Management IS Communication

communication

Note: Dwight is currently out on leave so we are running some “best of” blog posts from his writing for the Vistage Executive Street blog that you may not have seen before. Enjoy!

There are multiple definitions of “management” including: “The process of dealing with or controlling things or people,” “The responsibility for and control of a company or similar organization,” “the person or persons controlling and directing the affairs of a business, institution,” among others. We say these definitions are hogwash, and for multiple reasons.

The first reason is the idea that when working with teams of people managers can possibly “control” anything. Honestly, it’s hard not to laugh while thinking about it. When was the last time in an organizational setting anyone truly controlled anyone? At best, leaders may be able to encourage, direct, recommend, insist, bully, or worst case, create what we call “vicious compliance,” meaning people will do what you say, but with the least amount of effort, creativity and commitment that they can get away with. Rarely, if ever, do managers at any level actually have “control.”

What we say is management IS communication and good management IS good communication. So what does this mean? At the core, what this means is a good manager is going to understand upstream, downstream and lateral communication flow. In other words, when a topic needs to be addressed, something has changed on a project, or there is relevant news a good manager is going to automatically make an assessment about the directions of communication flow and is going to discern “who needs to know what” to keep the flow of work happening smoothly. He or she is going to understand the consequences of the information they have received to those around them. A good manager is connected enough to his supervisors, executives, direct reports and lateral partners to know very quickly what needs to be communicated and in what format and style so that there is minimal interruption and maximum efficiency. It’s the “up periscope” theory. Rather than immediately focusing on their own piece of the pie, a good manager is going to pause and “look up and out” to see who is affected by change, who needs the input or update, and then he or she is going to get that information communicated effectively.

The key difference between management, good management and great management from this perspective is the effectiveness of the communication. Does the manager have a good gauge to assess how much to communicate, to how many people and through what format? Part of this is cultural. Some organizations collectively “over communicate” usually meaning there are lots of group emails and “reply alls” to those emails and lots of group meetings. Some cultures are more minimalist and insist on real precision as to who needs to know what and if this is misjudged, some wrist slapping usually takes place. Regardless of the culture, a good manager can quickly assess and address the communication needs.

Regardless of whether your title falls in the management or executive level you are in charge of communicating effectively to at least some part of your organization. So how well do you manage communicating to your teams? If there are changes, or there is news about a project do you consider the various streams of communication and who might be affected in the various directions? How good of a manager, or really, ‘communicator’ are you?

Need A Productivity Breakthrough? Try a Lean Conversation

tin cansFor the last 4 years or so we have developed a set of ideas we call Lean Conversations. The fundamental notion is that academicians, consultants, leaders, and managers in our culture have focused on and accomplished tremendous gains in productivity through process improvement, supply chain management, IT, and a host of manufacturing concepts including Lean Manufacturing. The area that has been largely overlooked as an opportunity for improvement in productivity is the friction and waste that occurs in the conversations people have with each other as they go about their daily work together.  By friction and waste we mean the upsets, resistance, broken promises, undelivered communications, failed intentions, etc., etc. (You get the picture.)

We have long believed the single biggest key to productivity gains in our economy today is to identify and clear upsets, first in ourselves, and then in others. Over many years with our clients we have conducted a sort of “informal qualitative survey,” by asking them, “ if people in your organization just came to work, did their jobs, and went home without having upsets, issues with each other, their work, etcetera, what time could you go home?” Consistently we would hear they could go home between 10:30 and 11:00 a.m. This answer used to surprise us until we heard it over and over clasped_handsagain. Let’s allow for gross overstatement and cut that savings in half.  Even with this modification it appears there is at least  two to four hours of time savings available for the leaders, (and presumably everyone else in the organization), if there were less upsets, less confusion and fewer issues in people’s interactions with each other.  Bottom line, this means ther are potentially enormous opportunities for gains in productivity right in front of us, largely unnoticed, (or framed in that way), and largely unleveraged.

We have written a white paper on this subject which we are making available as a free download in this blog post and, (which we will also post on our website in the Downloads section), with ideas as to how you can get started reducing the friction and waste in the conversations in your organization.

