Whether you are a leader or not you need to plan your communications when you will be sharing ideas, changes or updates with others. Have you taken the time to think about the message you want to deliver?
If you are involved in a project, particularly one that involves change, you need to stop and think about what you are going to say to people, how it will be shared, and how frequently you will update them. Change is really difficult for the majority of people to accept so you need to pay attention to what you say to them and how you say it.
Here are 5 steps to follow to ensure your message gets through properly:
- Address WIIFM: Each of us wants to know “What’s in it for me?” so address that is all your communications. This may be the impact the change will have on them; it may be why the change is happening. Helping them understand why they should care will help get them on board.
- Vary Delivery: People need to receive information multiple times before they will really get the message. Some people will want to hear it and others will want to see it, so mix up how you deliver the message, use presentations that include great visuals, send emails, use newsletter, send postcards, do posters, discuss it at department meetings, or have town hall type of meetings. There are endless variations of how you can share the message so use a wide variety.
- Change the Message: Make sure you change the wording of your messages. Address questions is some, share vision for future in others, present information from different perspectives, give the business case, or share personal stories. Change is often complex and breaking the information up into a variety of different messages will make it easier for people to absorb.
- Repeat Often: Since it takes multiple times for people to grasp the entire message you will need to share information more often than you think is needed. Keeping the lines of communication open means that you will need to be frequently sharing information with others. You can enlist the help of your project team and early adopters to spread the word.
- Be Open for Questions: There will be questions about what, why, how and when. Make sure you have a forum for people to ask the questions and get answers. Maybe it’s a meeting or series of meetings. It could be a Q&A area on your company intranet. Use a newsletter with FAQ’s. Let people share their fears by asking question and honor their concerns by taking time to provide answers.
Take the time to craft a solid communication plan to help ensure a smoother project. Address why this is happening, how it impacts people and what they should expect. Find different ways to share information by using different media, different words, different pictures, and so on to make sure people get all the information they need.
The hardest part of almost every project is making sure the people involved or impacted understand what is happening and what they need to do. Take the time to plan your communication well and your project will encounter fewer people issues.
How do you make sure your message is getting to all the right people?
Have you identified who you want to groom to take over your position? It’s possible that you will not be able to move onto a new opportunity unless there is a clear candidate for your current position. Also, when you work hard to create a high performing group you want to see it continue to succeed. Additionally, you then have the chance to help someone else grow into their leadership potential.
It’s clear that in the next 5 to 10 years there will be a dramatic shift in the workforce, both from age demographics and work style. As the Baby Boomers move into retirement and more Gen Y enter the workforce the dynamics of how business is done will be changing. Are you preparing your organization for these changes?
The changes that will be developing with the changing of the guard are both in how work is done and in leadership styles. The younger generations have different views on employee/boss relationships, communication styles, preferred work style, motivation, etc. The Baby Boomers who make up the majority of leader roles today are the ones who need to prepare people and organizations for the shift. To accomplish this will be a challenge to them because much of what will work in the future goes against their natural instincts. And yet, they must step up to the challenge.
Here are a few points to keep in mind when working to develop leadership skills in Gen Y:
- Collaboration: Teamwork ranks higher than individual efforts
- Technology: This generation grew up with computers and technology
- Diversity: Celebrating and accepting the differences of people is natural
- Confidence: They believe they can do anything they put their minds to
- Goal Oriented: Willingness to focus and achieve goals
- Feedback: Looking for constant feedback on performance
As you work on developing the skills needed for young professionals in your organization to take over leadership roles creating a structure where they can play to their strengths will help them succeed. One challenge will be to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. Historically this is a skill learned through time and experience. The speed of change in today’s business world makes this approach ineffective. The ability to think critically and strategically must be actively approached and developed.
Some tips to help grow this vital skill are:
- Seek Input: Draw information out of everyone and leverage technology sources
- Solicit Ideas: Get ideas for solutions from everyone – regardless of experience level
- Encourage Discussion: Create an environment where solutions are explored and discussed from all viewpoints – constructive conflict is great
- Provide Feedback: Ask stakeholders for feedback on needs and desires
- Embrace Risk: Evaluate risks and allow opportunities for people to take risks without being penalized heavily for mistake
Creating an environment where each generation can learn from each other in an open and encouraging world will help the newer generations learn leadership skills. Leadership styles will change over time, as they have in the past, so it is critical for today’s leaders to embrace the differences in styles so that tomorrow’s leaders will be set to skillfully lead.
