7 Ways to Create a Listening Culture

If you could wave a magic wand and suddenly make every employee in your organization proficient in one behavior what would that be? Critical thinking? Customer-orientation? Sales?

No matter which behavior I consider, I’m hard pressed to come up with one that would be more impactful with just a bit more listening.

Listening transforms relationships.

Listening makes customers feel valued.

Listening gets to root cause.

Listening attracts business.

Yet, in most organizations I work with, people talk a heck more than they listen. Most of us can’t claim that we consistently listen well.

So how do you set out to build a culture of effective listening? Start with these 7 steps.

1. Tell the Truth

Nothing will make people tune out faster than smelling BS. If you want people to truly listen, be sure they can believe what you say. A culture of real listening can only happen when people can count on one another for candor. Encourage transparency and truth telling, starting at the very top.

2. Be Interesting

Sounds basic, right? If you want people to listen, speak in an interesting way. Tell meaningful stories  Ditch the 35 page PowerPoint deck and explain why your project really matters.

3. Show Up Like an Anthropologist

Anthropologists don’t go to a scene with something to prove, they show up subtly and listen carefully. They ask great questions and make meaning from the responses. Imagine the possibilities if more executives approached their field visits with the attitude of an anthropologist. Or if more sales reps worked to truly listen to what customers were saying about their lifestyles and values.

4. Be Interested

To encourage deeper listening, be a great listener. Approach conversations with empathy and compassion. Let your words, body language and actions show that you’re very interested in who they are and what they’re saying.

5. Reward Transparency

If you freak out every time you get bad news, all you’ll get is Diaper Genie feedback, where the poop is disguised in so much packaging you can’t even smell it. Thank people for bringing you the truth. Surround yourself with those who will challenge your ideas. Promote those willing to speak up.

6. Encourage Field Trips

One of the best ways to build a listening culture is to have encourage cross-departmental visits. Give your teams permission to visit their counterparts upstream or downstream in the process. Let them share their challenges, pressures and successes.

7. Get Social

Social media provides amazing opportunities to listen to customers. A good social care strategy listen’s beyond the # and the @. Social platforms can be great for internal listening as well. One of my clients recently implemented Yammer and is delighted by the informal conversations forming and how they can trend what’s most important on people’s minds.

Why Job Descriptions are a Dying Art

A client called. “Karin, I’m going to send you the job description for the new role we designed, but ignore all the HR mumbo jumbo. Just concentrate on the competencies and see if they seem right to you based on the strategy we’ve been working on.”

Game on. We were going to have the conversation that was most worth having: How do we find the right person with the aptitude for this vital job? The 25% this, 37% that of traditional job descriptions was a crap shoot at best. We needed a thinker who would work with us to be as creative as possible and build this role into more than we ever imagined.

Planning out roles and functions is vital. Pricing jobs for fair market value makes sense. But when job descriptions serve to confine, or “swim lanes” become too narrow, you’re headed into dangerous waters.

I remembered the time the union fought so hard to prevent “service reps” from doing higher paid “customer rep” work, and kept a careful watch–telling both groups to be careful not to do too much outside their “role.” Once the lawyers got involved, the higher job was eliminated, and the career path disappeared, and really great people were disappointed, and stopped trying. I was devastated to see good people with hopes of moving up crushed by the instruction to do less, because some artificial boundaries said that would help. It didn’t. It never does.

It’s not just in union jobs. Recently, I failed to convince one of my MBA students in the power of thinking beyond her current low level ” job description.” She sings opera on the side and was asked if she would like to sing at her company gala (with external players). She said only if she were paid for the gig since this is “not in her job description.”

She had a big opportunity to get noticed and to differentiate herself. She didn’t sing as a matter of principle.

As a musician myself, I get it at some level. But, I’ll also never forget the time we were  in the middle of a touching measure of a huge rehearsal and the conductor put down the baton between beats, because it was time for a union break.

Most examples are not this dramatic, and often not articulated. But in almost every company I work in I see signs of the “it’s not my job virus” gaining momentum… and the “A Players” are shooting themselves in the foot while the mediocre get by just fine.

