Do you really send the messages that you think you are sending? How often do you re-read an email or text before you send it? You might be surprised at what you think you are messaging versus what you are really messaging. Your perception may not match reality. Messaging is a critical business tool that you cannot afford to ignore.
Good messaging is also a key peer differentiator. Read on…
- Make it crisp
- Value dumps
- Vision messaging
- What you think doesn’t matter
- Start with message validation
Make it crisp
Too many corporate communications have long and wordy sentences. Further, paragraphs are too long. You can find good on-line guidance on this. The short version is this; be harsh with yourself on the word count in sentences. Cut the flowery rhetoric and get to the point. Use bullet points more often as a tool to cut paragraph sentence length. Senior executives are time constrained and therefore you will gain favourable attention if you can provide succinct and direct messaging.
A common messaging error is dumping too much value into a message. The receiver simply can’t absorb it all. This is common in presentations, particularly external ones. For example: If you have 20 value statements and you only need the top 7 to win the next step in the relationship then stop at 7. This way you will have another 13 value statements to delight the client as you continue developing a relationship. Otherwise, if you state it all up front, you will have less to say in the subsequent meetings. Further, absorbing all 20 value statements is a difficult task for listener.
Leaders need to build vision statements that create an image of a possible future. This is a critical messaging tool for executives through to department managers. This skill is all about creating word pictures that allow you to figuratively stake a flag on a direction or goal. Then you need to get behind your teams and help them get there. Honing this skill will likely allow you to stand out from your peers.
What you think doesn’t matter
All of your communication should be written with consideration to your audience. What is their role? What is their subject comprehension level? What is their bias on the topics? What is their age and experience? All of these and numerous other factors should be considered when you write your message. Reading a finished message from the perspective of the audience is a fundamental tool to good messaging. This is a learned skill.
Start with message validation
A great way to improve your messaging skills is to use validation. Find peers, senior managers, staff, partners that you can use as a sounding board. Create your message and then run it by them. The goal is for you to see your messages from the perspective of peoples view. Take a look at the Getting and Giving Advice blog for guidance on this.
How are your messages? What can you do to improve your messaging? What are your messaging blind sides?
It is surprising to see leaders react strongly to daily challenges. Often this reaction drifts into low grade crisis mode. This can also be perceived by staff as increased stress and sometimes, low grade panic. Why do leaders expect an easy ride? We are paid, as leaders, to deal with challenges and problems – it’s our job! If problems and challenges did not exist we would not be required. Reading on.
- Control you emotions
- Have a pressure relief valve
- Let your staff vent
- Be calm, get promoted
Control your emotions
A key management role is to deal with problems while presenting a calming influence on the business. It is the job of management to expect problems and crisis to arise. When you are faced with a crisis how do your staff and fellow leaders perceive your emotional response? Are you calm and controlled or flying off the handle? As leaders we cannot afford the luxury of venting. Our job is to provide an umbrella of emotional stability to our staff and the business.
Have a pressure relief valve!
However managers are not robots. There is a need to have a safe place to blow off steam. This is a good tool that allows us to provide calm leadership to our teams. When I was a new leader I worked for a VP that gave me some great advice. He said “you can come into my office and throw up on my desk, but I expect you to present a confident and calm face to the business”. He was my pressure relief value. You will need that safe place to vent.
Let your staff vent
Too many organizations judge harshly when staff vent. If it’s in public and damaging then it’s inappropriate behaviour. However, we are all human and you should allow your staff a safe place to vent. That’s your office or some other private place. Do you allow your team members to use you as a pressure relief value? Or do you demand that they contain the stress to the point where it blows? And it will blow, either at work or at home. Neither is appropriate. As a manager you need to help your staff manage stress.
Be calm, get promoted!
An employee who demonstrates good crisis management, calmness in the storm, and clear decision making with a rational thought process, is highly valuable. They are promotable. How are you perceived by your leader, your peers, and your staff in the middle of a storm? It is important for you to develop calmness and quiet leadership in a crisis. This is part of what makes a good leader.
How do you behave in a crisis? Are you the “go to” person or are you part of the crisis hype?
We all strive to be the leader, the big kahuna, the king of the castle, the person in charge. That’s OK. I’ve been there and that’s a pretty good place to be. But most of us will spend more time being the key influencer to the person in charge. Now that is an interesting role to have. Key influencers often have an incredible amount of power through influence that is not associated with their titled role. Further, being a key influencer is the best training ground for leaders.
A good key influencer, the person behind the leader, is often a remarkably demanding and critical role. Good leaders will cultivate key support teams. Leaders often hesitate to make decisions without first hearing the suggestions and perspectives of an influencer. A respected influencer can also raise new issues with credibility. Some of the most rewarding roles are key influencer positions. It is a role with a lot of informal political and business power. They are indispensable to leaders.
