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.
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.