Why Job Descriptions are Old School

I can’t claim to fully understand every circumstance, and I know there are grave situations where good people are being exploited. I’m not talking about that. What I do know is the hundreds, at this point likely thousands, of people I’ve met over the years in reasonable paying jobs, whose fear of working outside their job description absolutely damaged their careers and sabotaged their long-term earnings.

And it’s even more critical now.

We’re in a knowledge and technology economy when even lower level jobs change faster than HR can keep up.

Your job description is the skeleton–the unimaginative view of minimal requirements. Many will stop there and stay put. And that’s a tragedy.

The game changers will understand this limited view, and know that the real work is to think past the basics and add value that changes the game. In most cases the money will follow. If not, know there are plenty of companies hungry to hire people willing to change the game.

The Call to HR

Of course you need job descriptions. It’s just time to get more creative. Imagine the possibilities if every job description had the 75% skeleton as it exists today, and then 25% encouraging innovation and additional contribution?

  • Continuously seeks new ways to enhance the customer experience and shares them with peers
  • Collaborates across departments for innovative solutions to improve quality and reduce costs
  • Builds a deep bench of talent through recruiting, mentoring and organic employee development

Let’s Discuss

The old Field of Dreams idea of “build it and they will come” sometimes fails as a short-term solution. But I’ve never seen a genuine effort of a competent person giving a little more than expected over time fail.

I’m wide-open to real dialogue here. Let’s talk about this important issue.

How To Get Their Attention

I’ve written 640 blog posts and never had a response like I received from last Monday’s post, What Happens When We Really Listen. Notice I didn’t say “reaction,” I’m not counting up social shares or page views, I’m talking about real human beings from around the world reaching out in deeply personal ways.

First was the executive who picked up the phone as soon as he read it. “I’ve never done this before, and I’m a bit surprised I’m doing this now. But I just called to say ‘thank you.’ You really made me think. I try to listen the way you describe here, and sometimes I do that quite well, but I know I fall short when other priorities get in the way. Thanks for the reminder to do this better. That is all, I guess, I really just called to say ‘thank you.’ ” Wow.

The next phone call was from a senior leader who began almost entirely the same way…”I’ve never done this before, but your story reminded me of my story.” (PS: that’s why stories work.)

“You see I was headed to an important appointment with my boss, the CEO of our company–he was driving. I received a phone call. I mostly listened. ‘Yes… I understand… okay.’ When I hung up the phone my boss asked what was wrong.

Without taking time to process, I just said, ‘That was my doctor. I have cancer.’

He pulled the car to the side of the road. Looked me right in the eye and said, ‘You’re going to be okay. You know we all love you.’

I was shocked. If you knew this guy, you would never imagine him to be someone who would say anything like that.

Can you imagine how lucky I am, of all the people I could work for in the universe, to be able to work for someone like that?

Five years later, the cancer has not returned and there is nothing that I wouldn’t do for that guy.”

The truth is the “universe” would be a heck of a lot better if a more people took the time to pull their car over.

It didn’t stop there, the next call came from a man wanting to explore some collaboration opportunities. The next, an invitation to present at an executive summit  for manufacturing C-levels– on (you guessed it– listening). And then the CEO from Lebanon whom I’ll be Skyping with tomorrow:

This might be a bit of a different email than what you usually receive, but when I read your blog on “What Happens when we Really Listen,” I felt a kind of connection between what you are saying and how I actually think about relations…

What really encouraged me to write to you is not only the fact that we share a common passion towards growing Leaders, and our sincere belief in the power of emotions in successful business communication, but actually what you mentioned about the fact that your mother will not be able to read your book.

You see, I lost my mother to cancer in 2000, and my Dad passed away last September. Amidst all this, I always get this burst of sad feelings that they both will not be around to see my kids growing, nor they will be around to enjoy what life we are making. Still, and in connection to intellectual content, I always feel a bit bitter that they will not be around to celebrate my achievements…

(and then a lot of his background and a request to help him think through his thought leadership strategy)

But the question remains, having the thought, the content, the ability remains insufficient if you do not have the Ears and Recognition of the World. Because we can only be influenced if we get the World to listen to us….