Second is often best
When you really think through the role of an influencer you will come to the conclusion that it is a pretty good role to have. Influencers can be considered the heir apparent. They generally have insider information and knowledge about pending decisions. A discerning influencer is a sought after internal resource. There is merit to spending a lot of time in the influencer role. Influencers don’t have the same optics and performance demands that leaders have. Being second fiddle is a pretty good place to be.
Hone your skills
The influencer role is the perfect stepping stone to executive leadership roles. If you can find an influencer role grab it. From that position you will observe executives in action. This affords you the learning opportunity of seeing how to lead and how not to lead up close and personal. You will see the subtleties of corporate management and the related legal activity. People talent management and a host of other HR related skills we be front and centre in the discussions. An influencer role is a great place to hone your leadership skills.
Who is an influencer?
The attributes of a good influencer are;
- Good communication skills – written, verbal, and presentation
- Think at the 50,000 foot level and to think strategically – those are different skills
- Understand financial information
- Be trustworthy and loyal
- Understand the business and the industry
- Be unafraid to speak the truth – tell it like it is
- Being flexible
This list could go on but these are the highlights.
Go get it, or make it
You will not see the influencer role advertised. Every company should have one and leaders need them. If you can’t identify the influencers in your business then they are very good at their jobs or there isn’t someone currently filling this role. You can target the role if it exists by beginning to model the role and working toward becoming the support person to the influencer. It the role does not exist then you should align yourself to someone who has a strong upward mobility and become their key influencer. That way you learn the role and you may in fact follow on their coattails.
Does being an influencer appeal to you? Why?
How many times have you gone to a meeting only to find it unfocused and unproductive? You look around the table and most people are absorbed in their laptop or phone. Or they just have a vacant unengaged look on their face. This is death by meetings. Likely the highest wasted labour cost for smart workers today. Yet somehow we get sucked into the deadly meeting syndrome.
Save yourself from meeting death! Ask for an agenda from the meeting organizer. If that’s you, don’t ever issue a meeting invite without an agenda. Your meeting outcomes will improve as long as you keep the attendees focused on the agenda. Ask yourself “why am I here”, what is my role or contribution? If you or the meeting organizer can’t come up with a good reason then take a pass on the meeting. Request that the meeting organizer stick to the planned agenda and timeframe.
Careers can be made or lost in a meeting. Good meeting contributions are often lost due to lack of time to think through the agenda and your personal contribution. Take 5 minutes before every meeting to review the agenda and think about your contribution. What is the most important issue? What is the single most important thing you can say? What is the best thing for you not to say? How can you demonstrate thought leadership? How can you best contribute to the meetings success? If you can think these items through ahead of time then you will have a marked advantage over the rest of the meeting attendees.
We all have rich collaborative tools available today. Do you know what they are? If not, then find out. Do you know how to use them? If not, find a training tool and dig in. Get your team together and discuss the value of meetings and brainstorm alternatives. If you save yourself and your team from one or two meetings it will be worth it. Create meeting rules for your group. Get a meeting hog Lonnie jar. Make it fun to put a spot light on meeting misbehaviour so you can change it without putting someone down. Do whatever it takes to save yourself and others from meeting death.
Sadly, it happens
There are a few well known technology companies that run on meetings like a drug addict dependent on the next fix. Employees will confess that they spend most of their time in meetings and not really delivering much of value. Some stay and let atrophy set in. Others bail on a good income but zero job satisfaction to find something less soul killing. Often it only takes a few people to change the meeting addiction culture into one of truly worthwhile staff gatherings.
The last word
Meetings have a role to play and are often critical to success. But they need to be well planned, kept to an agenda, held to a start / stop time, and be focused on deliverables not chit chat. Beware the standing meeting – be willing to review the purpose and process of the meeting to ensure that it is fresh, relevant, and focused on what is worthwhile.
Are you a meeting junky or a meeting expert?
I am amazed at the number of people who wait to get promoted. A long time ago I was mentored in a key skill that was critical to my career growth. “BE” you target role now. This means assessing your target role and deeply thinking through how a person in that role behaves and thinks.
How to deeply think about the role
What are the accountabilities for that role? What are the types of goals? What are the reporting processes? What are the language styles and expectations? What are the major role challenges? What are people in that role doing really well? How does the peer group at the role level interact? There is a lot to think about and process or internalize. Don’t rush this step.
What’s your take on it?
The next step is applying the role to you. If you had that role, what would you do differently? How can you map your current work to the goals and priorities of that role? What would you have to change about your work habits to be in that role? What skills would you need to brush up on or learn to be in that role? Do you really understand the accountabilities of that role?
Putting it together
The two foregoing paragraphs should give you lots to think about and work through. Sorting out your thoughts into actions / plans / training / changes will give you exactly what you need to start “being” your target role. This process will change your thinking which should change your behaviour which should change how you are perceived. The goal is to act and think like your target role.
How you win!
Your manager, or their peers, should begin to notice a change in you which will differentiate you from your peers. That’s called rising to the top above your peers which will give you a promotion advantage. I have always asked my team leader, manager, executive the following questions;
- What are your key performance objectives?
- How can I help you achieve them in my current role?
- How does my work effort align to the corporate objectives?
- What can I do to have a larger role in the key objectives of our team?
These are very different questions than the typical following questions;
- What do I need to do to get a promotion?
- What do I need to do to get a raise?
- I feel ready for more responsibility.
The first set of questions are the kind that will get you upward bound. The second set of questions make you sound just like everyone else. Choose to be different!
What do you think about this concept? How can you begin to “be” your target role?
There appears to be a constant striving for perfection. The drive to take every project all the way to a vision or goal of perfect. Why? Why spend all that time and effort to achieve the perfect result when good enough is in fact enough. In reality, the majority of high achievers know what effort is enough to achieve the right return, then they move on to the next task.
Are you getting diminishing returns on your work?
The right rate of return for your work is when the work effort yields a “good enough” result. Think of it this way; the last 10 – 20% of your effort costs more than the return on that effort. Therefore you are now in the area of diminishing returns. Conversely, 80 – 90% achievement provides an equitable return on your efforts.
You can do more for less!
Therefore, if you take all your work tasks or projects and develop “good enough” plans versus perfect plans you will likely be more productive. You will have more time for your work load. As you further consider the “good enough” concept you quickly come to the conclusion that you can rank all your work effort or projects by “return priorities”.
What is your work effort rate of return?
A key leadership thought process is “what is the financial rate of return” on any given effort. The rate of return can be applied to all of your activities. What is my rate of return on the time I take to chat around the coffee machine? What is my rate of return working out “the perfect” presentation by fiddling with numerous minor images or details? When you observe your staff, what rate of return are they providing you based on the myriad of decisions that they make every day? A rate of return view of decision making will drive an outcome that is “good enough” based. Beware – a strict rate of return view will suck out the humanity of work and leadership.
Making it work
You need to determine what portion of your work, or your teams work, is high priority versus medium to low tasks. Focus your energy on the key project. But don’t get consumed with perfect. Do a great job but don’t strive for perfection. Take the time you have saved by avoiding “perfection” and apply it to lower priority tasks.
Caution sign ahead
As a leader you need to balance the principle of “good enough” against the host of other management tools. As an example: on occasion I have had to take a developing staff member through the process of developing excellence in their work. In that case I would request a higher deliverable level as a learning process so I would not use the “good enough” concept. So ponder the concept of “good enough” and put it into your leadership tool mix.
Does the “good enough” concept make sense to you?
As leaders we are very, maybe too focused, on ensuring our team members are successful. We help them achieve their best. Training is focused on developing skills and enhancing performance. But sometimes it is just best to let them fail. Failure is the greatest teacher of all!
Failure is good
There is a time and a place when you need to let a team member fail. The learning curve for them will be steep, and painful. But when you walk them through it and provide a strong safety net, they will learn and be better for it. When would you do this? If you have a team member who has never experienced failure they will not be equipped to manage the failure process. They need to learn how to manage failure. Or, you have a team member who is demonstrating a deep sense of arrogance and they are causing broader team balance problems.
The best response to failure
I’m ok with failure from staff. What is not ok is to not learn from failure. Developing talent requires that you think deeply about your team members. Your job is to develop their skills, leverage their strengths, and manage their weaknesses. Don’t be so focused on success that you don’t attend to their developmental needs. Sometimes that means letting them fail.
Park your pride!
One of the realities of staff is that they reflect your leadership. This often causes leaders to mistake pride for true leadership. Manage your upward leadership structure so you can be free to appropriately manage your staff. That includes letting them fail and ensuring that your leader knows that this is a planned exercise. Protecting your staff’s integrity is far more important than your pride.
It’s about loyalty
Another reality of staff is that you must be loyal to your staff and defend them. Even at the expense of your pride. Your staff need to know that you will go to the wall for them… including letting them fail and fully supporting them in their failure! They will walk over hot coals for you if you do! Loyalty is becoming a lost element of the work environment. However it is one of the critical aspects of successful leaders. If you care enough to help your staff learn through failure their loyalty to you will increase. That’s a fact.
So let them fail
Think deeply about your team members. If letting them fail will be helpful for their development then set it up and let it roll! And while you’re at it, think about your failure experiences. Learn from them. But remember, this is just a part of your management tool kit. You need to discern when and how to use it.
How can you use failure in your management process?