What are you doing to develop your successors?
Leadership is particularly necessary to ensure ready acceptance of the unfamiliar and that which is contrary to tradition.
Now that everyone is back from the holiday break do you have your team focused on what needs to be done this year? Is the team up to speed on what needs to be accomplished or are they still discovering what is expected? It’s hard to gain speed and momentum as the new year gets going. People struggle to get focused and they often lack energy and motivation to get moving.
What you can do to get them moving:
- Be energetic. If you bring a high level of positive energy to your day and your interactions with the team they will respond. It’s contagious.
- Be clear. When the team seems fuzzy on what they need to do be crystal clear in what you expect, when it’s due and what is acceptable performance.
- Be aware. Make time to engage with your team so you are aware of their issues, concerns and any obstacles they are facing.
- Be challenging. Push your team to get moving and get out of their comfort zone. The holidays seem to make people relax and settle in for a while. It’s okay to shake it up and get people going new places.
- Be supportive. Take the time to help people who are genuinely struggling with the work at hand. Offer the right level of assistance to get them moving forward independently. It’s still their work to do, so don’t take it back.
- Be understanding. If you push too hard, too fast mistakes may be made as people re-engage. Acknowledge the errors and ensure people learn from them while avoiding beating them up with what went wrong. Risks can lead to mistakes which inspires learning and growth when handled properly.
If you bring the right attitude to work with you, along with positive energy and a true spirit of growth for your team they will respond. The year will get off to a great start and the stage will be set for outstanding accomplishments all year long. Any time throughout the year you can use this tactics to increase your team’s momentum.
How do you get your team up to speed at the beginning of the year?
As a leader how do you respond to adversity? Throughout history great leaders handled adversity with calm, strength, and daring. They were there for the people they who looked to them for guidance. How you respond during a crisis will determine how people will view your effectiveness overall.
To lead well during difficult times:
- Be calm
- Stand tall and take the lead
- Lend a hand to those who are struggling
- Reassure people
- Take decisive action
- Stay with your followers
When you do these things people will see you as someone who is standing with them and helping them during the difficult times. Finding ways to improve the situation will help them believe you are there to support them and make things better. These things take compassion, strength and courage. It can be easy to run away, hide behind others and to place blame. These are all signs of weakness in a leader.
Additionally, demonstrating compassion to those who are hit hardest by the adversity will show that you do care about those around you. This must be sincere and genuine concern and caring. False words and assurances without action look good in the moment but do nothing in the long run. The leader who is willing to get down alongside those who need help will end up going the furthest. People want to be heard and to know that leadership cares about their fate. This cannot be done from a corner office; it must be done amongst the workers.
For those who are dealing with adversity but are not formal leaders you too can make a lasting mark on those around you. Be calm, lend a hand, avoid judging, find solutions and focus on the future. These actions will help you and those around you to respond in a positive way to the problems at hand. A positive attitude will be hard to sustain but it will help keep things in perspective. It maybe that the only positive thing you can believe is that eventually it will get better. If so, start moving that direction. Others will follow you.
Adversity strikes all of us differently but as leaders we must respond in a way that will instill trust and faith in our team. Be kind, be sure, be decisive and be there. This is what your team needs right now.
Do you give feedback or criticism? When you see something that needs to be corrected in someone’s actions or performance how do you approach the topic? The difference is in the intent of the information you share. If focused on improving its feedback. When focused on proving what was wrong its criticism.
- Focused on improving performance or behavior
- Seeks to prevent repeat issues
- Based on actions observed
- Solution centered
- Supportive in delivery
- Focused on highlighting errors
- Seeks to showcase mistakes
- Based on personal observations
- Cause centered
- Demeaning in delivery
There is a fine line at times between these two types of corrective conversations. Bosses will say they are giving feedback but the message is about what you did wrong, that’s criticism. Feedback will inspire people to find better ways to act in the future while criticism will cause people to act out of fear. No one wants to be “yelled” at when they make a mistake and no matter how its delivered criticism feels like you are being reprimanded.
Stay focused on how to do better next time and the conversation will feel more positive and have longer lasting results.
For effective feedback:
- Seek to understand why the specific action was taken
- Look for solutions
- Ask how it could be done differently
- Use the phrase “I observed…” to point out behavior
- Explain the impact of the actions
Providing true feedback instead of criticizing your team will help you build a group who strives to always do better and go beyond expectations.
What is your best tip for giving feedback when something has gone wrong?
photo from iStockphoto.com
As a leader one of your responsibilities is to get the best out of your team. There are several ways that you can get that done. One way is to set clear goals and hold people accountable to achieving them. The problem that will crop up sooner or later is that there are times when people aren’t meeting their goals, or their performance is suffering. How do you get them back on track?
A great way to help redirect someone is to provide coaching for them. As their leader you will need to put on a coaches hat and work with them. To make the most of this opportunity to help someone improve their performance you will need to step back from being their boss and the needed performance numbers. To really help someone grow through coaching you need to take the approach of being there to help them succeed. The goal is still to meet performance criteria, but by stepping back and coaching for improvement you can help the employee get there quicker.
To effectively coach the key is to focus on asking questions that trigger the person to think of new ways to get things done. A coach does not provide solutions; they create an environment where new solutions are discovered by the person being helped. When a person develops their own ideas on what to do differently they will own the solution and thus be more engaged in executing it. This increases buy-in and improves the likelihood of reaching the goals and sustaining performance.
Some questions to get the ball rolling in a coaching session are:
1. What is your understanding of the goals for your position?
2. What are some of the challenges you are encountering in reaching these goals?
3. How might you get around these obstacles?
4. What strengths do you bring to this position?
5. What tools or training would help you improve your performance?
6. How can I, or someone else, help you succeed?
7. What steps will you take in the next week to reach these goals?
There are many, many more questions that can be used to inspire new thoughts and trigger new solutions; these are just a few to get you started. Keep in mind that the questions are best when open ended and not judgmental. Assure the person that they are capable of reaching the goals and finding solutions to the issues. Remember there are no right or wrong answers to these questions as long as the person is taking responsibility for creating solutions to improve.
What have you done to help coach someone for improved performance?
There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.
The Prince (1532)
Recently I’ve been discussing the challenges their teams are facing in the upcoming year and what training their team needs to meet these challenges with several leaders in one organization. One concern that has come up several times is how to get the leader’s vision communicated and implemented down to the supervisors’ level. In this organization the first line supervisors do not see the head of their organization other than in monthly update videos. There is little or no personal contact as the team is spread out over North America. This has me thinking about how you ensure the vision is accurate and applied throughout an organization, particularly one that is not all co-located.
First the vision must be clear and concrete enough for people to be able to describe it. This means that it must address the issue of “what’s in it for me” at all levels of the organization. The overall vision may not contain this in its high level statement, however, if not it must be able to be broken down so people understand how they fit in.
Next each level of the organization must understand how the vision will impact their immediate working environment. Will they have to do new things, learn new skills, use new tools/technology or work with new vendors and/or customers? How will this change the things they are doing each day? Breaking it down so that each person in the organization understands their role and the expectations for their contribution is a key to successful implementation of the vision.
Now the leadership team needs to look at what are the skill gaps within the organization. Are there expectations that cannot be met because the individuals do not have the skills required? If there new tools or technology being implemented, do people know how to use them? Do the leaders and managers know how to manage change? Take the time to really understand if there are gaps in the skill sets of the team to ensure the vision can be implemented effectively. Changing things without providing the tools and skills will lead to failure.
Finally, as the new vision is rolled out and implemented get feedback on what is working and what needs improvement. When an organization is spread out it’s easy to think all is well if there are no complaints. Unfortunately, people may be struggling with the concepts, tools or lack of skills at the lowest levels. As a leader it is critical to seek information about how things are going. Be sure to ask and then really listen to what is being said. Ask questions to gain deep understanding of the concerns or problems. When getting the feedback, think of yourself as a sponge – absorb what is said without comment or defensive reaction. Once you have the information you can reply or adjust what you are doing to address these issues.
So as you are sharing the vision for your organization, be clear, break it down, close any gaps and get feedback. If you do these four things, consistently and continually, you will be successful in creating a compelling vision at all levels and it will be effectively implemented.
What have you done to get the vision to all levels of your organization?
Derek Sivers How to Start a Movement
Here is a video from TED where Derek Sivers is talking about the importance of the first follower. To start a movement you must have a leader, the person with the idea and the willingness to go out on a limb to get things started. However, until someone else steps up and joins in, you just have a lone person. Once you gain a follower the movement starts and more and more people join you. The fence sitters get involved.
This was a great (and quick) demonstration of the power of that first follower and how leaders must embrace them.