 How did you get the World to Listen to you?

Why do people listen? I’m not exactly sure. But I’m convinced it has to do with showing up human.

What Happens When We Really Listen

Have you ever noticed that sometimes life rhymes?

Something happens to you that fits together so well with what happens next that (as my editor would say of another one of my other rhyming days) “That story is so tight no one is going to believe it.” But the truth is, our lives are full of true rhyming stories ready to knock a message into our hearts if we can listen well enough to  hear them. This weekend that happened to me–again.

Saturday evening I was coaching a friend who wants to become a keynote speaker. I was drawn in by her powerful stories full of transformative potential. I connected to her raw conviction and was listening carefully for how I could help her hone her message. As she spoke her voice shook just a bit, not from fear but from her authentic emotion. She didn’t cry, and the truth is, the emotion made her message more powerful. It was raw, real and compelling.  She kept apologizing for getting “emotional” and saying how she just couldn’t understand it. “I never have this problem in front of an audience.”

As she was walking out the door, she stopped, turned around,  looked at me with concerned eyes and said,  “I figured out why I was getting so emotional. It’s because of how you were listening so intently. What if my audiences listen like that?”

“Then you will have made a powerful connection and will change lives.”

The next morning the tables were turned.

And the Tables Turned

As I entered the church lobby, my friend who had moved to New Mexico a few years ago came running across the room and gave me an enormous hug. A fellow leadership junkie, I excitedly shared all my new news, the book, the course, the keynotes…and he shared his. Our conversation was cut short by the chiming of the bell.

After service he came up and said, “Something’s not right with you. What is it?”

He had just asked me how I was an hour before and everything I had told him was sunny. What had he heard? I thought I was alright.

Tears started streaming down my face. Now, I was getting in touch with an emotion I didn’t even realize was so strong.

“My mom died a few months ago. And yesterday, we came up with such a powerful ending to the final chapter of our book, I know she would love it. But I can’t show it to her.”

Apparently that’s what he heard in the earlier exchange.

He started crying too, and said that his mother died 15 years ago, and he still feels that way anytime something good happens, and then shared, “She’s in you, and she’s in that book.”

And we just cried for a minute together, knowing that it’s better to know how you feel.

Real listening transforms us.

What would happen if we all listened just a bit more intently?

2 Reasons Employee Engagement is So Hard– And What to Do About It

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of employee engagement results, you most likely know the, “How in the world could they feel THAT WAY after ALL I’ve done?” head-scratching frustration. I know I have. You’ve recognized, mentored, career-pathed, taken some bullets, helped them win… and yet, it somehow wasn’t enough for everyone. A few folks still feel frustration and are not afraid to make that perfectly clear on your “stupid survey that no one ever does anything with.”

The truth is, what makes employee engagement so hard is that it’s not just about what’s happening today. Your employees are impacted by all their yesterdays, and their view of how they will fit into the future of your organization tomorrow.

Winning Well managers are translators of the past and sherpas toward the future. Before they motivate, they translate.

Winning Well managers know they need to help employees recover from their memory of past experiences: a boss that took credit for their work; an organizational structure change that made their role less meaningful; a shift in strategy which made their project less of a priority… and at the same time help them see a bright future for themselves in the organization. If employees are skeptical that they’ll matter in the future, they’ll be less likely to go the extra mile today.

How to Help Employees Make Sense of the Past

1. Have a private conversation

I actually had one manager who had worked in my organization for three years tell me how intimidated she was around me for a very long time. I was shocked, as I’d never treated her with anything but kindness and respect, and was always working to connect with her at a human level.

She confided that she’d “been burned so many times before” by other female leaders that she just didn’t trust my motives.  Her opening up to me allowed me to share some of my personal stories of my career growth and why I believe and act like I do now–based on mistakes by myself and others in the past. I then explained that all leaders (whether they admit it or not) have similar insecurities and regrets–that instead of starting from a place of fear or skepticism of a new leader, it’s much more productive to get to know one another and give them a chance. Assuming mal-intent will color your perceptions and potentially lead to false interpretations.

