Communication NoiseEvery organisation knows that to be successful they need to engage their people. That’s why so much time and energy is spent on communication. Yet despite our best efforts, over 75% of people are disengaged or actively disengaged at work.

In collaboration with Mark Fuda at Seven Stories, we have identified four key factors that expand the gap between how we communicate and how people engage with that communication:

  • People speak intellectually but engage emotionally; in business we typically use intellectual rationalisation to sell what we do. We say things like “we are the biggest” or “we are the best”. The challenge is that we make decisions based on how we feel. To get people to engage you can’t just speak to the head. You have to speak to the heart.
  • Facts are hard to remember and easy to challenge; while being factually accurate is important, we don’t typically remember facts unless they are anchored to an emotion. We all know smoking kills but it is often not until we lose someone close to us as a result of smoking that we are able to kick the habit. People can also be distrusting of facts because it is often possible to find facts to support both sides of an argument.
  • If we only talk about our success people won’t believe us. Most corporate communication talks about how great things are and will continue to be, rather than acknowledging real issues and challenges. People engage with authenticity, and you can’t be authentic unless you tell the whole story.
  • If everything is important, nothing is important. Conventional thinking is “communicate more x multiple channels = greater engagement. In reality this approach results in greater NOISE. People don’t want more communication; they want meaningful communication.
  • To engage people, communications must speak to our emotions and the simplest way to achieve this is through story.

Meetings Photo 2Last week I discussed why effective meetings are so important, today I’d like to expand on that by providing some principles for making your meetings more effective.

Before you lead/engage in a meeting, ensure you:

  • Can take at least one decision; if you are having a meeting solely to share information, consider whether you can share that information another way.
  • Create a setting for success. There are five critical questions to be clear on;
    • Purpose; why are we spending our valuable time together?
    • Outcomes; what does success look like?
    • Decisions; what do we need to decide?
    • Questions; what are the questions we need to answer while we are together?
    • Impact; how do I/we want people to feel at the end of this meeting?
  • Circulate key content for the meeting well in advance; otherwise, people will spend their time in the meeting reading and reacting under pressure, rather than providing considered insights and suggestions.
  • Limit the number of attendees. Every member of a meeting should ask themselves;
    • Why am I really attending (contribution, habit, lack of trust, control, other)?
    • What is my specific contribution to the meeting?
    • Can I provide my input in advance and catch up on the outcomes afterward?

During the meeting, ensure you:

  • Set standards for the meeting; agree them at the start and measure them at the end to encourage the behaviours that you need to be successful.
  • Focus on “So what” and “Now what”; effective meetings spend no more than 15% of the time in “What” (description of the problem, issue or challenge at hand), up to 70% in “So what” (the insights, meaning and potential implications of the situation), leaving only 15% needed for “Now what” (the actions and next steps).
  • Work through a natural hierarchy of questions; structure the meeting from biggest to smallest question so that you build momentum from one decision to the next and avoid doubling back. For example, asking “what is the best strategy?” should follow “what is the outcome we want?”
  • Have rules for technology; use electronic gadgets to enable outcomes, not to divert or distract people from the agenda.
  • Lead with energy and end on schedule; with too much time, even the most unshakable decision will be reconsidered.
  • Agree next actions, responsibilities and messages; these basic disciplines encourage material outcomes from the meeting, and positively affect those downstream.

Meetings Photo

“Our leadership meetings are a good use of time.”

For 15 years now, we have tested this idea with more than 5,000 leaders, from 150 different organisations, across 4 continents. On average, these organisations score no more than 5/10. In other words, the best we can say is that the most important meetings in our organisations, attended by our most senior people, are half as effective as they could or should be.

The costs of ineffective meetings are huge. We waste the most important assets we have as leaders; discretionary time, money and talent. At a time of intense global competition, where the quality and speed of decisions can mean the difference between success and failure, 5/10 is not sustainable.

There are at least 10 benefits to increasing the effectiveness of your meetings. You:

1. Increase discretionary time; what would you do next week if you suddenly and sustainably got back 20% of your diary?
2. Reduce stress; you will get more done, in less time, with less effort.
3. Accelerate innovation; you will increase the quality, volume and frequency of strategic insight.
4. Increase speed to market; you will respond more quickly to customer needs and market opportunities.
5. Decrease cost; you will likely reduce the number of meetings and, in doing so, will dramatically reduce direct and indirect costs.
6. Increase engagement and teamwork; you will create meetings that people want to attend, and they will bring greater levels of passion and commitment every day.
7. Reinforce your desired culture; meetings are carriers of organisational culture. When meetings become demonstrably more effective, they spread a virus of energy and optimism across multiple dimensions of your organisation.
8. Increase accountability; you will create an environment where more people contribute to decisions more often, resulting in higher levels of personal ownership.
9. Provide a sense of purpose, every day; vision, mission and values statements can sometimes be viewed cynically by staff members, but productive meetings bring your aspirations to life every day.
10. Accelerate toward your aspirations; you will direct all available energy toward your goals.

