Thursday, November 18, 2010
This thought provoking message comes courtesy of Joyce Meyer, prolific author and speaker, in a program she recorded called “Living with Excellence and Integrity”.
Troubles come to companies both large and small, to individuals, and to brands. The business pages have seemingly endless stories to report of quality issues, questionable ethics, and cover-ups.
How did they end up on in those headlines? Frequently, it's a slow and steady progression of missteps. It’s taking the same action over and over and expecting a different outcome. It’s investing more in public relations than in continuous process improvement. It’s pooh-poohing the industry analysts. It’s asking for employee feedback and then rejecting what they say.
As we Americans head to our Thanksgiving tables, how many of these corporate leaders will be eyeing the wishbone and thinking "if only it were that easy".
What times like these require, though, is a backbone not a wishbone. We can’t wish trouble away.
In today’s business climate, acknowledging the truth of the situation is a sign of strength. The faster a corporation steps up and takes accountability during a crisis, the more likely they are to regain the trust of their customers, their employees, and their stockholders.
But you know what that takes? It takes courage. It takes integrity. It takes backbone.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving season.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
And lest you feel the need to lecture me on doing more bill paying online and receiving more newsletters via email, let me assure you that I am making these transitions. Still, between the USPS and the kids' school backpacks, the papers continue to arrive at our doorstep.
In recent weeks, I've been exploring different strategies I might apply to help me address this bad habit of letting the paperwork stack up. I'm trying to make a behavioral change that'll last, not an easy task for a mere mortal.
Here are three of the strategies that didn't work:
*Tell a leopard to change it's spots - I am just never going to be that person who puts paperwork away as soon as I'm done with it. I envy the desks of those who are wired this way, but for me, I just don't see filing as being urgent or more important than getting on with the next thing. Telling myself I'm not going to make piles is unrealistic. I need a strategy that addresses the pile, not the fact that I make one.
*Once in a blue moon - This was the method I had been using previously, and it's how I'd get myself to the state of futility. Save it all up for one big effort. Only, once the piles get too large, it's overwhelming. And even once it's done, the cycle just repeats. I needed a better system than that.
*Make it a requirement - Who was I kidding with this one? If I don't do it, do I tell on myself - to myself? Funny how quickly that "mandatory" item on my weekly task list just kept getting pushed out further and further on the calendar. Fastest way to get me to ignore something is to tell me that it's important when it isn't, and I doubt I'm alone on that one.
Then, by chance, I found myself on a webinar where I was prepared to take notes, only to learn that we could just download the handout. As I continued to listen to the speaker, my eyes wandered over to a stack of papers. Gingerly, I pulled a few sheets off the top and started filing. I didn't finish all of it by the end of the call, but I had made a significant dent.
A new strategy was born.
*Feed the brain - The reason I don't like filing is because it's boring. I have a very low threshold for boring. But keep my brain entertained, and my hands will suddenly comply with such menial tasks as finding the right file folder for the latest copy of my auto insurance policy.
Now, I can't count on handouts at every webinar, so I've added a few websites to my favorites list where I can listen to cool speakers like Seth Godin with "This is Broken" and Daniel Pink with "Drive: the surprising truth about what motives us". I now have at least one hour a week on my calendar labeled "Feed the Brain, File the Papers". In between appointments, I'm content to cultivate a small pile of non-urgent paperwork.
My desk never looked so good.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
In their September issue, buried within an article about women in the workplace, I found a comment about an important element of virtual team dynamics.
"More difficult is the culture shift that requires workers not to unconsciously punish colleagues for being out of the room."
Behaviors and attitudes by those in a central office need to be inclusive of those located in other locations. Most slights are unintentional, but they can still be damaging to overall team morale, productivity, and cohesiveness.
See if you can spot 4 missteps in the following short example.
Scene: Central NYC Office, majority of team members in the conference room with handful of virtual team members from across the US on the conference speaker phone.
- Mary (NYC) Meeting Facilitator: "Good Afternoon everyone. Glad you could join us for our monthly lunch meeting. Help yourself to sandwiches on the side table. John, you're first up in the agenda. You mentioned you had some handouts you wanted to share?"