After we had that conversation, she became much more secure in her role, took more risks, shared her opinions, and eventually was promoted. Her fear from her past had actually been holding her back from being her best self. Once she realized the past did not define the future, she was able to truly engage and build a better one for herself and the company.

2. Help them understand the context

Often when something negative happens, the employee doesn’t have all the context. Start with questions: Do you know WHY they made the decision to close that office? Do you know WHY the project lost funding? Often employees are so caught up in the impact, that they may not have truly sought to understand the bigger picture (or someone may not have explained it well). Translators take time to help employees understand the greater context of decisions so they seem less arbitrary.

And Get Excited About the Future

3. Help them understand what they can control

Nothing creates anxiety more than feeling out of control. Helping employees understand that although they may not have influence on some of the bigger strategic moves that could potentially impact their future, they have much they can do to prepare to be a utility player that adds value when circumstances change. Finishing their degree, learning new skills, networking with other departments, all go a long way in helping people feel better about themselves and their future in the company.

4. Help them see the road ahead

The main reason employees don’t think strategically is that they aren’t given enough information to connect the dots. Help employees see the strategic and competitive environment and where the organization is headed. Help them understand how the work they do contributes today and where it fits into the future. When holding career discussions, help them develop the skills that will be most important as the company grows and transforms.

To feel better about their jobs, employees need support making sense of the past and understanding what’s possible in the future.

Before you motivate, translate.

How To Move a Team from Forming to High Performing in < 48 Hours

Our MBA Orientation committee debated whether was this too much pressure.  The second week on campus, teams of first year MBA students would have 48 hours to research and make recommendations on a real business challenge for a large, high-profile company and package and communicate their recommendation to a high-profile audience.

Clearly, it’s more than a “game” when potential employers and university leadership are involved. I served as executive communications consultant, equipping them on presentation skills and packaging a compelling story, and then visited their case rooms up until the late night pancake “breakfast” critiquing their rehearsal and helping them fine-tune.

Every team was given the same challenge, information and resources. What was fascinating was how the teams varied in their approach to team dynamics and interaction. I got an insider’s view to most of the teams and watched the teams and their presentations transform (a few didn’t think they needed any help, but that’s another story.)

How to Move a Team from Forming to High Performing in < 48 Hours

I spoke with several of the teams that made it to the final round–mostly curious about how the most successful teams accomplished so much so quickly.

You guessed it–they had a balanced focus on results AND relationships, confidence AND humility. #winningwell

1. Quickly Identify Each Team Member’s Strengths (and Challenges)

The strongest teams didn’t waste time jockeying for position or covering up weaknesses. They weren’t afraid to say what they were good at, “Oh, when I worked for the World Bank, I used to work on this kind of stuff all the time, let me lead the analysis.” Or where they weren’t, “I don’t have much of a finance background, that’s why I’m here to round it out, BUT I’m GREAT at PowerPoint.”

2. Work Extremely Hard at Communication

Every team had International students studying in their non-native tongue. This often meant slowing down to repeat or find different words to explain a complex idea. The teams that won well understood the deep value their teammates were bringing to the table and took extra time to ensure they were heard and understood.

3. Invest in the Long View, Even in Short-Term Projects

Sure they all wanted to win the 48-hour challenge, but they also knew that the relationships they were building would last at least two years as they worked together throughout the program, and of course could become a powerful network down the road. They kept the big picture in mind as they managed their interactions.

4. Establish Formal Norms

Before they began they wrote down the big rules for team functioning AND they called each other on it when someone was out of bounds. This happened most during times of stress, “We agreed we do a little one-minute dance party when the stress got to much.”

5. Offer (and Receive) Candid Feedback

There was no time to sugarcoat. They cut through the B.S. and feedback was offered and received with the understanding that they all had the same big goal. When their second year coach, or someone gave them ideas to improve, they quickly said “Thank you,” took the advice, and made their presentation tighter.

Here’s a quick interview with one of my favorite winning well teams.

To learn more about these leaders you can click on their LinkedIn profiles.

Alison ScharmanMohamed BoraieShengnan WangSunghooh Huh,Will Boddy

Thanks to my nephew, Jared Herr for producing this video.

