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?

Strategy Triangle Revival

Right around 1997 Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema released The Discipline of Market Leaders.  It was an exciting book for me and my colleagues at Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) because the book was researched by the CSC Index division.  A few years earlier CSC’s own Michael Hammer and James Champy revolutionized how we think about how to run organizations with their book Reengineering the Corporation.  Building on that book with new research, "Disciplines" shifted the focus from “how” to “what”.

DisciplineOfMarketLeadersTriangle.jpeg

The timelessness of what they wrote became clearly evident earlier this year, when I saw a slightly reworded version “Disciplines” at the foundation of a culture change initiative.

Though not cutting edge, exciting and new, I thought it might be worth revisiting the strategic wisdom that rings as true today as it did more than 20 years ago.

Disciplines

The basic premise of the book is that a corporation that wants to be a market leader in their field needs to commit itself to become #1 in one of these disciplines, and no less than #3 in the two others.

Operational Excellence

The value proposition is to be the low or lowest price in the market.  This is achieved by eliminating all waste and inefficiency.   These are fine tuned process machines seeking economies of scale, and optimization is a science.

Aldi, Wal-Mart and UPS jump out.  UPS, for example, trains their drivers how to walk and even how to best hold their vehicle key.

Product leadership

These are companies that offer products or services that push performance and innovation boundaries.  They will sacrifice price and lead the customer rather than be lead by them.

Intel and Nike made a good showing in the past but 3M is a mainstay and today no one stands out like Apple and maybe Bose.

Customer Intimacy

These companies are all about delivering what specific customers want.  It’s all about the customer.  Often these are niche company’s but it has also been achieved at a large scale.

Airborne Express and Nordstrom once dominated the category but today think Virgin Limited Edition vacations.

Nothing to Nobody

When I recently saw the recycled version of this “oldy but goody”, the triangle had a hole in the middle labeled “Nothing to Nobody”.   The visual clarity was new, the concept wasn’t.

Those companies that are hovering in the middle of the triangle, not exceptional in any of the three disciplines, are doomed to mediocrity and find themselves small in the rear view mirror of their competitors.  Even those that excel at just one discipline and ignore the other two, end up fighting for survival from the back of the pack.

Defining it is one thing.  Strategic and tactical decisions must be driven by the course set forth by the strategy.  Are you a product leader?  Then let go of price constraints as your target market is not the cost conscious crowd.  If customer intimacy is your game, then don’t hold on to self serving efficiencies in options, features, designs or delivery methods.  Are you competing with operational excellence?  Quality, selection, and esthetics of your brick and mortar will be secondary.

You have to pick one.  Just one.  It must be the tie breaker for your critical decisions and only then should you strive to be very good at the other two.

While not expressed in these words, the concept should be evident in the strategies of most successful corporation running at the front of the pack.

Can you identify which corner of the triangle your organization driving towards?

How about the organizations you work with?

Are either hovering in the middle of the triangle and does it show?