Over the coming weeks I will discuss how to shift the effectiveness of your most important meetings.

black and white waterfallIn recent posts I have established ‘Why Your Values Are Not Enough’, the ’10 Benefits for Turning Your Values Into Standards’ and how to set your stakeholders up for success with a set of shared standards. But how do you define, cascade and embed those standards? Today I will provide some principles for doing just that.

To define powerful shared standards, ensure they:

  • Serve the aspirations and compliment the strategy.
  • Are simple and explicit. Avoid clichés and management jargon.
  • Can be a reference point for critical decisions.
  • Make a call to action.
  • Represent the critical few, with the biggest potential impact.
  • Represent the minimum expected behaviour, not an aspiration.
  • Balance raising the bar, with creating a game you can win.

To cascade the standards, ensure:

  • Senior leaders are living, breathing role models first. Until this happens, there is no legitimacy in asking others to commit.
  • They are cascaded via ‘in-tact’ teams, rather than cross functionally. This encourages much higher levels of mutual accountability.
  • Teams in the cascade are allowed some room to define their own standards, within agreed boundaries. This encourages ownership and relevance.
  • Some level of central coordination to ensure that particular business units or teams aren’t left behind.

To embed the standards:

  • Use them to set up and close meetings.
  • Use any discussion of the aspirations to create a connection to the standards.
  • Reflect them in your people and performance systems. If the standards and systems are in conflict, the systems will win.
  • Measure them for individuals and teams, and create forums for open and honest feedback among peers.
  • Hire, promote and fire in alignment with the standards. To emphasise this point, the single most powerful way to embed standards in an organisation is to remove a senior leader who is getting results but not living the standards.
  • Review and revitalise them periodically to raise the bar.

success image blogIn my last two blog posts I discussed the concept of turning your values into standards and the resulting benefits of doing so.

Before you begin the process to define, cascade and embed standards, it is critical to create a setting for success with the key stakeholders for this work. Below are three critical principles to set you up for success.

  • Start from the assumption that you should not make any assumptions. Your audience may not have thought deeply about this issue, or may not yet feel strongly about it. You need to have a strong collective will before you begin the actual process of turning values into standards
  • Most organisations will have more than just a list of values; they will often have descriptions or definitions for the values. These descriptions are usually not standards. It is critical to differentiate between this content, or else your standards will just look like another list.
    • A description answers the question “what does this value mean?”
    • A standard answers the question “how would you know if I was living this value/what would you see?”
  • Some organisations will have programs to support their values, and some will even have champions. These types of initiatives are very helpful in communicating what the values mean, and encouraging people to move toward them. They are not, however, a substitute for senior leaders holding each other accountable to a set of shared standards.

In next week’s post I will talk about how to define, cascade and embed standards in your organisation.

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Service ValueIn my last post I introduced the idea that your values are not enough, and in order to bring values to life in your organisation or team you need to turn them into standards.

There are at least 10 benefits to having an agreed set of standards in your team or organisation. You;

1. Create a game you can win; you will set clear and shared expectations for behaviour, rather than encouraging others to subjectively interpret what is desired.
2. Raise accountability; you cannot say to your team, “we all need to raise our values,” but you can say “we must raise our standards.” Standards are a call to action.
3. Increase momentum; leaders who subjugate their formal authority to shared standards acquire a much greater power to lead – a genuine commitment from everybody to live up to those standards.
4. Encourage simplicity, speed and autonomy; you will have guideposts that clarify and accelerate decision making, so you will have less need for policies, rules and procedures.
5. Give ‘soft stuff’ sharp edges; standards make the intangible more tangible by creating a language for concepts that may be otherwise be fluffy or esoteric.
6. Foster solutions; when you get a group of smart people with shared standards in a room, they can solve almost any problem.
7. Eliminate friction and drag; you will readily identify those who are not a good fit for your organisation. More often than not, they will identify themselves first.
8. Define your culture; you will have a clear identity that attracts like minded people and reinforces shared expectations.
9. Build trust; you will create an environment where people give each other the benefit of the doubt and move forward together, rather than get stuck in politics and silos.
10. Reach your aspirations; you will encourage the exact behaviours you need to achieve your goals.

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-0768Every organisation has values. The challenge, however, is that these are usually different from those written on the poster. To cite an infamous example, Enron’s espoused values were communication, respect, excellence and, you guessed it, integrity.

