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A Quick Lesson in Business Communication

Communication Tip: If it’s not the project manager or the project team, then who?
By Tina Schuelke, Executive Director
Change Management Communications Center LLC | www.cmccfoxvalley.com

Most of our clients are surprised when we coach them about communication plans. The most unanticipated part of our conversation about communication plans is centered on revealing best practices pertaining to senders and receivers of communications.

Research about business communication and more specifically, communication about change, shows us that employees have two preferred senders. A sender is the person delivering the message. The preferred sender is determined by the kind of message being communicated. Surprisingly missing on the preferred sender list is the project team. Employees are not fond of, and are less open to hearing information and direction about changes from the project team assigned to the change. One of the most common mistakes we see in communication plans for projects and major changes is that communications are being sent or presented directly by the project manager or the project team.

Here are some research-based tips to help you use the best sender in your communication plans for leading change:

Contact Change Management Communications Center today to co-create a communication plan for your project that ensures your audiences are open to hearing and taking positive action with the messages you need to deliver about the changes you are leading. Effective change communication is our forte.

Change Management Communications Center is a business consulting firm that specializes in change management. We help leaders and organizations build their authentic leadership styles and change competencies so they realize higher profits from the changes they lead and invest in.

Leadership * Succession Planning * Strategic Planning * Business Model Design * Executive Coaching * Process Improvement * Teambuilding * Innovation

www.cmccfoxvalley.com
Oshkosh, WI | Milwaukee, WI
(920)651-1144

How to Be an Effective Group Leader

Why Dominating Leaders Kill Teams

Dominating leaders tend to stifle creative ideas that might otherwise emerge from group discussions thus making the teams less productive.

Francesca Gino is an Associate Professor in the Negotiations, Organizations, and Markets Unit at Harvard Business School.  In the November 13, 2013 edition for “Working Knowledge” published by the Harvard Business School, Michael Blanding discusses Professor Gino’s series of studies in which she and her colleagues, Leigh Plunkett Tost of the University of Michigan and Richard P. Larrick of Duke University found that when leaders are focused on their own sense of power, they can hurt the performance of their teams—but with an important catch. The effects only occur when leaders are actually in a position of power.

Usually when we think about groups, we think that a strong leader naturally improves the functioning of the team. Professors Gino, Tost and Larrick explore this in depth in their article “When Power Makes Others Speechless: The Negative Impact of Leader Power on Team Performance”. In their work they differentiate between a “subjective sense of power,” that is, when someone thinks they have control over others, and actual power, when someone has formal authority over compensation, promotions, how resources are allocated or how decisions are made. Actual power and as sense of power often go hand in hand, but not always.

Sometimes in a group situation without a formal leader, a leadership role can be assumed by a person who believes he or she has superior knowledge or skills. The researchers found that in cases when someone felt powerful but was not recognized as being in a position of authority, team members were able to override that person’s domination of the conversation and add their own input.

As I would expect, they found that in the best performing groups, the leader orchestrates the conversation, and gets everyone talking. In other words, strong leaders can and do improve team performance when they go into a situation with a sense of humility about their own relative power.

On the other end of the spectrum, poor performing teams were dominated by a leader who made his power known, controlling the conversation and stifling input from the non-leader members of the group.

In conclusion, Professors Gino, Tost and Larrick suggest there is a powerful opportunity to improve performance just by making leaders aware of the dangers of hogging airtime in a discussion.

“I want to believe that oftentimes we behave the way we do because we are not aware of the effects of our actions,” says Gino. “Bringing this type of awareness to leaders walking into group decision-making situations could set up a different process whereby they benefit from what others have to offer.”

They further conclude that being aware of the negative effects generated by an overpowering leader can make non-leaders feel more empowered to assert their own point of view—whether or not the person dominating the conversation is a formal leader.  I believe that this requires the non-leaders to trust that the leader with power will not exercise that power against them.

It is no surprise to me that getting leaders to listen to others and to facilitate a productive group discussion is powerful indeed.

Read the complete article, here.

How We Will Operate | B. Charles Ames Series

How We Will Operate

This is the fourth in a series of posts that will describe what the CEO Reliance Electric thought about basic commitments, how the organization was going to operate and ground rules for managers. Once again, all the content of this article is based on the work of B. Charles Ames as outlined in his management manifesto titled Basic Management Concepts dated January 14, 1974.