We invite you to get your free download here [Download].pdf, study it, and take on the practices that most apply to you.   Please comment on this post, add to our ideas in the white paper and let us know what you think. Let’s start an open source movement for Lean Conversations!

Leadership: Being ‘Acutely Clear’

off target “If you expect performance, then make it [meaning your expectations] ’acutely clear’ so people have the opportunity to succeed.” — Jim Moats

A very thoughtful leader, friend, and fellow Vistage Chair posted, “The Way Things Work” on his Peer Place blog and got me thinking about a provocative question one of our CEO clients asked the other day. We were discussing one of the people in his firm who has been producing extraordinary results from being in a coaching program. Her performance had become a major turn-around. Her comment to our coach was, “why didn’t anyone ever tell me…?” meaning, she had no idea she had been “missing the mark” to such an extent. When discussing this with the CEO, his question was “ I wonder how many good people are let go every year because no one ever communicated or invested in their success?”

This is an absolutely critical question to think about as a leader. How many good people reporting to you have “failed” and how many good people have you let go during your career because you didn’t communicate clearly enough, effectively enough, or invest in their success? And, what is the cause of so much ineffective communication and such a plain lack of communication about something as critical and fundamental as job performance and success?

Sometimes it seems that unclear expectations are part of an instant, automatic and unexamined control mechanism. If as a leader, you are unclear, then you can leave others off balance. They really can’t fully succeed and you are in control.  (Some part of you may even relish playing a “savior” role.) If your ideas weren’t all that sound, and you were vague, you can always say “that’s not what I really meant” if things start to go awry. Worse, if your team nails it and gets close to stellar performance, you can move the target. All of these are very unconscious ways to maintain leadership control and they can also be very destructive to your team. It’s control in a delusional sort of way!

There is also a sort of laziness to being unclear. You can continue with a “ready, fire, aim” approach and just keep moving. While many entrepreneurs and leaders are extremely fond of this approach it also lets them off the hook. They don’t really have to be rigorous. They don’t have to think things through and they don’t have to take personal responsibility because the ideas have “been delegated.” If/when an idea fails it’s because the team didn’t perform.

Business Employee Climbs Up Evaluation Improvement FormBeing ‘acutely clear,’ (as Jim Moats describes), and in partnership with those around you, puts you in what we call in our book “Accelerate,” the Productive Dialogue Zone.  It takes courage and a willingness to give up control in favor of the outcomes you want.  It also takes letting others participate in the “how” of getting there. By doing this you will need to challenge yourself to receive feedback on ideas and not take it personally. This actually makes your life as a leader easier. Allow your team to be rigorous and help think things through. Take the burden off of yourself and be inclusive.

In his blog, Jim further points out, “Setting acutely clear expectations rules out “trying” and creates the need for learning from each setback or unexpected obstacle.  Training makes average people strong, while trying makes strong people average.”

The trade off for apparent loss of control is dramatically increasing the odds of getting what you want, having real partnerships with people, and unleashing all kinds of creativity around you.

Do you recognize yourself or your leadership style here?  What do you REALLY want and are you willing to be rigorous with yourself and open and inclusive with others to get it?

Leadership: Do You Compete or Collaborate?

arguingOn a recent evening in a beach bar on a quiet bay in the Grenadines where our sailboat was anchored for the night, I met a gentle soul named Alvin who was native born and raised on the island. Despite the idyllic setting, Alvin was a troubled man. On the surface, he had little education, jobs are scarce, and he is in a desperate struggle financially. For many of us, that would be enough to cause us to give up.  However, Alvin’s troubles ran even deeper.

Alvin said he longed for connection and conversation. He said his own people are very “contentious” with each other, leaving little- to-no room for meaningful relationships.  His observation was so sincere and heartfelt that it “hooked me.”  I’ve been thinking about it ever since. How many times do I hear people say in meetings, “I disagree with that…” “You’re wrong about that…” or “You’re confused…” as if that approach was useful rather than instantly causing disconnection and the need to defend oneself. 

Just last week I was working with a new client in a strategy workshop and experienced the same kind of gap between brilliant vision and passionate commitment juxtaposed with arguing, dismissing the input of others, telling each other they are wrong, and throwing out a variety of other dismissive comments. 

In their marvelous book, “The Communication Catalyst,” authors, Mickey Connolly and Richard Rianoshek simply and powerfully describe this cycle as: disagree -> defend -> destroy!  Alvin is at the receiving end of that cycle in his daily life, with no capacities developed to alter the defeating pattern.  His wisdom shows in that he has realized the dynamic that is the cause of his pain. Unfortunately, I have found few other people caught in this cycle who share his reflection and wisdom, particularly in professional settings. It seems to me a high percentage of people have an instant, automatic, and unexamined “Contention Response.” This is usually accompanied by repeating the exact same phrase, only louder, if the other party “doesn’t get it” as if louder will produce more results. In our highly competitive business culture, it is not only unexamined, it is often a badge of pride and honor to perpetuate this cycle. The problem is, it doesn’t really work to create results. It may shut down the opposition to ideas and it may finish the conversation, but it doesn’t create an atmosphere of innovation and/or successful collaboration.

clasped_handsThis week we are leading a customized version of our Productive Interactions program for young indigenous leaders from across Latin America in Lima, Peru. Our invitation to this group comes from a brilliant indigenous Peruvian woman leader we have known and worked with for years through The Hunger Project.  When she first learned of our work she said, “We’ve got to have that!  We get together, share great vision and commitment and then we argue.  It is imperative for us to learn to have much more productive conversations!” We really believe the ability to have productive interactions is the lynch pin for leaders and their businesses and/or organizations of any type to move to their next level of success.

If this communication cycle sounds familiar, then perhaps addressing contentiousness is a fundamental place for you to work to raise your productivity and that of your teams.  An excellent start is to study our Operating Principles (free download here) and work with your group to adopt them as your “rules of engagement”  when you interact with each other.  I recommend starting with Principle #9 “explore truths – mine, theirs and ours” and Principle #7  “listen newly, be intentionally slow to understand.”  Try practicing curiosity listening for just a week and see if it doesn’t start to shift the productivity of your conversations.

Leadership and the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Businessman Consulting Glowing Crystal BallWhat I have been seeing in the past six weeks or so among my clients is what I would call, “The Paradox of the Double Dip.” Let me explain. As you all know the economy and financial markets crashed badly. In March we saw “the low” and the economy was supposed to be on the road to recovery. Now we are seeing another down trend and the term “the double dip” is being discussed – meaning a second dip that might indicate the economy is not actually on the road to recovery after all. I am hearing “the sky is falling” from a variety of people about what’s happening. I am also hearing comparisons to the ’80s when we had the S&L scandal and Japan’s economy tanked. The US recovered from the S&L scandal and cleaned up its mess. Japan did not recover in the same way and in fact is still experiencing repercussions because of the actions they did not take. In the current scenario we are being compared to Japan and the fear is our economy is going to be a mess for an undetermined length of time.

The problem with all of this from a leadership standpoint is that instead of Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich” we are in a “speak and grow poor” mentality and this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When asking clients how business is going right now I hear a range from “it’s a good year,” to “it’s a record year.” These are statements based on financial facts. However, the “looming crisis” conversations are not based on facts, but on fear and speculation and there in lies the paradox – things are going well for many on multiple fronts and yet there is a belief taking root that it’s all going away. 

This brings up one of the most important lessons for leaders to learn – it’s critical to understand that when fearful concerns and speculations are put out there it alarms the troops, which changes their behavior and the self-fulfilling prophecy is triggered.risks ahead sign One of the foundational pieces of our philosophy at 2130 Partners is our set of Operating Principles. One of these Principles is “Be Responsible for What Gets Heard.”

From a leadership perspective it’s critical that executives recognize when they are spreading fear. Leaders create “an emotional wake,” (as our friends at Fierce, Inc. would say), just like boats leave a wake on the water. When leaders speculate in a negative tone and leave a wake of fear there are significant consequences. A frightened team is not going to be bold, innovative and confident. They are not going to be high-functioning and highly capable. Leaders need to be clear what emotion they are triggering within their troops – confidence, or fear and be responsible for it. 