The gap between espoused values and how people actually behave in organisations is largely a function of five factors:

  • We judge ourselves by our noble intentions, but we judge everyone else by their actions. I may consider myself high on integrity because it is part of how I see myself, but if I don’t deliver on my commitments to you, you can justifiably claim that I lack integrity.
  • Values are a ‘how to’ not a ‘where to’. When you say “this is our vision and these are our values” you position them as an aspiration. You might as well say “I hope we have integrity one day.”
  • Our values are sometimes in conflict with our aspirations. We may value consistency, but if our vision is to be the most innovative company in our industry, then we have misalignment.
  • Living by stated values requires courage; it’s usually easier to go with the flow than to be clear and unapologetic about what you stand for.
  • We all have different rules that determine how we experience a particular value. Usually, these rules are unconscious and/or unspoken. In order to experience the value of respect, I may have ten things that need to happen in perfect synchronicity, while you may experience respect if team members speak politely to one another.

The simplest and most effective way to bring values to life in an organization is to turn them into standards. Standards are like the agreed rules for your values.

stay on track under pressureThis blog is about the seventh and final principle on your way to better personal effectiveness, ‘Stay on Track Under Pressure’, originally introduced in the blog ‘The 7 Principles of Personal Effectiveness’. It is important that you are working through each of the 7 Principles, and highlighting any point that represents a gap for you, or challenges your current beliefs or practices.

While the six previous principles will set you up for much greater effectiveness, the points below will help you stay on track amid the daily pressures and uncertainties of leading in a volatile and chaotic world.

I. Learn how to say no – with a smile. This is easily done once you understand that saying yes to something you shouldn’t, means saying no to something you should. Rather than long explanations, simply say “thank you for the opportunity, but I’m unable to prioritize your request/project/etc.”
II. Despite rhetoric about multi-tasking, we can only truly immerse in one task at a time. No matter how busy your day is, you can use the ‘drawers’ metaphor to stay present in each and every moment. Each time you’re with someone or about to start a task, metaphorically open that draw. At the end of the interaction/task, close the draw by deciding the very next action(s) and due date(s), then move that task/enter that meeting in your system. This approach will help you to be truly present in every interaction.
III. If you are interrupted ‘mid-drawer’, push back on the interruption. If it’s genuinely more important than what you’re doing at that moment, then take 30 seconds to close the drawer before you engage.
IV. Be a perceiver not a ‘judger’. We waste enormous amounts of time in debates about right and wrong, which is usually driven by ego. A better way is to focus on what’s helpful or unhelpful.
V. Do not allow upward delegation. If you are doing the work of your subordinates, then who is doing your work? Have a clear expectation that BEFORE subordinates come to you for help, they have thought about the respective issue thoroughly. They will evidence this by being able to; clearly and succinctly describe the situation to you, articulate why the issue is so important (meaning, consequences, risks, opportunities), have some initial thoughts about next actions, and be clear on the question(s) they have for you at that moment.
VI. Regardless of where you find yourself in any given moment, on any given day, no matter how much you dislike it, accept it as reality. Then ask; “what’s the best outcome from here?”

The seven A-D-D-R-E-S-S principles represent a proven pathway to increased personal effectiveness. The more of these principles you implement in your daily life, the more value you will create for your organization, and the more you will personally acquire the most precious asset of all: discretionary time.

You can read the other blogs associated with personal effectiveness here;
‘The 7 Principles of Personal Effectiveness’
‘Accept Responsibility (Principle #1)’
‘Define Success (Principle #2)’
‘Develop a System You Trust (Principle #3)’
‘Recruit Your Stakeholders (Principle #4)’
‘Embed Routines and Rituals (Principle #5)’
‘Steer Meetings & Interactions (Principle #6)’

For those of you who are interested in some further reading in this field of personal effectiveness, here are the key books and authors that have inspired me;

  • First Things First by Stephen R. Covey
  • Getting Things Done by David Allen
  • Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl
  • The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey
  • Image Source: Shutterstock

    meetings and interactionsThis blog is about Principle #6 on your way to greater personal effectiveness, ‘Steer Meetings and Interactions’ originally introduced in the blog ‘The 7 Principles of Personal Effectiveness’. It is important that you are working through each of the 7 Principles, and highlighting any point that represents a gap for you, or challenges your current beliefs or practices.

    Meetings and interactions consume the bulk of our working day, yet the executives in our research agree most are not a good use of time. There are three types of meetings;
    Type 1 - Those you control,
    Type 2 – Those you can influence; and
    Type 3 – Those you have no control or influence over.

    The majority of meetings fall into type 1 or 2, but we often behave like they are Type 3. Implementing the disciplines below will likely eliminate many meetings from your diary, and make the remainder shorter and far more effective.