- John (NYC): "Yes, I'll pass them around now."
- Peter (Seattle): "Do you have those in electronic form that someone could email out now?"
- John (NYC): "Oh, right, sorry about that Peter, I just finished it before the meeting and meant to email it out before I went to the copier. Let me just step out to ask Ellen to send that around. Be right back."
- Mary (NYC): "Let's skip ahead to the next item on the agenda and come back to John in a minute. Brrr, you can really feel that air conditioning when it kicks in, can't you? Okay, I'm looking for ideas for our next employee engagement survey. Anyone have anything?"
- Susan (Phoenix): "I have an ..."
- Mike (NYC): "Here's something we did last year..." (proceeds to share)
- Mary (NYC): "I like it. Anyone else?"
- Susan (Phoenix): "Well, in our office..."
- Lauren (NYC): "I heard they had some success over in IT with..." (proceeds to share) This continues with sharing from members in the room, and Susan gives up and disengages.
- Mary (NYC): "Okay, let's go back to our first agenda item and John's handouts." Meeting continues.
#2 Very subtle, yet still common, is a greeting of "Good Afternoon" when it's morning for those on the phone. It denotes the bias toward those in the same room rather than being welcoming to all.
#3 The company catered lunch is only being served to those in the room, which is logical and practical, but it's the kind of injustice virtual team members can come to resent if it happens frequently.
#4 Technological challenges are at fault for the last one. No one is intentionally talking over Susan. When the air conditioning kicked in, the ambient noise was enough that the speaker phone stayed with the room, never letting up to allow the NYC team members to hear Susan. In this case, the onus is on Susan to let the group know what happened or else it will occur again and again.
If you're leading at the executive level, these examples are not your issues. You have competent assistants to take care of meeting materials and you use senior staff conference rooms with up to date equipment.
But this is what's happening with the teams that report to you if they have virtual team members, and that makes it your issue, too.
The good news is that these kind of slights are low-hanging fruit on the larger Virtual Team Challenges tree. With a little training to bring awareness, the team can turn this around and prevent future "punishments" to those not located in the central office.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Sara Bareilles' biggest hit on her Little Voice album was "Love Song". As she tells it, the record company said she needed an up-beat love song on her album to be marketable. She didn't agree, she wasn't happy with the feedback, but she wrote a song anyway and it was the album's first release.
If you're familiar with "Love Song", you know it's actually an anti-love song whose lyrics are cleverly written to sound like a message to a significant other. But they're not. She wrote it for the record label...literally.
"I'm not gonna write you a love song, 'cause you asked for it, 'cause you need one, you see. I'm not gonna write you a love song 'cause you tell me it's make or breakin' this. If you're on your way, I'm not gonna write you to stay. " It's up-beat, catchy, and it was a huge hit.
I just saw Sara on the Today Show yesterday, and apparently the first release from her new album, "King of Anything", resulted from yet another unsettling discussion with her record label. "I guess we have issues", she said. Based on the lyrics, it sounds like they were giving her feedback again.
"Who cares if you disagree, you are not me, who made you King of Anything. So you dare tell me who to be, who died and made you King of Anything." It's already ruling the airwaves.
Here's where the facts end and my thoughts and speculations begin.
Sara and Sony Records seem to me to be a perfect example of a successful outcome to the constructive feedback process.
Let's reset this for the corporate environment (not really a stretch, though is it, to call a major record company "corporate"). First, you have a smart, talented "employee" in Sara. She has a unique sound, her lyrics are intelligent and relevant, and she's got personality. Second, you have Sony's management who understand the customer base and market demand. Management sees the potential in Sara, likes her work, but sees the need for a revision in order to best position her as a new artist.
Enter the constructive feedback. Management tells Sara that their strategy is to led off the album's release with a catchy pop love song to ensure air play and gain momentum. Here's the rub - she hasn't written a catchy love song for this album. Sara wants to release her album as is and does not welcome this message. How does writing a song that's just like everything else on the airwaves show off her talents as a distinctively new artist?
And then the magic happens. Sara listens to the feedback, and writes a "love song" while still maintaining her voice and demonstrating the talent that sets her apart. The song has witty lyrics with tongue-in-cheek humor, and the sound is uniquely her own. And even more amazing, after listening to the song, lyrics and all, management goes with it.
Think about that for just a minute. If you asked an employee for a deliverable, and what you got back was a result that was right on the money, delivered with a smile, but accompanied by a message that everyone would hear about how they were forced into doing the project against their will, would you still stamp it with your approval?
I say kudos to Sara for being open to the feedback (at least twice at this point), and finding a way to deliver while still maintaining her voice. And, kudos to Sony Records for recognizing a good thing when they hear it, and having the humility to roll with the punches.
Seems to me they've got a good thing going here. Keep up the constructive feedback!
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Did you do Dot-to-Dot puzzles when you were a child? Many were like this where some of the picture is provided and you finished it yourself by connecting the dots. If you were experienced, you might have even guessed what the picture was before you finished the puzzle.
Leaders, especially senior leaders, are often frustrated that they have to "connect the dots" for their teams. They've provided the outline and believe that, like the picture above, it's enough of a head start such that their employees can take it from there.
In reality, what they get looks like the result of a dot-to-dot that wasn't numbered. Either a completely different result (picture) than what was expected, or no result at all because people didn't know where to start.
Take for example a strategic plan. If you deliver the plan to your teams with no further direction, you've basically sent them a dot-to-dot with no numbers. They need to know how to connect that plan to their functions, roles, and responsibilities. When you number the dots, you provide the direction such that they can see what you expect, they know where to start, and they know when they're done.
One of the best ways to connect the dots to a strategic plan is to set individual and team goals in performance plans with wording that specifically ties to the plan.
And it's not just strategic plans, it's internal communications, directives, policies, etc. How does that information relate to your team? What, if anything, do they need to do differently? WIIFM (What's In It For Me) says the team, and the leader responds by drawing the dots and numbering them.
What's obvious to senior management is not obvious to junior management is not obvious to individual contributors. Invest the time to connect the dots up front and then sit back and watch your organization reap the rewards.
Monday, August 2, 2010
The most typical explanation for the behavior of the long-winded is that they crave the spotlight. And indeed there are those who pontificate because they love nothing better than the sound of their own voice.
However, I think most people who struggle with succinct verbal communications fall into less boorish categories. See if you can recognize your favorite long-winded speaker (or maybe even yourself) in one of these:
- They are detail oriented. They value data and they assume that you do, too. Their communications are prefaced by facts, dates, figures, definitions, and names that justify their final conclusion.
- They have a strong need to be understood. These folks are best recognized by the fact that they say the same thing several different ways. This means that it may take them 3 or 4 times longer to communicate their ideas while they use a variety of descriptions and examples to ensure that you comprehend what they are saying.
- They don't see/hear/recognize social cues. This is actually a mixed group. Some who fall into this group simply don't have the skills to pick up on social cues such as body language, facial expression, or verbal cues that indicate that it's time to stop talking. Others in this group may possess the ability, but they also require it. For example, if you maintain a neutral expression as you listen, they will continue until you either nod, or smile, or provide some indication that they have been heard.
- They are isolated. We all need connection and a media in which to express ourselves. When individuals who work in an isolated area or group finally find an audience, their cup runneth over.
- They are verbal thinkers. Some individuals create as they communicate, their ideas just now coming together as they talk with you. They often possess self-awareness of this and may even say "I'm thinking out loud as I say this...".
The reality about human communications, though, is that we need clarity in order to reach comprehension. And in most cases, the more precise the message, the better your chances of being understood.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
After reading my reports, I realized that we needed more data. All we had was a score against a blanket statement. For example, “I have the tools I need to do my job.” Tools? That could be anything from paperclips to computer software, an ergonomic keyboard to server connectivity, a Blackberry to training and development programs.
This was the motivation for our subsequent employee meetings – to get to the data behind the question. By the end of those meetings, however, I had also learned an important lesson.