Need help accelerating your team’s development, or communicating more effectively? Please give me a call 443/750-149.

How to Tell a Great Story

Have you ever noticed how much easier is to remember someone’s point when they wrap a story around it? So why do so many leaders stick with dry PowerPoint presentations and yawner “motivational” pep talks when they could tell a story? How could you better use stories to galvanize your team toward stronger results?

This summer, I’ve trained hundreds of people on my STORIES model of impactful communication. You can watch an excerpt here.

The STORIES Approach

S- Setting

  • Where were you?
  • Who was there?
  • Who’s telling the story?

T- Trouble

  • What happened?
  • How can you describe the tension in a memorable way?

O- Other

  • Who is the sage that intervenes?

R- Response

  • What did our hero do?

I- Interest

  • What makes this interesting?

E- Evaluation

  • What did they learn?

S- So what

  • What does that mean for us?

This method works. I see HUGE improvement in the quality of participant’s stories after participating in a half day impactful communications workshop (we also work on simple delivery techniques). These workshops also have a significant teambuilding effect when teams go through this together– creating lasting bonds as teams reveal themselves in their stories.

If you would like me to custom-design a storytelling workshop for your team, please call me at 443-750-1249.

9 Ways to Improve Your Powerpoint Presentations

I Googled “Death by Powerpoint” and got 12.6 million results. That’s a whole lot of frustrated ranting going on. Look, I get it. In most companies, if you’re serious about your project, you can’t show up to a meeting without a “deck” to explain it. But if people are glazing over, you’re not inspiring their best thinking.

Shortly after returning to Apple Steve Jobs said:

I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking. People confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.

For most of us that’s a nontroversy. But the Powerpoint requirement is still the norm. So for goodness sake, do us a favor and follow these 9 tips.

9 Ways to Improve Your Powerpoint Presentation

1. Start With Your Message

What do you want your audience TO DO as a result of your presentation? I’m always amazed at how fuzzy that often is. Don’t start with the deck, start with your message. Outline your talk track BEFORE working on the slides. Your slides are gravy, not the meat.

2. Simplify Your Text

Keep to the rule of one point per slide and make your point pop. Reinforce it with a 5-7 word call out box.

3. Use Clean Fonts

Don’t use more than three fonts. If you have to reduce font size to less than 24pt, you’re cramming too much in.

4. Let Your Headings Tell a Story

Go through the presentation and just read the headings. If your headings don’t tell a coherent story on their own, revise them.

5. Use Your Layout to Focus Attention

The most important places to put information are the heading, upper left side and the bottom.

6. Build a Model

Models go a low way in simplifying complex messages. Think food pyramid or Sinek’s Golden Circle.

7. Use Compelling Visuals

DO NOT use clip art. Instead find clean photographs that tell your story. If the image doesn’t enhance the meaning leave it out. If you present frequently, look for unique pictures as you’re out in the world, capture them with your phone and save them in a folder.

8. End with a Call to Action

Ask your audience for what you need or want them to do.

9. Create a Separate Leave Behind

One of the main reasons Powerpoints are so crammed full of words and data is that they’re created to be “cascaded” and shared by someone other than the presenter. If you want to capture your primary audience’s attention, build a few slides that truly support your main ideas. Then create a separate document with additional detail and supporting data.

Differentiate your message with clean slides that enhance your story, and your audience will have more energy left to engage and do what you need them to do.

Does Your Boss Have Your Back?

When I was fairly young in my HR career, I was walking by my boss’ boss’ office (let’s call him Eric) while visiting our corporate headquarters in Manhattan. Without leaving his desk, he called out:

Karin, can you please do me a favor? You see there’s this meeting that I’m unable to attend, and it would be great if you could attend it for me. Sally, the Senior VP of our call center division has an absence problem. She asked me to attend, but I’m busy. I think it would be great if you could go talk employee engagement. It’s starting in a few minutes so you should head down now.

Honored to be asked, and delighted for the exposure, I eagerly said “Yes!” and ran off to the meeting. As I entered the room (apparently late), all conversation stopped.

“Who are you?” Sally barked.

“Oh, I’m Karin, Eric couldn’t make it, but asked me to come instead.”

“This is an important issue, and needs to be handled at the senior level! Doesn’t Eric care enough here to show up? Why didn’t he let me know he was sending you? What’s your role? Don’t answer that. I’ll be right back.”

She slammed the door and called Eric.

“You can stay, she grumbled.”

Oh, wait for it. It gets worse.

The VPs around the room had all kinds of ideas for how to “fix those people;” none of which involved actually talking to them to understand root cause.

I piped in and told them so.

I was completely ignored and they went on with their planning.

Later that day…

I was on the elevator when the doors opened and Sally walked in. When was this day going to end?! I tried to get absorbed in the crowd, hoping she wouldn’t notice. When we stopped at her floor, she asked me to step off with her for a moment.

You’ve got great ideas, but you’re incredibly clumsy.  As a manager, you don’t tell a room full of VPs all of them are wrong in a meeting with their peers. You quietly take notes, and then talk with a few of them offline to stakeholder your ideas. You really ticked me off, so I couldn’t even process what you were saying. But I’ve been thinking about it and you’re right. I’d like you to lead the HR leg of this project. You help me fix my absence problem and I’ll help you learn how to navigate politically so you don’t sabotage what could be a promising career. Sound like a deal?

She smiled for the first time that day.

It was the start to a beautiful mentoring relationship. She always had my back.

Two VPs with position power: one with his back firmly against the wall, protecting himself. The other taking a risk on a naive but passionate kid. What a difference it makes when someone has your back.

How to Get Employees to Care About Your Company

Great commercials, strong PR, a brilliant social media strategy all warrant effort when building your company’s reputation. But there’s no better PR than an army of loyal employees living and breathing your brand. You know the type–folks with enthusiasm bursting from their veins–talking up your products and services with their friends at every bar, baptism and bat mitzvah they attend.

“No, I’m telling you this works, I’ve seen it from the inside! This product has changed my life! Let me show you.”

Or  “I’m so sorry you had that experience, it’s not usually like that.”

Yes. Define your image. Yes, yes, advertise it. But don’t overlook the power of your employees to tell your story.

7 Way To Turn Your Employees into Advocates

Your best employees want to be part of the inner circle. If you want them to act like owners, treat them that way. Here’s how.

1. Acknowledge Reality

Don’t blow smoke. They know the truth better than anyone and how it’s been received. Don’t sugarcoat the issues. Share your concerns and get them involved to fix them.

2. Listen to What They Hear

Don’t discount their feedback as “noise” really listen to what they’re hearing from customers. Nothing is more disconcerting that watching employees share relentless feedback in focus groups and having execs finally pay attention when the consultant comes in and says the same thing.

3. Give Them Context

Share the bigger picture and dynamics of the parameters you’re up against. Creativity comes best when the constraints are clear.

4. Treat Them with Deep Respect

“PR or HR or Staff or the VP knows best” never really plays well at the front line. Respect their perspective, and they’ll respect yours.

5. Encourage Them to Speak in Their Own Voice

Once this deeper understanding is established, I’m always amazed at the insights and eloquence of the frontline. Scripting may keep you out of trouble, but I’ve never seen a script create a best-in-class brand.

6. Allow Them to Be the Hero

There’s nothing more frustrating to a frontline employee than when an executive swoops in and does EXACTLY what they would have done but their hands were tied. Execs chalk this up to common sense that apparently they think they have but I’ve met many who question whether anyone they’ve hired to service their customers could possibly be that astute.

Give your employees a few opportunities (at least) to do what you would do in such circumstances. Can you imagine what would happen if you could replicate that level of prudence and critical thinking?

7. Encourage Swagger

This part may seem unnecessary. But I’m telling you, it matters. I remember when I first started working for Bell Atlantic (as a transition from my teaching assistanceship at the University of MD). All I wanted for Christmas was for my husband to get a hold of a Bell Atlantic sweat shirt. Here I was ready to be a spokesperson and to wear it proudly, but I couldn’t figure out how!

When two decades later I led the outsourced call center channel, it became obvious in about 37 seconds that these outsourced employees working for Verizon Wireless were wild about getting a hold of some VZW gear and would be honored to wear it. They felt passionate about being ambassadors of the brand.

