Category Archives: Communication

You Talk. Do They Listen?

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I got reminded again today that just because I say it doesn’t mean they hear it.  I had been telling a colleague for several days, maybe even for a couple of weeks, that I had a report that gave her the information that she needed.  It was a report that documented a process that we are trying to improve.  She was the lead on improving this process and I had created a report that showed her exactly what she needed to monitor.  I thought I said it very clearly.  I should have noticed that I had to say it several times and every time not only did she seem disinterested, in every instance she fairly quickly changed the subject.  I also thought she looked at me as if I were stupid, but I’m probably just imagining that.

Anyway, I finally gave up.  I printed it out and left it on her desk with a note that said, “Thought you might want o see how we’re doing.”  She sent me an email before I got back to my desk, asking where the h**l I got this report.  My immediate–and fantasized reaction–was to say “I’ve been telling you that I had this report for WEEKS!”  BUT whose fault was it?  Hers because she hadn’t heard what I had said, or mine because I hadn’t gotten her attention with the information?  I was the only one who cared about the message getting through until she actually ‘heard’ it–then she cared too.  So . . . if I cared more, I think it was my responsibility (or in my interest) to figure out how to get it across.  She was blissfully ignorant.  I was enormously frustrated.

In her case, all I had to do was SHOW it to her.  I, on the other hand, get information best through hearing it.  So I (repeatedly) gave her information the way that works best for me.  I wasn’t focused on the receiver’s needs or receptiveness.  I wasn’t even thinking at all of it as a reception problem–I was simply sending the message into the universe and expecting the right recipients to receive it.  It was as if I were speaking Chinese to a French kindergarten class who wanted to hurry up and go out to play.  Ok, ok, that’s a bit exaggerated–but not much.

We know we have to speak the language of the person we’re talking to if we want our message to get through.  Using the appropriate medium and venue is equally important. Pay attention to how THEY send information–that is very likely the way they like to receive it.  If you notice that you’ve tried to ‘send’ the message more than a couple of times, try to send a different way–with pictures, or with something tactile or have someone else–their friend, or superior or someone more or less animated than you send the message.

NOTICE when the message isn’t getting across.  Then try things till it does.

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A Note To Executives: You DON’T Know What Is Going On In Your Organization

Dear Executives:

I know you think you know what is going on in your organization.  I know you think you know who the super performers are and who the “C” players are.  I know you think you know the processes and how the organization delivers its results.  I know you think that you’re on top of it all.  You get dashboards and white papers and report outs from consultants to tell you what is going on.  I know you do surveys to ask your employees what they think.

But you still don’t know.  You don’t know what your people are thinking (most of the people who talk to you tell you what you want to hear or what will help them).  You don’t know what isn’t working in the inner workings of the organization.  You don’t know how badly your intent gets communicated down through the organization.  You don’t know what your organization is REALLY capable of (remember, you are probably getting less than 50% of what your organization is capable of, between the ineffective communication, the out-of-tune management, the inefficient measurement and processes and the lack of flexibility within your organization).

How Do I Know, You Might Ask?

Fair question.  I know because I’ve been there.  I’ve been an Executive in a large corporation.  I know what I thought.  I know that I thought I knew all that stuff I just accused you of believing that you know.  And I’ve more recently been in a lot of organizations at all levels where the Executives thought they knew and didn’t have a clue.  As a consultant, sometimes I talk to the Executives, but more often I come in below the C-level to work on a project that is stalled or understaffed.  I see and hear what people below the Executive level say and think.  I see that they do not have a clear understanding of the purpose of any of the “change” things that they are being asked to do.  They do not believe that Executives know what they are doing.

They Do Not Believe That Executives Know What They Are Doing.

Ouch.  Why is that?  It is because the communication from the top to the bottom in most organizations of any size SUCKS.  In both directions.  The messaging going from the top to the bottom doesn’t get down more than a couple of levels (and in my experience, it rarely gets more than one level).  The communication going in the other direction–from the bottom to the top is non-existent.  People at the bottom, or middle, or even almost at the top, learn very quickly how to communicate up.  ‘Tell ’em what they want to hear.’

The bottom line is that you, as an Executive, think that the brilliant plans that you have come up with are being implemented as you expected and that you will soon get the results that you are expecting.  And that won’t happen.  Eventually, you’ll get some of it.  But not all.  And not when you need it.

There is an apocryphal story about General Schwarzkopf wanting to know how well his front line soldiers understood what there orders from the top were, so he walked around and asked them.  Supposedly he was so appalled that he had training developed to teach his Commanders how to communicate “Commander’s Intent” better.  Whether the story about General Schwarzkopf is true or not, I’m willing to bet it is true in your organization.  Go ask them.  Ask them about your key initiatives–don’t cheat–don’t ask them in a way that they can guess the answer.  Ask them the what, why, how, when and who about the things you believe MUST be done within your organization.  And don’t get mad when they can’t tell you.  It isn’t their fault.

Force yourself to go Undercover Boss.  Go find out what is going on in your organization.  Figure out what you need to do about it.

you don't know your organization

So What Do You Do About It?

The first step is to learn to communicate.  Teach your leadership team how to communicate.  Teach your employees how to communicate up.  Teach your leadership team how to listen.  Start with your self.  Tell people WHY things need to be done.  Tell them over and over and over.  Tell them until they are really sick of hearing it.  Then tell them again.  Measure whether your people are telling their people what is happening, when it is happening, why it is happening.  Tell your people that you’re going to go ask people and that people had better know.  And then do it.

Telling people something once in a stand up meeting, or worse, in an email, is not communication.  You have to first get their attention.  Then you have to make them hear you.  Then you have to ensure that they have understood you.  Then you have to review it.  AND THEN YOU MIGHT GET THE ACTION FROM THEM THAT YOU WANT>

Great Books On the Effective Leader Communication:

  • Make to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath:  I probably site this book more than any other when I’m trying to get people to understand why their listeners don’t automatically embrace their perfectly brilliant ideas.  This book helps you understand why you have to help people go through the adoption process that you yourself did to get their buy in.
  • Influence by Robert Cialdini.  This is probably the number one book on how to ‘influence’ people.  This book explains how to get people to say ‘yes’. Everyone should read it.  Everyone at all levels of the organization.

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Filed under Bosses, Career Development, Communication, Executive Development, Feedback

My Boss Is Young Enough To Be My Child!

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Younger Bosses

It happens to all of us–no matter how successful we are–if you stay in the workforce long enough, you’re going to have a boss younger than you.  Why does this matter?  Why do you care?  Yeah, yeah, it shouldn’t, but to most of us it does.  I’ll go back to harping about mental models.  We have a mental model of what a boss is and that we need to look up to a boss and someone who is younger doesn’t deserve that.  So why does our mental model require that our boss be older than us?  Back in the day, when people entered the organization immediately after high school or college and then moved up the organization step by step, the bosses were 55-65 year old men who retired and made room for the next person  (Oh, by the way, back in those same days, women only had some non-boss roles –I very specifically remember when people (both men and women) had the same issues with women bosses–bosses were NOT supposed to be women!!).  I know there are lots of people who don’t remember those days.  Most of the people, though, who are struggling with younger bosses now do remember those days.  In fact they are mostly from those days.  Things are different now.  It’s time to change our mental models.

I certainly had the experience of working for bosses who were older than me who were not as smart, or knowledgeable or skilled at their job as me (I’m sure it was no one who reads this blog, though:-)).  Age didn’t have anything to do with this.  Neither did race or gender or even educational backgrounds.  You aren’t guaranteed good bosses.  Given that, though, good bosses come in all shapes, sizes, ages, genders and educational backgrounds.  There are people who are younger than you who have more knowledge than you about somethings.  There are people who have less education, less experience, or talent who can be good bosses for you.  Good bosses bring what the job and the team need AT THE TIME.  So change your mental model.  Start thinking about what you need in a boss and stop assuming that someone younger than you can’t bring it.  I know twenty-somethings who are better people managers than most of the middle managers that I know.  I know fifty-somethings who can explain technology better than tech professors.  One of the very best Executives I ever knew only had a high school education, but he sure knew how to gather information and make a quick and effective decision.  He had an instinct that I’ve never seen in anyone before or since.  I had a female boss, back in the days when that was rare, who focused so completely on the customer that she changed the culture (and the profits) of the organization.  She did it before it was “THE THING TO DO.”

Mental Model Actual Bosses

My point is that you’ve GOT to stop thinking about bosses as if they should be a certain gender, race, education or age.  Ask yourself what your boss brings to the table.  What does s/he bring that you don’t have?  How and what can you learn from him?  How can you improve the chemistry/relationship with her?  How can you earn his respect?  Unless you are knocking at retirement’s door, this is not the last boss you will have.  Bosses will come in more different versions as our world changes.  Get used to it.  Get good at it.  Especially if you want to be the boss.

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Should Your Subordinates Like You?

Should you be liked OR respected?

iStock_000019473325XSmallThis post is a follow on to my last post, Underground Relationships.  One of my readers said that he had a boss tell him that people working for you shouldn’t like you, just respect you.  He asked what I thought about that.  I have heard people say this, and in fact I myself have said a variation of that.  I have said that you don’t have to be liked, but you should be respected.  Different, but maybe someone who heard me say that could interpret it the same way.  I think it’s a great question:  How important is it that your subordinates like you?  Should you work to be liked? Is it ok if they like you?

There is a reasonably good argument that if your people respect you, if you do the right things, if you are kind and thoughtful and a clear communicator, then your people will like you.  There are a lot of reasons, though, that this may not be true.  Some people just don’t like managers–no matter who they are or how they act.  Some people react badly to peers being promoted to be their manager.  (See Promoted to Manage Your Peers?  Awkward.)  Whatever the reason, there is no guarantee that subordinates will like their bosses.

So how hard should you work to get your subordinates to like you?

Let’s start with my reader’s boss’ statement: “the people working for you shouldn’t like you, just respect you.”  I have to say that I don’t agree with this statement.  In an ideal world, your subordinates should both respect you and like you.  The quality of work life is significantly better if there is both respect and a level of affection in both directions.  The important thing is to be very clear on where your responsibility as a manager lies.  You are an employee with a fiduciary duty to the organization to deliver strategic results.  As an employee of the organization, managers must do what the organization needs.  Sometimes those things don’t make subordinates happy.  Sometimes those things don’t make managers happy.  On the other hand, managers also have a responsibility to adhere to their own ethical standards.  Those standards include what they are willing to do for the organization and how they must treat employees and co-workers.

Now let’s look at the statement that I’ve made in the past: “you don’t have to be liked, but you should be respected.”  What I meant by this was that you should do the “right” things, things that make you respected, but you shouldn’t do things with a goal of being liked.  The question my reader posed has made me rethink this.  It is my experience that there are some people in management positions who have a really hard time doing things that will impact their likeability.  I believe that this is the wrong thing to use as a guideline when you are a manager.  Your responsibility is first–what is right for the organization, second–what is right for your people, and I don’t see a time when your likeability should be a factor.

Unfortunately, though, it isn’t as easy as that.  It’s really hard to find the lines that divide these things.  What is right for the organization may be bad for the people; what is right for some people may be wrong for others; what is right for your subordinates may be wrong for other parts of the organization.  Finding your way through these  mazes is easier if you have strong relationships with people at work.  If they trust you, and if you communicate clearly as to your reasons and the context, it is easier to find a balance between hard decisions that create unhappiness and sustaining organization performance and relationships.

So what do you do?

  • Get clear on what your personal ethical belief is about how people should be treated and how those decisions should get made
  • Get clear on what you believe is your responsibility to the organization as a boss
  • Find your personal balance between these (understand that whatever you decide here could cause you problems–with your boss, your organization or your subordinates–but you’ve got to live with your decisions/behavior)
  • Listen to HEAR what your people are thinking and going through
  • Communicate clearly with your subordinates about the context and reasons for why decisions have been made, acknowledging the costs to people who are affected–this is absolutely the most important action in being respected/liked
  • As long as you are comfortable with your personal decisions about how you navigate, live with the consequences

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Undercover Relationships

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Undercover Boss

One of my guilty pleasures is the TV show Undercover Boss.  I know it is probably orchestrated and you only get to see the powerful parts, but I love watching it.  I am constantly amazed at how amazed the bosses are at what goes on in their organization.  It is a regular reminder to me that if people just talk to each other, are “real” with each other, then truly awesome things can happen in organizations.  This is of course a two way street.  The bosses have to actually listen because there are TV cameras watching them listen.  The other side of it, however, is that the employees tell it straight–after all they are talking to a ‘nobody.’  If they knew they were talking to the boss, they wouldn’t tell the truth–or at least not all the truth.  They would be polite.  They would calculate what the boss wanted to hear, and then they would say it.  Even if they didn’t do that, they would be careful in their word choice and the real message wouldn’t necessarily get across.  It is the blend of the boss being put in a position where s/he sees what is happening at all levels of the organization, s/he has to listen and the employees telling it like it is that makes it happen.  Real change and effectiveness can happen with that blend. (And yeah, the bosses give the employees something at the end–but that is peripheral and entertaining, but not critical for making the changes happen.)

Applying the Lessons of Undercover Boss

If you are a manager, a leader, and/or an Executive, you need to:

  • Get to know what the people who work for you (and in the rest of your organization) do.  Repeatedly on  Undercover Boss the ‘old’ executive of the organization is challenged to keep up, to understand the process, to go fast enough.
  • Understand their challenges.  What are the impacts of your policies on how they do their work?  Again, repeatedly executives are confronted on Undercover Boss with the unintended consequences of their well-intentioned policy changes.  Bosses are confronted with the fact that employees have to cut short positive customer interactions to make productivity numbers or that a well-designed productivity tool is unusable by people who are color blind.  What have you done that has increased the difficulty of doing a job rather than improved both productivity and job quality?
  • How do they think of you and the other leaders in your organization.  How many times do people on the show talk about the “corporate clowns.”  Are you a clown or clueless in the eyes of your employees?  Rather than be defensive or mad about it, see it through their eyes.  What do you need to change that perception?
  • Know your people.  Over and over and over on the show, bosses ask personal questions of their employees and are touched and surprised by the answers.  I’m sure the show scripts some of the kinds of questions that the Executives ask, but in every show, the bosses are surprised at what their employees go through outside of work.  Many Executives resist, either consciously or unconscioulsy, getting close to their employees.  How can you make the “hard” decisions about what to do with people if you care about them?  Ask yourself the opposite question:  How do you motivate, inspire and lead people to higher performance if you don’t know and care about them?  If they don’t know and care about you? Work organizations are first and foremost human organizations.  Creating organizations where people care about each other, stand up for each other, and deliver or the whole, is the key to being a great Executive and boss.
  • Ideas come from all levels.  The most ridiculous idea that Executives develop over time is that they know better than others because they are at the top of the organization and have lots of experiences that got them there.  As the interactions on Undercover Boss show over and over, being at the top of an organization makes it more, rather than less, likely that you don’t know your market and customers well enough to have new ideas that can grow your organization.  Create channels for innovative ideas to move up and across the organization and fight to keep those channels open.
  • Being real gets you told.  It is extremely difficult to persuade employees to tell the truth about what they think and know about the organization.  Honest employees are doing you a favor.  Create situations that open and stimulate these conversations.  Be real.  Admit your own failings.  Appreciate feedback.  Show your employees that you will do something about what they tell you.  While the chosen employees on Undercover Boss get trips and vacations and scholarships, the biggest win is if the company creates a feedback loop between the employees and the leadership that identifies and addresses real issues for the company.  One of the best bosses I ever had regularly walked around the organization talking to people at all levels, but especially at the bottom.  He had relationships with people and they told him what they thought.  It didn’t happen day one, but over time we learned that not only was it safe to talk to him, but also that things got fixed when we did.

Build Undercover Relationships In Your Organization!

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Dealing With Crisis At Work

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We go to work every day expecting the day to be like yesterday.  We’ll do the same kinds of things, have meetings with our colleagues, solve the same kinds of problems, finish our day by cleaning off our desk, putting on our coats and going home anticipating that tomorrow will be the same.

It Will Happen To You

All of us will at some time have to deal with a crisis at work.  It may be that our boss gets fired, or that a co-worker dies, or the company announces a layoff.  It is these crises that test us individually. This is the time that really counts.  You need to be there for your coworkers.  Forget rank.  Reach out and help your coworkers.  Understand that everyone is affected by whatever it is.  People react differently–they withdraw, they need to talk, they get angry–but everyone needs to know that they are supported.

I’ve been through a number of these kinds of experiences.  I had an employee who was in a locked-down building while a gunman was roaming the building.  She was on a business trip, stuck in an office hiding under a desk and she called me.  Once I made sure that everyone who should at my company knew, I talked to her–for hours.  That is all I could do, but I could do that.  I’ve been the manager of a large department in a company that was doing lay offs.  I’ve had a co-worker die.  I’ve had a beloved boss fired.  All of these were tests.  They were hard.  But the normal, act-as-usual rules didn’t apply.  People’s real souls show in these experiences.  People helped me with these crises and hopefully they would say that I helped them.

We have just witnessed a terrible tragedy happen at a workplace that spilled into a whole town.  The employees in that workplace did their jobs.  The first responders did their jobs. They were heroes.  Everyone stepped up.  The town has stepped up.

That is the way it should be.  Do your part if/when your workplace has a crisis.

What To Do

  • Stay calm
  • Focus on what is most important in the moment and act accordingly
  • Reach out to people who are affected and support them in whatever way you can
  • Understand that managing crises takes time.  Be patient for the “new normal” to get established.

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Recruiters Are Prejudiced

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Recruiters Are People

I know lots of recruiters.  I like lots of recruiters. In fact, maybe I like all the recruiters I know.  Recruiters are regular people.  And like regular people (yes, that means you too), recruiters are prejudiced.  We are all prejudiced.  We don’t necessarily know that we’re prejudiced.  We don’t think or believe that we’re prejudiced, but all humans are.  If this were a geometry problem, I would have just proved that recruiters are prejudiced, because recruiters are people and people are prejudiced.

If recruiters are prejudiced, then why should you care?  You should care because if you’re looking for a job, it has an impact on you. If the recruiter believes negative or positive things about people ‘like’ you–young, old, fat, African-American, Asian, Southern, Republican, Catholic–then it can affect whether they pass you along for a job. Worse, recruiters are frequently under instructions from someone with a different set of prejudices–maybe about education, skills or particular schools.  So you’re up against (or supported by) layered prejudices.

What Can You Do About It?

First of all don’t waste your energy railing against it.  I’m not saying it isn’t wrong or unfair, but sitting around complaining about it is not going to do any good.  Recognize it as a problem that you have to figure out how to overcome.  Just the same as if you need a certification to get a particular job or  you need to know how to use Access.  You HAVE to address it or look for other jobs with other recruiters.  How do you address it?

  • Don’t get paranoid.  I know, I know.  I just told you that recruiters’ prejudices may be keeping you from getting passed along for a job.  But look at it as a matter to be dealt with.  Be strategic.  Don’t take it personally.
  • Understand what may be triggering the prejudice.  Is it your age?  Are you ‘too’ young?  ‘Too’ old.  How can the recruiter see this?  Does your resume tell it?  How can you make it less obvious?  Take the dates off your education.  Leave/put as much work experience on as is necessary for the job.  Show adequate depth of experience, but don’t go overboard.  Don’t put personal things that aren’t necessary and that might be a hook for prejudice (sewing, cooking, gaming, sports).
  • Use the words that the recruiter used in the job description in your resume.  Mirror the job description as much as you can.  A lot of time and effort went into creating that job description.  The words mean something to the person who wrote it.  Use the words to describe your qualifications.
  • Check out your image.  Minimize the prejudice triggers to the extent that you can–dress older or younger, remove the multiple piercings, cover the tattoos, dye your hair, lose weight, dress professionally, stylishly.  (I can hear you objecting through the electrons that separate us.  I am not telling you to not be who you are.  I’m telling you to do things that get you around the things that are in your way.  I’ll bet big bucks that you dress differently when you go to church or to school or to work or camping. Put the foot forward that will help clear roadblocks out of the way.)
  • Form a relationship with the recruiter. Keep working at the relationship.   Humans think in terms of ‘them’ and ‘us.’  Humans like ‘us’ better.  People who we know and like become ‘us,’ even when the new ‘us’ has traits we are prejudiced against.  In other words, if I’m prejudiced against people ‘like’ you, but I like you, I think you are different and I’m not prejudiced against YOU, just those others.  I KNOW that sounds crazy, but go read some psychology research–you’ll find that this craziness is supported by the research.
  • Don’t ever give in and believe these prejudices.  Just because you are young or old or less educated, doesn’t mean that you aren’t capable.

Once You Have The Job

Examine your own hiring prejudices.  You have them.  Challenge yourself, remembering your recent experiences, to act against those prejudices and to hire people based on their individual abilities, not on stereotypes (even if stereotypes  are faster, as George Clooney said in “Up In The Air”).

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Filed under Career Development, Communication, Diversity, Job Hunt, New Job, Recruiters