Some areas of dissatisfaction weren’t worth addressing.
Because the issue didn’t matter to them.
The survey asked employees to register their level of satisfaction per each issue, but it didn’t give them a method to voice whether the issue was Important to them or not.
For maximum improvement, we would need to address the areas where dissatisfaction was present AND it mattered.
My teams told me that having the right tools was important and that we'd improve productivity as well as employee engagement by creating action plans to address deficiencies. However, they weren't feeling any urgency to address another area related to training and development, so we tabled it.
Some surveys measure both satisfaction and importance at the same time, and the resulting data allows for a more accurate picture of where to invest energies. However, if all you have is the satisfaction data, you can improve engagement simply by engaging employees in dialogue about what matters to them, and then encorporating that into your action plans.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
However, having just read reports from two unrelated studies, I'm seeing a connection between a large challenge and a good application for a reorg.
In the June 2010 edition of The Harvard Business Review, there is an article by Blenko, Mankins, & Rogers titled The Decision-Driven Organization. These authors propose that "reorganizations are popular with chief executives, who believe that making big structural changes will lead to better performance...In reality, a company's structure results in better performance only if it improves the organization's ability to make and execute key decisions better and faster than competitors."
Monday, June 21, 2010
Promises of vacations and long weekends dot our calendars. Lunches extend as we leave our desks to brown bag it outside on the picnic tables. Even the music on the commutes in/out of the office gets slower and smoother. I knew it was officially summer today when I heard Corinne singing "Put Your Records On".
Summer, prime time for productivity in the office.
Really. Personal productivity, that is.
Goodness knows you're lucky to have even half the team show up for a call given the overlap of vacation schedules. Networking meetings that used to take place over the lunch hour turn into full day outings. Even in Crackberry Nation you have to wait longer for return emails and phone calls once June Solstice rolls around.
Summer's theme is not "team". From late June through to Labor Day, it's all about your opportunity for personal productivity. Checking off items on your own to-do list builds momentum and frees up energy for the bigger stuff that arrives in September when everyone returns to their desks.
Here's a short list of ideas for your consideration.
- How 'Bout Those Development Plans? Your plans, I mean, not those of the people who work for you. Hire a coach, take a class, read a book, attend a webinar, and expand your world.
- Take a Long Lunch - and bring one of your employees with you. Summer's a great time to hold one-on-one meetings outside the office.
- Clear Out the Clutter - Seriously, do you need all that paper? And how about that email inbox? Getting rid of the clutter adds time back into your day and gives you space to breath again.
- Listen to the Stillness - Take advantage of the quieter office season by giving yourself the gift of stillness. Growth occurs when we're present and still. Quiet your mind and listen for what rises to the surface.
- Revisit Long Range Plans - Pull out the strategic vision, the mission statement, the 3 yr, 5 yr, 10 yr plan. Is it still relevant or does it need an update?
- Surf the Net - Research your competition. Look for what's new in your industry. Check out what's happening on the global scene. What are your customers saying about you in their blogs, on Facebook, on your website?
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
The hurdles are lower for 10 year olds. Even the taller students wouldn't stand a chance trying to clear the heights you see at standard track meets. Does that take away from their accomplishments? Of course not. Without lower hurdles, they wouldn't even be in the race.
I'm reminded of something our Learning & Development team did for my Client Services teams. I told them about some personal development goals we had for our emerging leaders. We wanted them to have the chance to get in front of their teams and hone their presentation and facilitation skills. However, they didn't have the time or the skills to develop the materials, so the weren't even getting off the blocks. Plus, the content had to be truly valuable to the teams or it would backfire on us.
The solution? We lowered the hurdles to give our emerging leaders a chance to be in the race.
Our Learning & Development partners wrote the content, agendas, supporting materials, and facilitator guidelines for a series of relevant topics that the emerging leaders could use right out of the box. It was a great success.
Here's to 4th graders and emerging leaders getting their first taste of success with lower hurdles.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Anyone who cooks will tell you that it's the little things in a recipe that really take it from average to outstanding. It doesn't take much talent to throw the basic ingredients into a slow cooker and come out with a stew. But if you want a meal that really delivers, you need the recipe with the extras.
