What Happened to Relationships?

My wife volunteers for our neighborhood associations.  Twice a year it issues a newsletter and the key activities it sponsors are a neighborhood garage sale, a Halloween parade and a holiday luminaries event.  The driving purpose behind the association is stimulation relationships between neighbors.

As we took an evening stroll we started to ponder whether the association is really serving its purpose any longer and whether it even can.Senior woman friendly handshake

We used to have “Street Reps” for each segment of the neighborhood who would hand deliver the newsletters so that they could make connections as they dropped them off.  I said “used to” because the “old guard” who remember the time when neighbors were neighbors have no one to pass the torch to.  People are just too busy.

Many of the newsletter were left on the doorstep last year, because nobody is home anymore.  Both parents are working, taxiing kids between activities and dinners are eaten on the run.  Even on weekends it’s rare to catch someone for a chat at the door.  Actually, some of the remaining “Street Reps” prefer it that way.  They too are busy, I mean,  there are projects to get done, errands to run and to-do lists to check off. 

Yet people crave relationships.  We were made relationships, for interdependence rather than independence.  Cancel a neighborhood or church event because there were no volunteers to organize it and brace yourself for the outcry.  People have the need to relate, but don’t want to invest the time to reap the reward.

What happened to relationships?

Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything is more true today than when James Gleick wrote the book 8 years ago.  We are so busy we take they buy-out option on the box of fundraiser candy rather than have the kids sell the candy bars.  We go to activities but rarely arrive on time and leave early because we need to be somewhere else.  Mom shuttles one kid to one event while dad is at the other with the second one.  Parents are on cell phones on the sidelines and if a sibling does in fact make it, they are in another world on the game console or music player because we aren’t modeling relationships any more.

Quantity trumps quality, convenience trumps purpose, efficiency trumps authenticity, and busyness trumps relationships.  Yesterday John C Maxwell profoundly tweeted “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect” (http://short.to/tezv). 

A while back I was having lunch with my wife at a Panera Bread  store and a family of five arrived.  They picked 2 separate table so that each of them had room to open their laptops.  I kid you not, mom, dad, two daughters and a son, each had their own laptop open while the family had lunch “together”.

So how are you doing? 

Are you making time for relationships?

Do you know your neighbor 3 or 4 doors down and the other side of the street?

How many times each week do you sit down for dinner with every family?

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Shouting Louder

Communication is a critical responsibility of every leader, one typically exercised on a daily basis.  T. Boone Pickens during his Keynote address at the the Project Management Institute (PMI) Global Congress in Orlando this week confirmed what so many of us know to be true.  “There is no such thing as over communication”.  Yet, so often leaders, even very effective communicators who hone and exercise their skill, are caught by surprise when they discover that some of their messages are not received as intended. Make yourself heard

While frequent repetition can reinforce a critical communication, doing so with a message that wasn’t received as intended is analogous to repeating your directions for the subway station at twice the volume to the hand gesturing, guide book toting  tourist.

Are you “shouting louder” when your message isn’t getting through?

Maybe your message recipients aren’t deaf.  Maybe the hours spent determining content and choosing the appropriate form and medium for delivering the message was not all that was necessary to ensure you are communicating.

Frequent and Varied is Not Enough

I have the pleasure of working for a 7,000 person geographically dispersed organization that is more committed to communication than any other I have been a part of to date.  Here is a sampling of very recent communications:

  • Earlier this month Senior divisional leadership stopped by each of the sites to spend time with their staff in “Town Hall” meetings.  A small and intimate forum with a short agenda and the bulk of the time dedicated to face-time for staff directed straight-shooting Q&A on any topic.
  • Each month every staff member receives an update on our progress towards divisional Goals & Objectives.
  • Each Wednesday the divisional communication coordinator launches an email newsletter to our email inboxes, with 5 critical sub-reports on tactical accomplishments, issues and speaking points our top Executive will carry up his chain of command.
  • Earlier this week we received a detailed update on our largest most strategic corporate initiative  
  • Tuesday morning, as each week, I meet with the CIO and several peers for a comprehensive status discussions. 
  • This past Thursday evening I attended our regional Management Development Association event.  A significant part of the evening was dedicated to a Q&A panel of three Senior Vice Presidents.
  • Friday was our monthly extended IT leadership team off-site where 100+ key IT leaders got to hear another Senior Vice President share his divisional strategy. 
  • Before Friday was done everyone had a video message in their  inbox from our Chairman & CEO with a key message.   This is the same CEO who makes a point of meeting with 20 randomly selected employees every other month for candid conversations about whatever is on their minds. 

This and more is normal every day, every week fare that is rooted in a phenomenal commitment to communication.   Form and content is varied and tuned to the audience, our live communicators are passionate, dynamic, transparent, and highly relational.

While most of our communication serves us well most of the time, it apparently was not working for the communication of the very critical Corporate Strategy.

Transmission Does Not Ensure Communication

Communication is not just about preparing great content and delivering it via the best medium in a dynamic way.  We failed to verify that the transmitted message was received by our staff as intended, until we noticed expected behavior changes were not occurring.

We launched a survey to assess understanding of the key strategy concepts.  The survey confirmed that 40% of our staff were not communicated to, despite receiving the message.

Verification is the Missing Key

While this is built into electronic transmission protocols, too often we fail to verify the message we sent is actually received and understood as intended.  If the message is not received as intended, communication did not occur.

While live communication forums lend themselves better to instant verification than say an e-mail blast or webcast, communicators must be intentional to verify all forms and medium as close to the communication event, and then adapt to what they discover.  Even live forms of communication can become a one directional information push if intentional verification isn’t planned in.

When our verification highlighted our shortcoming in communicating the Corporate Strategy, we launched the “Making the Connection” campaign.   Staff supervisors will learn how to communicate the strategy by interactively guiding their staff to co-create the message and group understanding.  Rather than pushing content, the group will participate in putting the strategy into context of business drivers, and connect it to “How does what I do every day connect to the corporate strategy?” in a highly interactive small group forum.

Staff supervisors will focus on intentionally seeking verification of understanding and adapt to lead all members to understanding through active participation.

The Bottom Line

One directional information push is not communication.  Communication requires the interaction between the transmitter and the recipient of the message.

  • First do everything else right
    • Great Content
    • Dynamic Delivery
    • Appropriate Medium
  • During the communication delivery or shortly after, intentionally verify that the message is received as intended and understood
  • Adapt if necessary

The responsibility for ensuring the audience understood the message through intentional verification, rests solely with the communicator of the message.

Only upon verification can we say communication truly occurred.

How recent was your latest e-mail blast from a senior leader and what do you remember of it’s substance?

What communication techniques work best for you?