Does this mean leaders should just be pollyanna positive and “paint the world pink” all the time? Of course not, but leaders do need to realize the power of their words, the emotional wake they create and learn to be responsible for what gets heard.

Is There A Common Global Language For Leadership?

ideasHave you ever wondered whether there is any common language that exists for all humans and, if so, how knowing about that language might help you be a more effective as a leader? Well, there is and researchers have called it “deep metaphors.”

In the November/December 2008 issue of Spirituality & Health magazine, Managing Editor Betsy Robinson’s article,Our Common Language,” offers a very insightful summary of work done by Harvard Business School professor and sociologist Gerald Zaltman, Ph.D. and his team across 12,000 in-depth interviews in more than 30 countries. 

Dr. Zaltman and his son, Lindsay Zaltman, have described their research in their book Marketing Metaphoria: What Deep Metaphors Reveal About the Minds of Consumers. While the consequences for marketing are dramatic, today we are more interested in how a working understanding of these metaphors will assist you in your leadership, your skill at conflict resolution, and your understanding of and ability to clear upsets.

According to Robinson, these deep metaphors are unconscious, universal, basic frames or orientations we have to the world around us.  In the language of the work of 2130 we’d call it “the instant, automatic, and largely unexamined context or paradigm in which you live your life.”  The researchers have identified seven main lenses:

1)   Balance – justice, equilibrium, interplay

2)   Transformation – change in state, status, substance, circumstance

3)   Journey – meeting of past, present and future

4)   Container – connotes inclusion or exclusion

5)   Connection – relating to oneself & others

6)   Resource – source of support

7)   Control – sense of mastery, vulnerability, well-being

and four subsidiary ones:

1)   Movement or Motion – related to journey

2)   Force – power that can compel or constrict

3)   Nature – not from humans, growth and evolution

4)   System – gives order

If you’d like a visual experience of these lenses, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2exh6i6T6tg

Two very important dimensions of this work are the emotions and beliefs that we have connected with each of these deep metaphors and the fact that we cannot express ourselves without using the metaphors. Put simply, our conversations are full of phrases, which arise out of these metaphors, and they all have emotional baggage with them. Since we all use the same deep metaphors when relating to the same situations, it is the emotions that we have historically attached to each that yield the connecting or conflict that arises from each conversation.  In our 2130 Partners’ language, this is the “stuff that fills our File Cabinets.”

Your ability to resolve conflicts, dispel upsets, and be an effective, productive leader will all be greatly enhanced by learning about and observing these deep metaphors in the situations you encounter.  Robinson offers several helpful practices and exercises:

1)   Make a list of the emotions and beliefs you have associated with each metaphor.

2)   When you are in the middle of conflict, realize that there are deep metaphors at work and the parties have differing, perhaps extreme, emotions and beliefs associated.  Find a way to appreciate the others’ basis in the conversation.

3)   Find a way to sketch out a shared vision for the parties – what would life be without the conflict?  In 2130 Partners we call this finding a Shared Yonder Star for the conversation and the relationship.  Where will we be when it all turns out? Build a productive conversation from that commonality.

While it may seem difficult or awkward at first, viewing your encounters through the lens of deep metaphors and appreciating the generally unconscious, unexamined and often differing emotions and beliefs associated will almost certainly increase your conversational capacities and your ability to lead effectively.

5 Top CEO Challenges

CEO_leaderIn May I was forwarded an email written by Shama Kabani (@Shama). [She runs an online marketing firm in Texas and is also the author of Zen of Social Media.]

Here is the opening of the email: “I just got back from The Leaders of Tomorrow conference at St. Gallen in Switzerland. It was a fantastic trip, and I gleaned some great nuggets of business wisdom from the world’s best. One particular session I really enjoyed was presented by McKinsey partner Dominic Barton. As someone who spends much of his time with the CEOs of the world’s leading companies, he shared 5 insights from his experience.”

First, I was fascinated to discover this St. Gallen Summit as I wasn’t aware of it. Second I was really struck at the list of insights vistage_logocoming from McKinsey and recapped by Shama in her email. I found them compelling because in addition to my role as Principal and Co-founder of 2130 Partners I am also a Best Practice Chair at Vistage International. Vistage is the world’s leading CEO membership organization and I have worked with them for more than 16 years. I can say the 5 insights offered by Kinsey below are very consistent with my experience of the CEO population. Here they are with notes from me included.

1) They struggle with loneliness – The higher you get, the harder it is to find the right sources to trust. This is a fundamental reason for the success of Vistage. Having access to a peer group and being able to work issues with people who face the same types of challenges you do every day can be amazingly helpful for a top leader.

2) Lack of time - CEOs continue to balance an overflowing plate and prioritizing becomes key. This is something everyone is facing these days from the top office throughout an organization. We have found that the key issues here are in the “human dimension”- meaning that things often get slowed down between people through miscommunications, misunderstandings and upsets. This is why we developed our Productive Interactions program and why we have developed the concept of Lean Conversations.

3) Appetite for cross-sector knowledge – CEOs and companies across the globe are looking at what they can learn from industries other than their own. Cross-pollination at its best. What can marketers learn from HR? What can IT learn from sales? This is another area we find that communication is critical and is not happening at an optimum level. Often groups, teams, and departments become “silos.” There is usually a lot that can be learned by an organization and its leaders from within, from its own people. The challenge is opening up the flow for that to happen.

4) Understanding transitions – Leaders transition in and out of positions, jobs, and companies. They are consistently looking for help with these transitions. This is where a solid, experienced Executive Coach can really add value. Transitions are often fraught with emotions and complexities. Hiring a partner to help you through is key.

5) The battle for talent – The biggest competitive advantage of any company in the future is going to be people. Often CEOs don’t know the scope of talent available to them within their own company. This is a source of frustration for many. See point number 3 above. It is amazing how much knowledge and information inside a company does not flow. Again, challenges in the “human dimension” often hinder this flow. Fear, politics and other factors can keep key information like “how talented is your talent pool” from being clear to those at the top.

Bottom line, from our perspective at 2130 Partners, for CEOs to manage these top 5 challenges, investigating and investing in the “human dimension,” is the place to work. The greater the skills and capacities CEOs and those on their teams have to effectively and efficiently communicate and create results, the less painful these 5 challenges become.

From Delusional to Powerful Leadership Language

mentalkingMany of the statements and conversations that pass for normal today are filled with words and phrases that have no power and fill the conversational space with the false implication of action. This type of communication seems to keep the speaker from being present to his or her own experience and commitment, (or, more likely, lack thereof). 

Let’s start with the word “like.” Admittedly this overused word is mostly in the younger set. It seems to be a substitute for being articulate enough to share one’s own experience accurately and authentically.  As an example, the phrase “it’s like I’m cold,” – does that mean you are? You aren’t? Why not just state “I am cold?”  Including “like” seems to allow a lot of talk without much real connection to personal experience. The words speak to an experience that is similar or “like,” rather than a statement that owns one’s physical state in that moment.

Another set of words and phrases we hear quite regularly are: “try,” “need to,’” “want to,” “should,” “ought to,” and “would be nice if…” Our view is that these, and many more phrases like them, occur constantly in every day management conversations and are worse than meaningless. In fact, it could be said that in these types of conversations both the speaker and the listener are “deluded.” They are deluded because there is an implication of action where there will most certainly be none. We call these words and phrases the “said” portion of a statement. Underneath the “said” is that which is “unsaid.” We find the “unsaid” is usually some version of, “but I can’t.”  For example, the “said might be” – “we should put a budget together on that.” The “unsaid” might be, “but we don’t have time.” Another example of the “said” might be –  “I’d love to go with you guys.” The “unsaid” might be, “but my wife would never stand for it.”

The third, even subtler phrasing we hear is some version of “my opinion would be…” or “my idea would be…” Said in this way, the speaker never seems to be questioned and yet, what does he or she mean?  “”My idea would be…” but, it turns out what they’re saying isn’t really their idea? Or is it? Another example is “my opinion would be…” So does that mean it’s that person’s opinion unless it meets with criticism in which case they’ll change it? As listeners we really don’t know where the speaker stands. It’s easy to wonder if the speaker knows their own point-of-view or whether they are just testing the waters to see what is acceptable, popular, or meets with approval from the top of the hierarchy in the conversation.

It seems the culture of many organizations today encourages this type of “soft pedal” speak. It leaves people latitude to shift to what is acceptable and to recover more easily if they “step in it.” The issue is that people aren’t encouraged to have a real point-of-view, nor are they encouraged to articulate it if they genuinely have one. From a leadership standpoint, we don’t believe this builds leadership skills, confidence or a healthy cultural paradigm in which team members can bring all that they are and have to the table.

The antidote to all of this unreal or deluded conversation is taking the risk to say directly and succinctly what you are really experiencing/feeling, what your truth is, what you are committed to, what you promise, and what you can be counted on to do. If you are a leader and you begin to communicate in this way, those around you will recognize the authenticity of it. You will likely build more trust within your team. Particularly if you encourage them to also take on this style of communication. An important key is that it will only succeed if people see that they will not be punished, criticized, embarrassed or shamed for doing it. A strong leader builds a safe container for those around them to bring their best thinking knowing they can articulate it and it will be received with respect even when others disagree.

Workgroup laughingIf you take this on and find yourself uncomfortable, make note of what your mind is saying is going to happen to you or how your internal dialogue is criticizing you.  Use your self-awareness skills and you will likely find what’s stopping you is a limiting belief.  Once identified, you can go to work on letting go of it.  Check out Kimberley Heart  or Morty and Shelly Lefkoe  if you need help working through your limiting beliefs.

To become a clear, powerful, and intentional leader, listen to your statements over the next few days and make a record of all the times you say things from one or more of the above groupings.  You probably have your own favorite versions of each!  If you are having trouble self-observing, keep going for it and also start recording what you hear others saying.  What is the “unsaid” in each conversation? Are you willing to restate your comments with real self-awareness, authenticity, and commitment? 

This is an opportunity to multiply your and your team’s productivity and effectiveness!

Lean Conversations For Productivity Breakthroughs

tincansjpgLet’s talk about a set of ideas we have been evolving for several years that we call Lean Conversations. The fundamental notion is that academicians, consultants, leaders, and managers in our culture have focused on and accomplished tremendous gains in productivity through process improvement, supply chain management, IT, and a host of manufacturing concepts including Lean Manufacturing. The area that has been largely overlooked as an opportunity for improvement in productivity is the friction and waste that occurs in the conversations people have with each other as they go about their daily work together.  By friction and waste we mean the upsets, resistance, broken promises, undelivered communications, failed intentions, etc., etc. (You get the picture.)

We have long believed the single biggest key to productivity gains in our economy today is to identify and clear upsets, first in ourselves, and then in others. Over many years with our clients we have conducted a sort of “informal qualitative survey,” by asking them, ” if people in your organization just came to work, did their jobs, and went home without having upsets, issues with each other, their work, etcetera, what time could you go home?” Consistently we would hear they could go home between 10:30 and 11:00 a.m. This answer used to surprise us until we heard it over and over clasped_handsagain. Let’s allow for gross overstatement and cut that savings in half.  Even with this modification it appears there is at least  two to four hours of time savings available for the leaders, (and presumably everyone else in the organization), if there were less upsets, less confusion and fewer issues in people’s interactions with each other.  Bottom line, this means ther are potentially enormous opportunities for gains in productivity right in front of us, largely unnoticed, (or framed in that way), and largely unleveraged.

We have written a white paper on this subject which we are making available as a free download in this blog post and, (which we will also post on our website in the Articles section), with ideas as to how you can get started reducing the friction and waste in the conversations in your organization.

We invite you to get your free download here [Download].pdf, study it, and take on the practices that most apply to you.   Please comment on this post, add to our ideas in the white paper and let us know what you think. Let’s start an open source movement for Lean Conversations!

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