Teams are just like that. You can throw a group of talented people together and call them a team, but success happens when you finally get the extras worked into the mix.
- Shared Vision ensures that each member understands the desired outcome of the chef.
- Trust is the glue that keeps the team together so it doesn't separate.
- Respect acknowledges that each team member has their own unique flavor based on knowledge, experience, innate talents, and perspective.
- Feedback tells the team when and how they need to adjust, like licking the spoon every once in a while.
- Humility means understanding that the recipe is successful because of the contributions of the whole team, not just one individual.
- Celebration will differ by the season, but it brings out the best in each team member when success is recognized.
- Humor keeps things from boiling over.
- Friendship, if available, brings sweetness.
- Fun adds zest to a bland combo.
Keep this simmering in the slow cooker, and you've got a recipe for Team Success.
Monday, May 17, 2010
This love affair began back in the 1990's when a peer from my customer service management team sent me a link with the poster you see here. "Customer Disservice - We're not satisfied until you're not satisfied." I've been hooked ever since.
My friend knew I was having a tough day with a particularly difficult client. All the positive energy available to me had drained away, and I'd reached the moment when you know it's either laugh or cry. I prefer a good laugh.
I like to call this a "Motivational 360" - a humorous twist that takes you 180 degrees in the opposite direction, but because of the timing and the delivery, you actually keep going and end up back at motivated again. Along the journey, you vent some dark emotion, laugh at yourself, and then go back to business as usual.
This can be a highly effective tool when used properly. For example, say you're trying to engage a team of leaders in a dialogue about a difficult subject. Show a few of these posters, let folks loosen up, and maybe even laugh a little. Create a safe environment where people can let their hair down. Then, ask which one of these posters best reflects a real situation going on for them right now. Once you get a few people talking, it's not long before others join in and you're having meaningful dialogue.
Here are a few do's & don't for using this kind of technique:
DO use this with a skilled coach or facilitator. Used improperly, and some team members may get stuck wallowing in the 180 degree turn, or Demotivation.
DO use this with a seasoned team who are all well aware of the issue you are trying to improve or resolve. A more junior team may not be mature or experienced enough to understand the underlying intent of moving the group forward. As a result, the information could be shared after the meeting in ways that you had not intended.
DON'T use this with outside vendors or customers. This is a tool for internal teams where a trusted and confidential dialogue about motivation and change is the goal.
DO be cautious when using humor when you have a diverse cultural group. What an American finds amusing could easily be viewed as inappropriate or even insulting in another culture.
DON'T just use it and then lose it. It will only be positively impactful if the dialogue drives meaningful sharing that leads to action steps and eventual change. If you start it, finish it.
If you appreciate wry humor, I think you'll enjoy a tour of http://www.despair.com/ . Even their FAQ page is entertaining.
Here's to some humor and some motivation in your week.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Turned out to be an accurate diagnosis. It was also an important lesson on the degree to which I was capable of disconnecting from myself in order to pursue a successful business outcome. And of course, I'm not alone in this experience. Take the very common occurance when after countless hours at the computer, our bladders finally bring us back to a very present, very urgent state of awareness.
There are those who would say that the ability to disconnect is actually a desired characteristic for the busy executive in today's corporate climate. They claim to disconnect from emotions, physical needs, and even values in order to meet the demands placed on them. I disagree, and it goes beyond personal health.
It's the exact opposite of disconnect, presence, which delivers the best business results. In a state of presence, we have access to tools like discernment, intuition, and compassion. These tools are highly effective for reaching the desired outcome in the shortest period of time and with the greatest degree of integrity.
Connection to our own emotions allows us to connect with others, and whether you do business face-to-face, over the phone, or via the web, you know the importance of making that connection with your customer. Leaders experience improvement to employee morale, productivity, innovation, and loyalty when they allow themselves to be emotionally available to their teams.
Keeping a connection with your physical needs is easy to understand from a long term health perspective. It's also important in order to maintain a sustainable energy level, mental alertness, and physical pace over the short term.
Finally, it's the disconnect from our values that's playing out in the headlines. We shake our heads at each new business scandal, yet when was the last time we did our own values inventory? Being present with our values and acting in accordance is what defines integrity.
Stay connected and be present. It's what's best for you and your business.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Propinquity caught my attention the way odd sounding words do, but it really hit home when I applied it to my experience of working with virtual teams. At the time, my group was spread out across ten different corporate offices and I was headed to one of them while I listened.
The theory of propinquity, the impact of space on relationships, by Festinger, Schachter, and Lewin is explored in several applications in this book, including the corporate environment. Their research shows that physical proximity plays a key role in spontaneous group efforts at work, and that distance contributes to silos. "If you want to measure who doesn't trust or get along with whom, take out a tape measure."
Well, my group was sorely lacking in propinquity and we did have our silos. Yet, we also had some very strong relationships within the group that crossed time zones and state lines. What were those individuals doing to overcome their propinquity deficit?
- Client Teams - While the organizational chart reflected teams grouped by location and function, it took members from several teams to pull a whole project together for a client. These less formal client teams formed strong relationships as they learned to respect what the others contributed to the project and trust that the hard work they handed off to the next team member would be met with the same level of effort and skill. They rarely saw each other in person, but they communicated by phone, email, and IM on a daily basis.
- Teleconference Lunch 'n Learns - This is a great tool for learning and it also puts the spotlight on an individual as a subject matter expert. As remote team members get to know each other for their specialties, they become more likely to reach out across offices when they have a question.
- Newletters - A monthly newsletter kept the teams in touch. In addition to articles on clients and projects, it featured different team members each month so the group could learn about their backgrounds, their hobbies, their families, and their career aspirations. Another section highlighted work anniversary milestones, graduations, wedding and baby announcements, and special honors. Photos were included wherever possible. Names on the organizational chart became real people.
- Quarterly Strategy Sessions - The budget included travel funds so that the top leaders of the group, each from a different office, could meet quarterly to create and review strategy. These were key relationships for keeping the entire group connected and strong.
- Shared Outlook Calenders - Management opened their Outlook calendars to the entire group to encourage interaction. When you can't walk down the hall to see if someone's free or in a meeting, a quick check of the Outlook calendar is a pretty good alternative. This also allowed the leadership team to find out in advance about travel plans so that they could sync up and arrange for additional face to face meetings while traveling to the same location.
I highly recommend "Influencer" for many reasons, the theory of propinquity being one of them. And if you've read this far and not said the word "propinquity" out loud, you should give it a try. Rolls right off the tongue and is guaranteed to get someone's attention if expressed at your next virtual team meeting.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Does this make me Change Resistant? On the contrary. As someone whose career has centered around business transition, it just means I'm true to the definition of a pragmatic - concerned with making decisions and actions that are useful in practice, not just in theory.
If your organization is undergoing a major change initiative, take a look at who's on that leadership team. To be successful, it needs a healthy mix of perspective and experience.
- The Innovative-Not much change will occur without your innovators. These leaders have the fresh ideas and the energy to keep the team moving forward.
- The Tenured-These are the leaders who have seen change come and go within the organization. They know what's worked, what's failed, and why. Their knowledge about past initiatives contains critical information for the success of the current mission.
- The Well Connected-Networking is what these leaders excel at. If your initiative needs support from another area of the organization, they can get that done. They also know where you'll meet resistance, why, and what you can do about it.
- The Voice of the People-Of your entire leadership team, these individuals are the most in touch with your employee base. They play a critical role during integration and restructuring initiatives. Not only can these leaders articulate the perspective of the employees during your planning phase, but they'll also be critical for corporate communications once actions begin.
- The Pragmatic-These leaders are not in favor of change for the sake of change. They want to know there's a true business advantage, one that they can be communicated to the stakeholders. They'll make sure the change is sustainable and carries a true return on investment.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Monday, March 8, 2010
Monday, February 22, 2010
[This blog is an excerpt from my presentation, Communications During Times of Uncertainty]
Let's say you have an important communication that needs to be delivered to your organization. And, let's assume that like many companies in the last few years, there's been a lot of change and uncertainty within the organization. How do you determine the proper communication vehicle for your message?
Here's a short list of factors to consider:
Size and Geography
Is this a global organization, a single office site, or somewhere in between? If an organization is in one location, regular face-to-face communication by leaders is recommended during times of uncertainty as this can be done at no extra cost and it strengthens relationships with management. However, the more sites you have, especially with a global organization, the more expensive it is to deliver a message in person. Teleconferences can be used when language won't be a barrier and time zones are manageable. Recorded video/audio emailed or posted to an intranet site can also be effective if a Q&A session is not needed. If you have senior staff in each site available to deliver your message, this can be another way to deliver your message in person without the expense of travel. Otherwise, written communication will be most cost effective for multiple sites.
Urgency of Delivery
Most communications that need to be delivered urgently are not celebrations. They tend to fall along the lines of emergencies (natural disaster), major organizational change that has just occured (key leader is leaving to "pursue other career options"), and instructions for speaking to press/clientele (as in, "no comment"). Under these circumstances, your initial communication is best done in writing. You may be an excellent speaker, but the reality is that very few of us are able to effectively deliver urgent news in person without inadvertently creating more cause for alarm. There's nothing like being called into an unscheduled meeting without an agenda to send an already nervous team into a panic. Your staff will convert an urgent tone of voice into anxiety, a hurried body language into fear, and their own minds are racing so fast they won't hear much of your message. Conversely, a well written memo can be delivered quickly via email without passing along emotion that can be misinterpreted. It also allows the individual to go back and read it as many times as needed to fully comprehend the message. Your initial email can always be followed up with teleconferences and team meetings depending on the next consideration, which is:
Potential for Emotional ReactionIs this a message that will add to the uncertainty (hiring freezes), confirm fears (closing an office), or be perceived as a takeaway (cutting benefits)? If so, your communication plan should include face time so that questions can be raised and addressed before emotions mushroom. If the communication involves detail that employees need to have, plan to send it in writing in advance to the management team for review with talking points. Follow up with a memo to the full staff, and ask the management team to address with the teams immediately thereafter using the tips from the talking points. Allowing time for Q&A is important when emotions are running high.
Instructional vs Informational
The more instructional your message, the more important it is to put it in writing. If you are communicating a deadline, an action with multiple steps, a policy, training expectations, etc., these need to be given in writing to provide clarity and consistency at the time of the communication. It further allows the reader to file it away or put it on their calendar and review it again when they most need it. Informational communications such as sales wins, high level news sharing by multiple teams, and year-on-year status can be done verbally during team meetings and conference calls. These can be accompanied with bulleted PowerPoint slides as needed, but the details can be delivered verbally allowing individuals to take notes of what is most relevant to them.
Private Sector vs Public SectorIf your organization is privately owned, you have more bandwidth to put information in writing without need to consult with the legal department. Once a corporation has stockholders, there is a need to be more cautious about the content of written business communications. Emails can be forwarded, intranet content can be cut and pasted into new messages, and memos can be photocopied and brought home in briefcases. Conversely, verbal communications translated into an individual's own handwritten notes are less likely to travel. Your message can be delivered verbally along with an instruction of confidentiality and request that it be cascaded internally as needed in further staff meetings. An example of this would be a high level monthly financial status that's shared with senior level management and then cascaded verbally to employees prior to the detailed written quarterly statements that go out to all the stockholders.
Credibility of the Communicator
If you plan to deliver a message in person, make sure the person delivering it (and that includes you), has credibility with the team being addressed. Get feedback on this. Do you come across with sincerity and authenticity? How do you do with Q&A? Do you have an established relationship with this group or is this your first meeting? During uncertain times, face-to-face meetings are a wonderful opportunity to restore trust with teams. However, if it's not done well, it's also the fastest way to alienate yourself and create suspicion about your message. Get the right speaker for your audience, or else plan to deliver it in writing instead.
Here's to good business communciation, especially during times of uncertainty.