Reliance Electric was a $1 billion conglomerate at the time our company was acquired.  They had been on a run of successful acquisitions for several years.  They owned about a hundred companies producing electric motors, power transmission equipment, retail food packaging and weighing equipment, telecommunications equipment, and more.

How do you run a conglomerate with a wide range of diverse businesses . . . effectively?  Ames wrote the following.

  • In light of Reliance Electric’s girth, the Divisions of the company needed to work together to take advantage of lessor endowed competitors.
  • The company centralized “certain functions” when it was economically advantageous.  The interests of the corporation trumped those of any individual Division.
  • Reliance followed a uniform set of administrative policies throughout all operations.  Human Resources, for example, would be managed consistently throughout the organization.

So far, so good.  Here is where it gets interesting. Ames was clear here:

  • The company would not force integration where it didn’t make sense or seek consistency among the Divisions without regard to individual differences of the Divisions.
  • The company would not impose corporate policies on decisions without seeking into from the Divisions.

What Ames wanted us to do was gain a competitive advantage from our size and diversity, without messing around with the basic integrity of the divisional profit center concept.  An interesting balancing act, to be sure.  And, the basic business strategy of the company.  Because Ames wrote it down and distributed it all of us, we knew what was expected.

B. Chuck Ames and his wife Jay currently manage the Ames Family Foundation.  They divide their time between a home in Vero Beach, Florida and a second home in a suburb of Cleveland.  

 

Getting Referrals Isn’t That Hard

As we work with sales professionals, we regularly preach about the importance of getting referrals. Many feel uncomfortable asking for referrals from new customers. As with so many things, the easiest way to get referrals is to ask for them. It becomes surprisingly easy the more you practice.

Let’s look at the last time you completed selling a solution to a new customer. You are wrapping up the conversation. Everyone is feeling really good about the process. They are pleased with you and your company, and you feel confident that they will be happy with the results.

Now that you’ve established a strong new relationship, this is the perfect time to capitalize on it.  But do NOT make the common mistake of asking “Do you know anyone else I should be talking to about my product/service?” More than likely, that will produce the typical response of “Gee, no, I don’t” or “Hmm, let me think about it and get back to you.”

It is so much easier for someone to make a referral if they know the type of businesses or people you want to add to your portfolio of customers. You’ve done this homework already and know the type of customers that have been most successful for you. You have targeted customers by job title, annual company sales, location, approximate size, and other factors. Now, just use these characteristics when you ask for a referral. Try something like this:

“Martha, my best customers are those I have found from a referral. I’d like to describe my preferred customer. Would you be so kind as to just jot down the names that come to mind as you hear those qualities? “

After you’ve finished describing your preferred customer and a list has been created, ask for some details. Don’t overdo it. Get basic contact information and permission to use your new customer’s name when contacting the referral.

Failed Change Initiatives Come Down To The CEO

 Most TEC-involved CEOs and organization leaders are well aware of the elements that need to be in place to create change initiatives.  In today’s world, change comes more rapidly than ever.

But by and large, these initiatives are not sufficiently successful … at least they don’t reach the performance levels we aspired to.

Why?

In his TEC presentations, Michael Canic of Bridgeway Leadership, Denver, provides a litany of required efforts under the headings of the right environment, focus and people.  But we get all that.  We do it, at least most of it.  So, why don’t our people make it happen?

He was asked about the top three reasons after a recent presentation.  They are, in his consulting experience:

1.  CEO Commitment

We say we are, but we actually aren’t.  Canic says, “There is a massive difference between the will to win, and the will to do what it takes to win.”  We earnestly put in place the roadmap for the change initiative and make assignments to our most competent direct reports, with touch base sessions.  But then we get distracted with all the other demands on our time.  We fail to give the impression that the change effort is a “must”.  We send a “mixed message.”  The energy we initially created subsides.

What the CEO has to do, he says, is have just one major commitment at a time … and focus relentlessly on it.  There might be three important ones, but deal with them sequentially.  It will be CEO attention that makes them happen, he says.  By your paying attention, people take responsibility to perform on schedule.

2.  CEO Capability

Simply, this means that some important elements aren’t put in place.  The CEO doesn’t know about them, or doesn’t feel they’re important to the initiative.  We’re good at knowing the technical things that have to happen, but not the “people” things.  These include knowing that people really do understand the purpose … what success looks like … have the knowledge and skills to do what’s expected of them … that they know what’s expected and by when … that they get affirmation … and help when they have a problem.  Simple things when we say them … but often missed.  Have a very visible Master Calendar, showing initiatives, champions and timelines, and manage to it.  It shows people the whole process is being managed, and they see where their part fits in.

As Canic says, what YOU do as CEO is not as important as what your PEOPLE experience.  Don’t assume.

3.  CEO Control of His/Her EGO

Too often, he says, CEOs compromise their own forward success by reflecting their past success in how they comport themselves, in their demeanor.  People recognize this immediately.  You aren’t on the same “level” with them, not on the same “team” with them … and it affects their commitment.  Successful change leaders hold their egos in check.  They put what’s necessary in place, and then spend the rest of their time being a servant, helping others to be successful.

Interestingly, he notes, all failed change initiatives come down to the CEO!

 

WAIT: Why Am I Talking? | The Power of Silence in Business

The Sounds of Silence

“If we were meant to talk more than listen, we would have two mouths and one ear” is a famous Mark Twain quote, one that is good to reflect on when communicating in business.  Leaders that excel at active listening possess a critical asset that will elevate them from good to great.  That element however is often the hardest to grasp and incorporate into day-to-day interactions.  Why is it so hard to listen effectively?a

Most business leaders are very driven individuals, constantly moving forward with great intensity and a deep desire to perform.  This stereotype is well ingrained in our business culture.  The profile of a successful leader rarely includes appreciating and practicing the art of being a good listener.  BTW – have you ever seen a CEO  position description include “must be an excellent listener”?

True listening (not just waiting to speak) presents an opportunity to evaluate, process and uncover clues to solve problems and create strategic advantage.  Chances are when listening in earnest we will  learn something new or be motivated to think about an issue or topic differently, particularly when engaging individuals who view the world differently.  The best solutions and strategies can result from these diverse exchanges. Without this experience we might never grow and improve as business people!

The benefits of having those skills when interacting with colleagues and associates are many. Someone who is an authentic listener can and does evoke a higher level of trust within a relationship.  And, trusting relationships are priceless. When individuals feel that they have been heard, leaders are much more effective at inspiring professional development and overall performance.

So why is it so hard to shut up and listen?  It takes work. Wanting to be a better listener is a start.  A tip?  Recently a fellow TEC Chair shared this acronym. I think is terrific and use it as a reminder.  WAIT: Why Am I Talking?

Unexpected Business Lessons from Artist Henri Matisse

Thanks Matisse!

I somewhat reluctantly (I am now embarrassed to say) attended the Henri Matisse retrospective at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. I freely admit to a limited appreciation for art, but this was a fantastic exhibition. And Matisse offered up some unexpected business lessons:

 “Each picture as I finish it, seems like the best thing I have ever done…. and yet after a while I am not so sure. It is like taking a train to Marseille. One knows where one wants to go. Each painting completed is like a station—just so much nearer the goal. The time comes when the painter is apt to feel he has at last arrived. Then, if he is honest, he realizes two things—either that he has not arrived at all or that Marseille… is not where he wanted to go anyway, and he must push farther on.” – Henri Matisse

The artist’s quote illuminates the business canvas. Like why we, and the organizations we create, are in a constant state of change, chaos, and renewal. Which helps me understand why I have never met a satisfied, successful CEO. Which helps me appreciate the best CEO’s I know who take extreme pleasure in the journey, including the ups and downs, and treat the achievement of a goal simply as a part of the process.

Successful enterprises, and the CEOs who run them, embrace as compatible equals both evolution and stability; they neither fear, nor overly celebrate, the moments of light and dark that ultimately lead to business excellence.

A contemporary artist of a different sort, Steve Jobs, said: “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.”

 

 

 

 

Stress Ain’t Good For You

Companies and organizations that survived the “Great Recession” did so because of perseverance, effort and focus. However, there is a price to pay for everything and perhaps the price in this case is a lot more stress. And yes, this is an understandable outcome – do more with less, work additional hours, a sense of uncertainty, disrupted sleep, it all adds up to stress.

Recently a growing number of people have mentioned to me how stressed they are. They tell me stress plays a larger part of their professional as well as personal lives. For some, stress is affecting their health, outlook of life, quality of family activities and on and on.

So, I listen and am reminded of how I used to get consumed by life situations and feel stressed from time-to-time.

Here is a simple method I learned years ago to alleviate stress and bring some calmness into my life.

Each of us possesses a wonderful tool to calm us whenever and wherever we notice we are upset, angry and allowing ourselves to get stressed out. You have access to this tool every second of every day as long as you live. It is simple, costs nothing, is always your choice and will make a difference!

Intentional Breathing

Breathe in . . .

Breathe out . . .

Breathe in . . .

Breathe out . . .

Breathe in . . .

Breathe out . . .

Just pause for a few minutes and remember anger is not a good strategy for solving problems instead choose to intentionally breathe, stay relaxed and alert for better decision making.

Try intentional breathing the next time you find yourself edgy and ready to get stressed . . . get better results instead.

The TEC slogan for many years has been Better Leaders, Better Decisions, Better Results.

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Looking for more quick fixes to stress? Check out this article by Harvard Medical School – Mini-Relaxation Exercises: A quick fix in stressful moments

How Effective is Your Sales Compensation Plan?

We are often asked to review sales compensation plans.  An effective sales compensation plan is a delicate mix of incentive, motivation and fairness.  A plan with a poor design can not only hurt morale, but also inhibit successful hiring.  Here are some critical factors in designing (or re-designing) your sales compensation plan.

Apply the K.I.S.S. principle (Keep It Simple Stupid).  We see way too many plans that most of the salespeople don’t understand.  Therefore, the plan becomes ineffective.

Design the plan to meet your company objectives.  If you are looking for more new business, then reward that activity with a higher commission.  If you want to grow one segment of your business over another, then reward that activity.

Pay for sales related activities.  Salespeople sell, engineers engineer and accountants collect money.  Don’t have your salespeople performing non sales related activities and then complain that sales goals are not met.

Pay promptly.  Tie reward to performance with minimum delay.  It’s okay to pay commissions after receipt of payment from your customer.  But, pay it within 30 days and not 3 months.

Implement some level of base salary.  If you hire a new salesperson as an employee make some portion of the compensation a base salary.  A base salary gives license to provide direction.  If you want to pay commission only, then retain an independent manufacturer’s representative.

Do not let a “draw against commission” run a muck.  If you have some salespeople “in the hole” more than 6 or 9 months of draw; you have a management problem not a compensation problem.  If salespeople are not performing, replace.  No compensation plan will make a poor salesperson better.

Check around your industry and your marketplace.  Maintain a competitive compensation plan to retain and find good salespeople.  If you pay less than a competitive wage, you can expect less than spectacular results.

Review your compensation plans annually and adjust as needed.  There is no intrinsic benefit to a plan that originated in 1948.

Not everyone is equal.  Salespeople differ in experience, motivation and talent.  There is no reason to pay every salesperson the same.  Just make sure the plans are fair.

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Keep these tips in mind when it comes time to review your sales compensation plan. Every business is a little different and has unique goals and circumstances.  A fair, competitive and simple comp plan, however, is the common element to drive sales.

What Is Easy Is Seldom Excellent

This famous quote from Samuel Johnson is echoed in an article in the October 2013 issue of Working Knowledge by Michael Blanding, a publication of the Harvard Business School. Mr. Blanding reports on work by Harvard Business School Professor Joseph Badaracco, who has taken a closer look at the concept of struggle in a business context. He notes that humans instinctively try to avoid struggle, yet as leaders, everything meaningful we achieve in life has some form of struggle attached, and rarely do we pause long after one struggle before we’re on to the next. So we have a paradox — that struggle can be both something to overcome on the way to success and something to embrace as it gives meaning to our lives.

Professor Badaracco observes that there is a new economy in which “markets today not only control the buying and selling of goods and services, they shape nearly every aspect of our lives. Employees see themselves as individual brands, forever on the lookout for new opportunities; home life has become an act of managing supply chains, outsourcing housecleaning, childcare, and even grocery shopping to others; and churches market themselves like fast food companies to potential parishioners.”

This requires leaders to live constantly in the midst of struggle, “making leadership both more difficult and more rewording than it was a generation ago.”

In this new economy, leaders more than ever must keep themselves accountable to the commitments they make, to their employees, to their investors, to their partners, and to other stakeholders — knowing that if they don’t, credibility will be damaged and the market will punish them.

Leaders say they are motivated by seeking the good life, but it’s surprising how few true leaders would prefer to kick back and watch things from the deck of their boat rather than create, build, try, experiment, and — yes — struggle, partly because it’s fun and partly because hard work tells them what they are doing is important. “The struggle is part of who they are.” Click here to read the full article.