    I. BEFORE you engage in any meeting, you should have clarity on at least four things: the purpose, outcomes, decisions and key questions that need to be answered. You should also have time in advance to read any background material relevant to the meeting outcomes and decisions. Without these basic elements, you are set up for failure before you even begin.
    II. Take 3 minutes before critical meetings to plan your impact. Answer the question: “how do I want people to feel at the end of this interaction?”
    III. Start every critical meeting reaffirming the purpose, outcomes, decisions and key questions that need to be answered.
    IV. Take 3 minutes at the end of each critical meeting to assess the effectiveness of the meeting. Ask everyone for a quick rating out of 10. If you score below 10, ask “what could you do next time to make it more effective?”
    V. All of us suffer from confirmation bias (we see and hear what we believe). At the end of every meeting, agree commitments, and ask people what they heard to ensure there is an alignment between your intentions and impact.
    VI. Implement the “What/So what/Now what” (situation/meaning/actions) framework in a roughly 15/70/15 ratio so that you are taking targeted actions based on meaningful conversations, rather than frenzied activity based on situational anxiety.
    VII. Some leaders’ worry that these disciplines could make the workplace too task focused at the expense of people. To the contrary, where these disciplines are applied thoughtfully, there is much more time available for affiliation, social interaction and the building of genuine relationships.

    How did you go with this activity? If you are effectively able to ‘Steer Meetings and Interactions’, my final blog on this subject will help you take the next step with the seventh principle of personal effectiveness; ‘Stay on Track Under Pressure’.

    You can read the other blogs associated with personal effectiveness here;
    ‘The 7 Principles of Personal Effectiveness’
    ‘Accept Responsibility (Principle #1)’
    ‘Define Success (Principle #2)’
    ‘Develop a System You Trust (Principle #3)’

    ‘Recruit Your Stakeholders (Principle #4)’
    ‘Embed Routines and Rituals (Principle #5)’

    For those of you who are interested in some further reading in this field of personal effectiveness, here are the key books and authors that have inspired me;

  • First Things First by Stephen R. Covey
  • Getting Things Done by David Allen
  • Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl
  • The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey
  • Image Source: Shutterstock

    Embed Routines and RitualsThis blog is about Principle #5 on your way to better personal effectiveness, ‘Embed Routines and Rituals’ originally introduced in the blog ‘The 7 Principles of Personal Effectiveness’. It is important that you are working through each of the 7 Principles, and highlighting any point that represents a gap for you, or challenges your current beliefs or practices.

    The smallest unit of change is a habit, and it takes about thirty days to form one. Making the routines and rituals below everyday habits will enable you to maximize your effectiveness – no matter what’s happening in your environment.

    I. Any time you have a thought that requires action, enter it into your system (phone/tablet/PC) within an existing task or, if it’s new, add a new task.
    II. Keep small pads and pens handy for all the places you may think without easy access to technology (bedside table/bathroom/car/etc). Write one thought per page, tear it off and keep it with you until you can put it into your electronic system. This is the easiest way to avoid thinking the same thought over and over again – just get it out of your head.
    III. Once you decide what the next action(s) is for any task, you have three choices; do it, delegate it, or defer it to a designated date (by simply using the date function in your system).
    IV. Batch repetitive tasks like email at pre-allocated times. Turn off the email alert function. Responding instantaneously to emails trains others to expect your immediate attention to their priorities; which often aren’t aligned with your priorities at that moment.
    V. If you are a senior leader expecting subordinates to respond instantaneously to your emails, be mindful that you may be creating a culture of urgency and anxiety at the expense of purposeful, intelligent action.
    VI. Conduct a weekly review of your diary and task list – look for patterns of success and frustration. For example, who are the people who most deserve your time? Where are you actually spending your time? If there is a gap between the two answers, and there usually is, realign your diary and task list quickly and decisively.
    VII. Limit decision fatigue, which is proven to diminish the quality of your decisions later in the day. For example, simplify your wardrobe and your meals to free up mental space for all of the other decisions in your day.
    VIII. Take a leaf out of President Obama’s book. Rather than long briefing papers, he asks for short ‘decision memos’ with 3 simple checkboxes at the bottom of the page for his response: ∆ agree ∆ disagree ∆ let’s discuss.
    IX. Each day, prioritise any (ideally all) of the following: exercise, meditation, visualisation, learning, and gratitude.

    How did you go with this activity? If you can ‘Embed these Routines and Rituals’ into your daily life, my following blog will help you take the next step with the sixth principle of personal effectiveness; ‘Steer Meetings and Interactions’.

    You can read the other blogs associated with personal effectiveness here;
    ‘The 7 Principles of Personal Effectiveness’
    ‘Accept Responsibility (Principle #1)’
    ‘Define Success (Principle #2)’
    ‘Develop a System You Trust (Principle #3)’

    ‘Recruit Your Stakeholders (Principle #4)’

    For those of you who are interested in some further reading in this field of personal effectiveness, here are the key books and authors that have inspired me;

  • First Things First by Stephen R. Covey
  • Getting Things Done by David Allen
  • Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl
  • The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey