is authentic. Starbucks’ purpose is to “inspire the human spirit one cup of coffee at a time” while 3M’s is to “advance every life and improve every business while using science to solve the world’s greatest challenges” (like sustainability).
The second step is to drive job purpose more than job function. Focus on the real impact jobs and teams make. Have every person identify the purpose of their job and the same for every team. Consistently tell stories of how your company makes a real difference. Bring in customers to tell their stories, and create space for employees to do the same. One large bank we worked with started having a standing agenda item in every branch: “How did we make a difference for a client since last time we met?” In the branches that did it, engagement went up 23% and sales went up 18%!
Congratulations! You’ve been promoted or successfully built your business, and now you’re a leader.
But now the hard work is ahead, especially when it comes to communicating with your employees. That’s because almost everything you learned as a manager doesn’t apply any more.
While manager communication focuses on the task at hand, leaders have a broader role: to articulate where the organization is heading, clarify what employees need to do to help the organization succeed, and share progress and accomplishments.
The good news is that when you fulfill your communication role, employees become motivated to do their best work. Employees want to connect with their senior leaders and feel engaged in the company’s strategic direction. Hearing from the boss is a key driver of satisfaction.
But leaders often lack the clarity, time and skills they need to communicate effectively. As a result, they make these 5 communication mistakes:
“Communication is the real work of leadership.” -Nitin Nohria
You feel like you spend the whole day in meetings: one-on-one sessions, team meetings, large-group conferences. So it seems you’re always in front of the people who work for you. But if you analyze who you spend time with, you’d realize that you’re visible to only a small percentage of employees. And the larger and more spread out your organization is, the greater the likelihood that many employees rarely see you.
What to do differently: You need a communication plan designed to provide maximum visibility, given your time available. The best practice is to schedule a mix of:
An all-hands or town hall meeting at least once a quarter
Briefings with managers several times a year
Informal sessions (you can call them “coffee chats”) with small groups of employees at least six times a year. These chats are more about hearing from staff members than delivering a message.
Presence on electronic channels. For example, if you’ve got an internal social networking platform, participate in online conversations. Or create written or video messages on an intranet site.
Showing up and walking around. These informal “sightings”—having lunch with a few people in the cafeteria, touring a new facility—are very valuable for demonstrating that you’re in touch with what’s happening.
“Presence is more than just being there.” –Malcolm Forbes
One of your key functions as a leader is to think about the long-term strategy. But because you focus so much on the big picture, it’s easy to forget that although employees are smart, they’re also overloaded with information. And employees don’t see issues from the same 35,000-foot perspective leaders do—they’re standing at ground level, trying to focus on what they need to do right now. So when you share information that’s strictly high-level, it doesn’t resonate.
What to do differently: Make your messages simple, tangible and relatable. Ask yourself, “What is the one thing we need employees to know this month, this quarter or this year? To understand? To do differently?” Then focus on providing employees with the core information they need most.
Communication Tip: Focus on providing only the core information people need.
One of leaders’ toughest communication challenges is managing timing. If you wait too long to share information, you run the risk that employees already know what you’re now revealing—which affects credibility. But communicating too soon can also be a problem. For example, when leaders have been working behind the scenes on a big change like a reorganization, they start to become impatient, feeling they should tell employees something. So they announce that the company will reorganize soon and more will be shared later. The result? You create anxiety because employees don’t know exactly how they will be affected. It’s better to sit tight until all the details are set.
What to do differently: Focus on how and when employees will be affected, and time communication to meet employees’ need to know, not your need to tell.
Many leaders associate “communicating” with sharing information. As a result, they plan town hall meetings that have 50 minutes of presentation and 10 minutes of Q&A. But when my firm asks employees what they need from leaders, here’s what they say:
“More open dialogue with top management.”
“I obviously want to hear from leaders, but it’s also important that leaders listen to us.”
What to do differently: One of the most effective ways to create more employee engagement is to communicate in a way that encourages employees to participate. And a key ingredient is the ability of leaders to engage employees in two-way communication.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the least effective way to begin a Q&A session is by saying, “Does anyone have any questions?” This question sets the expectation that only people who don’t understand something that has been shared will speak up.
Instead, try saying this: “Based on what I’ve just told you, what will be the hardest aspects to accomplish?” This approach creates two-way communication in a way that makes people more comfortable about participating.
Leadership Tip: Don’t ask for questions. Instead, encourage an immediate two-way communication.
Jeanne also answered my questions about how to establish a customer culture, social media strategy, leadership, earning the right to grow, and establishing a sense of urgency:
Establishing a Customer Centric Culture
“Culture is the action, not the words.” How do you connect corporate aspirations with employees’ actions?
For customer-driven work to be transformative and stick, it must be more than a customer manifesto. Commitment to customer-driven growth is proven with action and choices. To engender this culture, people need examples. They need proof.
“Culture is the action, not the words.” -Jeanne Bliss
Customer culture is talked about by many leaders but misunderstood by most organizations. “Commitment” to customers must be attached to deliberate operational behavior, such as, “We will go to market only after these 12 customer requirements are met” or “Every launch must meet these five conditions, which the field requires for success. We won’t launch without them, no exceptions.” People inside organizations need to see the commitment translated to actions that they will feel proud to follow and emulate.
Moving well past words, a deliberate and united set of leadership actions and behaviors practiced in unison is required.
One of the first activities we often undertake to unite leaders is to employ the journey framework to build an operational “code of conduct.”