Leaders Show Up and Speak Up


In describing his approach to problem-solving discussions, Felix said, “I like to sit back and listen to what others are thinking.”

“Not me,” countered Marilyn.  “I get my ideas on the table first and then I encourage others to challenge my views.  The give-and-take helps me clarify, and often improve, my suggestions.”

“Aren’t you afraid you will suppress others’ thoughts by speaking so quickly?” asked Flex.

Marilyn answered, “No.  I encourage others to chime in.  In short order, we get our adrenaline flowing with rapid-fire comments and counter points.  We get more creative suggestions.”

“I see it differently,” Felix said.  “I’m very cautious about putting forth suggestions.  I want my team to own the solution.  I don’t get that if I talk too much.”

Most of us can recall verbal colleagues who express views on everything–including topics they know nothing about.  These people do lose influence because they eventually expose their lack of preparation.

Still, leaders do talk more than most during meetings.  Managers overlook some very capable people because they are reluctant to express their opinions.  To increase your influence and your value to your company, prepare well for your next meeting then show up and speak up.

 

Quality Face-to-Face Time is the Secret Sauce of Good Communications


(Reprinted from November, 2015)

“I was becoming frustrated,” explained a manager, “with my communications with staff at distant sites.  Several times I thought we had agreed on a way forward only to discover they misinterpreted my intentions.”

The manager began backing up his electronic messages with phone calls and while that helped, misunderstandings continued.  Later, the manager added video conferencing which helped but did not eliminate missteps.

“Eventually,” the manager said, “I started visiting the sites on a regular basis to talk personally with staff.  I was amazed at how much better we got at resolving and preventing customer-related issues.  Even though the site visits required considerable time and energy, they were well worth the effort.”

To communicate effectively, visit staff members at their work stations when there is no reason to be there.  Travel to your customer’s locations; invite your customers to your facilities. If you perceive conflicts with colleagues, drag your physical self to their offices and talk with them.

Consider town-hall meeting with large groups of employees.  Encourage them to ask questions and respond to all.  Deliver the bad news as well as the good.

I recall asking a group of employees if their managers ever visited their work areas.  “Yes,” said one.  “But when work is going smoothly, we never see them.  We make one mistake and they come out of the wood work.”

Do not wait until problems arise.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Engage others, preferably at their work stations, on a regular basis.  Face-to-face communication does not guarantee perfect understanding but it vastly improves your odds.

When the Voice in Your Head Says “Retreat,” You Should Probably “Charge”


“As I was walking into the office,” commented a manager, “out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Cade (a long-time team member) entering through another door.  I’m sure Cade saw me, but I pretended that I didn’t see him and hurried off.”

The manager feared that Cade was frustrated and communication would likely be unpleasant.

At the end of the previous day, a customer and Cade got into a snit about a delivery issue.  After the encounter, Cade criticized his manager to several peers.  “I should never have had to deal with this.  The boss misled the customer and I’m expected to clean it up.”

The manager admitted, “I was concerned about the customer but I had other commitments and just did not want to deal with Cade at that moment.”

Awkward encounters are challenges for most us.  We know we need to have a candid conversation.  We rationalize our decision to postpone as in, “I had other things to deal with.”  “That’s not how I wanted to start my day.”  “I thought I should let things cool down a bit.”

So when the voice in your head shouts, “retreat,” it is likely a signal that you should charge into the fray.

The “Lost Opportunity” Influence Attempt


(Part 5 of 5 on Increasing Influence)

A manager said to one of his account executives.  “If you will agree to deliver your service at no commission, we can get a second contract that is quite profitable.”

“Why should I do that?  I will not be the one to deliver the profitable service.  Someone else will benefit from my sacrifice.”

“True.  But our division will generate a lot more revenue due to your cooperation.  If you refuse to cooperate, you will lose an opportunity for a nice financial gain at the end of the year.”

This manager’s influence effort threatens the account executive by pointing out how lack of cooperation will result a lost benefit.

Other examples:  “If your absentee rate continues, you will lose the opportunity to work here.”  “If you continue to be out of compliance, you will lose revenue due to heavy fines.”  “If you do not honor the guarantee, you will lose a lot of business from this customer.”

Threats and fear influence attempts are distasteful for most of us.  And there may sometimes be nasty side effects.  For these reasons, I think the “lost opportunity” justification should be employed infrequently and only after other influence attempts have failed.

 

Use “Social Proofs” to Increase Influence


(Part 4 of 5 on Increasing Influence)

A company survey revealed that almost fifty percent of its employees were occasionally out of compliance with its eye protection policy.

Violators gave many excuses:  “I wasn’t in the area very long.”  “The glasses give me a headache.” “They blur my vision.” “I just forgot.”

To increase compliance, management toughened its disciplinary policy, posted pictures of nasty eye injuries, and displayed “reminders” in every nook and cranny.  After a few weeks, compliance increased a meager five percent.

Management changed its influence tactics to stress examples of success such as:  “An accident-free competitor reports that ninety-eight percent of its employees comply with eye protection requirements,” and “The plant with the best safety record in our industry reveals that eighty-five percent of its employees like their wrap around eye protection.”

A few weeks of this campaign showed a seventy-three percent improvement rate.

The successful influence attempt used the concept of “social proof,” where individuals strive to mimic the actions of others.   Most employees have a social need that motivates them to adopt behaviors of successful peers and authorities.

Industry best practices, testimonials, ratings, certifications and the like influence our behaviors because they are manifestations of social proof.

Use Nudges to Influence Reluctant Responders


“I want to tell you a success story.  I became frustrated with an employee in another department.  I had to complete a monthly report which required information from the employee.  Often, the information was late or incomplete—frequently, both.”

“What did you do?”

“I talked with my boss, the employee, and the employee’s boss.  (I also complained to my spouse, in-laws and kids.)  All were supportive and the employee agreed to do better and did—but improvement was short-lived.”

“OK, what did you do next?”

“I heard a lecture on the value of professional nagging.  So I began sending the employee frequent, reminder texts and voice messages. Occasionally, I just dropped by to visit.  I was always pleasant and offered to help.  The employee has become much more responsive, and I think we actually get along better.”

Professors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, in their book NUDGE, describe how we can influence others’ behavior by gently reminding them of choices.  Managers at Google use nudges to help their employees eat healthier foods, invest better and improve teamwork.

Nudges are not shoves.  They are not demands.  Nudges high-light choices and may take the form of texts, posters, emails, signs, voice mails, drop-ins, seat-belt dinging and other forms of professional nagging.

 

When The Pronoun “I” May Be More Effective Than “We”


While jointly writing checks to pay bills, one party says to another, “We need more stamps.”  While the first party may simply be acknowledging a need, he/she is more likely, by implication, making a request of the second party to buy stamps.  Communication by implication is fraught with risks.

Consider these implied messages from mangers to employees.

“We need to be more responsive to clients.”

“We need to improve our on-time deliveries.”

“We need to reduce overtime.”

In each of these examples, the person hearing “we,” may not see the need to do anything differently because the manager has retained co-ownership of the issue.  Consider making the requests with the pronoun “I.”

“I would like for you to be more responsive to our clients.”

“I want you to improve your on-time deliveries.”

“I would like for you to reduce overtime in your department.”

By using the pronoun “I,” the manager owns the expectation and more clearly assigns the responsibility for achieving the expectation to the employee.

I understand the importance of teamwork and I get “there is no “I” in team.  I also believe that leaders who use the pronoun “I” more clearly identify their expectations.  And they do so without diminishing teamwork.