When in doubt invest in the tee-shirts.

Effective brands are built from the inside out. Clever brands build the external engagement. Lasting brands build internal and external excitement concurrently.  What steps could you take to build an army of brand advocates?

One Thing to Eliminate From Every Job Description

I asked a group of managers (coming from a variety of industries and positions) “What do you think most bosses want from their employees?” They reached quick consensus: responsiveness, self-sufficiency, creativity, and candor topped the list (with a beautiful argument about the pros and cons of compliance).

I then asked, “How do you know what YOUR manager wants?” The responses were more varied and cryptic.

“You’ve got to watch for clues.”

“You learn by trial and error.”

“You’ve got to watch their body language.”

“You learn what not to do when others screw up.”

“Or worse, I learn when I screw up.”

And then the obvious question. “How do you think your team learns what you expect?” Crickets. Apparently mind-reading is a common, yet invisible requirement in many job descriptions.

How much time would we save if we were more explicit about what we want and need?

How much energy could be diverted to actually working on the work, rather than guessing what’s on one another’s minds?

  • “A response to my questions within  12 hours is vital. Let me explain why. We had this client _________.”
  • “I travel a lot so I’m going to count on you to make some important decisions when I’m in the air. Let me explain my process of evaluating a good decision.”
  • “There are some areas where I expect 100% compliance. All security standards must be followed at all times and we never jeopardize a customer’s private information.” In other areas I’m all for creativity and experimentation. I expect you to push back when something feels stupid. Let me tell you about a time _______.”

You know what you want and need. Your employees know what they need in order to meet your expectations. Imagine the possibilities with just a little more communication?

7 Questions to Improve Your Team's Communication

Nothing will improve your team’s productivity faster than better communication. Having a deliberate process and cadence of communication will save hours of lost time, productivity and drama.

If you don’t have a formal plan, or haven’t spoken with your team recently about how communication is going, it’s worth taking the time to communicate about communication. Gather your team together for a focused hour and talk about the questions below, and then build your plan. It’s helpful to revisit the strategy once a month to see how it’s working and determine if anything needs to be revised.

7 Questions to Improve Your Team’s Communication

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
-George Bernard Shaw

1. What’s working/not working?

Start with the basics.

  • What is working well about the way we are currently communicating?
  • Where is co​mmunication breaking down?
  • What do we need to be talking about more? Less?

2. Who are our stakeholders and what do they care about?

Giving your stakeholders the right amount of information how and when they want it reduces their anxiety and gets them off your back. And let’s face it, when you stay in front of the need-to-know curve, you look smart.

If you don’t know what your boss (or her boss) really wants to know–ask. Also if you produce and distribute reports and updates, it’s often wise to ask who’s looking at them. I knew one manager who just stopped sending all the mandatory reports his team was producing for three months, and no one noticed! I’m not suggesting this approach, but a quick check-in may save you some valuable time.

3. What more information do you need from me?

Start with you to ensure you’re giving the team everything they need. Then it’s good to go around the room and have everyone ask this question. Be sure you’re clear on what you need from each team member and what they need from one another.

4. How will we use email?

If you haven’t talked about this explicitly, I’m sure there are strategies you could use to be more impactful.

5. When will we meet (in person or by phone) and why?

Every meeting should have a purpose (tied to improving results or relationships). If the purpose of some of your meetings is simply to update, brainstorm alternative communication strategies.

6. How will we ensure our meetings are effective?

Talk about the best way to monitor meeting effectiveness (see meeting NPS). Do you start each meeting with clear objectives and desired outcomes? Do you stick to the agenda? Are action items clearly documented with responsible parties and follow-up dates?

7. How will we resolve conflict?

Talking about how you’ll address conflict and disagreements before you have one can go a long way in improving team dynamics. Agreeing in advance that you’re open to feedback and the best way to deliver it will also help promote healthy dialogue. Introduce tools such as the expectations matrix to help structure discussion.

So many teams settle for good communication when it could be great. Or worse, assume miscommunication is just part of working in a team. Checking in on the process every now and then will reap huge dividends in future productivity.