What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

Do you really need to be sold on the importance of communication in the workplace (or anywhere for that matter)?

poor communication leads to the dinosaurs missing the ark with the quote "Oh my God, was that today?"This is one of my areas of passion. My degree is in Organizational Communications and it included an intensive study of a real organization to observe and comment on its communication practices.

No matter the organization there were two things I see in common in regards to communication.

  • One is that we tend to think our organization is great at communication.
  • The other is that we think that until we discover it’s not. We discover it either through a Communications Audit or through trials we experience because communication breaks down.

And it will break down. Trying to stay lean and agile while also fostering growth inevitably leads to breakdowns in communication. We must know where the breakdown occurs and why in order to fix it.

Why Communication Breaks Down.

1.We Think Our Communication is Totally Clear

You, me, everyone of us approach any situation from our own personal point of view. When we are communicating with others, what comes out is not just words. It is also background and knowledge, experiences, and viewpoints. So we talk with words and phrases and sometimes even abbreviations and acronyms that make perfect sense to us but are meaningless to others.

“I don’t know why you don’t get it, I’m made it as clear as can be!”

Been there, done that. Probably you have too. I’ve been on the other side of that too.

Think about how to express the thoughts without the use of jargon. Also think about how your point of view translates to others.

2. Making Assumptions

Along the same lines as clarity is making assumptions.

We assume they understand.

Or that they have the same knowledge set we have.

We may even assume that the other person or people have a certain mindset. I know I have spoken before groups where I made the dangerous assumption that they would be antagonistic. The opposite turned out to be true.

Check your assumptions before initiating conversation. Better yet, ask questions that help clarify or eliminate assumptions you have made.

3. Taking Too Long to Communicate Our Message

You ever get directions from someone who over-explains? They just kind of ramble on and on; usually providing side stories and details and minutiae. It can be hard sometimes to remember or understand the main point of the communication.

Why do people over-explain?

Strangely, I couldn’t find a lot of scientific research on this. I’m sure it’s there, I just didn’t find it. However, I did find plenty of insight on some possible reasons.

  • Guilt
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling Misunderstood
  • Lying

Another strong reason is that many people feel uncomfortable with silence. So when there is a period of silence they feel they must fill the gap and so they talk even more.  Good negotiators know this and often use it as a tactic – the rule is generally the last person to talk loses.

Become your own talented negotiator and seek for win-win communication. Be brief and to the point.

Then shut-up and let them ask for more. If they don’t, they are likely satisfied with the answer. If they do, you get the chance to provide more information for better understanding. Win-win.

4. Not Taking Long Enough

The flip side of taking too long is when we don’t give enough information. This can sometimes be a sign of deception but more often than not it is a sign of what I call “auto-complete”.

We sometimes get a thought process going in our heads that we then start putting in audible words. What happens is that the thoughts in our head complete and our mouth can’t keep up. The result of auto-complete is that the conclusion and sometimes entire thoughts get lost. We THINK we were complete and we were, but only in our minds.

If you have a tendency towards this one way to combat is to ask your audience to confirm their understanding. More specifically, ask where they got lost. That allows you to go back and complete out loud what you completed in your head.

5. Rapid Growth

When an organization experiences a high rate of growth in a short period of time, often effective communication channels become the victim. Usually they weren’t communicating that well to begin with but when you are small it doesn’t seem to matter as much. As growth occurs and more people are thrown in the mix, the lack of designed communication systems becomes glaringly obvious. Conflict abounds, productivity slows, sales get lost, and chaos ensues.

The best fix for this is prevention. At the first signs of growth, be intentional about implementing formal communication systems. I’m not talking about a phone system, I’m talking about making sure there are practices in place to ensure that information is getting shared with the right people. Have a plan yet also be prepared to modify it often.

If you wait until it actually becomes a problem, then you end up having to bring in someone like me to help you repair it. Like everything else, fixing is more expensive than prevention.

6. Emotions

Our communication needs – in fact it must have – emotional content. Emotions provide meaning and emphasis to what would otherwise be just words.

The danger of emotions is when we let them get away from us. Either we are so passionate about our message that we get over-excited or more commonly we allow someone else’s words to emotionally charge us.

Actor and Martial Artist Bruce Lee addressed this while instructing a young student in the movie Enter the Dragon.  He tells the student to perform a kick and then criticizes his lack of emotional content. When the student, upset at the criticism, tries again, Bruce chides him that emotional content and anger are not the same thing.

We need emotion to create connection. The wrong emotion or too much emotion prevents connection.

If you are the speaker, make sure your emotion matches the meaning. If you are the listener, try to keep yourself from reacting emotionally at least until you are sure the message is complete. Carefully consider the point before you emotionally react to it.

7. Ego

ego gets in the way of effective communicationPeople who need power will use information as a power source. The purpose of poor communication or a lack of communication is intentional then in order to keep it to themselves. He who has more information than others holds the power is the belief.

There is also a certain ego boost in being the one “in the know”. Obviously, you are revered if you know more than everyone else, right? Right?!

Ken Blanchard says that when people get caught up in their ego it erodes their effectiveness. The combination of false pride and self-doubt gives a person a distorted image of themselves. The result is a very self-centered and self-driven world where you are simply a tool to reach their purpose.

To communicate with the ego-driven person, focus on providing facts. Offer solutions, Give alternatives. Offer cooperation or invite participation. Avoid anything that would seem like a personal attack or assigning blame. Give appropriate compliments. That will help keep the ego-driven person from reacting emotionally.

If you are on the receiving end of communication from the ego, focus on the facts of what they are saying. Ask questions. Don’t allow the strong emotional content to overwhelm you. Try to get specific action items and make sure they are fully understood.

8. Insecurity

Similar to ego, when a person harbors insecurities they tend to communicate less. Either they are not sure of themselves, not sure of the message, or both. Not sharing the message is highly preferable to sharing the message and risk the threat of being criticized or reprimanded.

Reinforce that you value them and the information they have. Ask for their opinion and more importantly thank them for sharing the information. The idea here is to make sharing information more rewarding than the perceived threat.

9. Inconsistent Message

We can be as guilty of this as well as be the victim of this. This is especially a critical point for leaders. Your message must be consistent.

Want buy in to your vision? Communicate it consistently and constantly.

Looking to encourage the team to a performance goal? Measure and report it consistently.

That means you need to be sure of what that message is. If you don’t know, neither will they. This is primarily where this becomes a problem. When a leader is not really sure of what the vision is or where the goal should be, it’s tough to communicate that consistently.

Make sure of your message and then be intentional about it’s communication. Have a plan.

10. No Common Ground

For your message to reach an audience, they have to be able to understand how it relates to what they already know. This is the common ground.

Common ground is personal. Find elements of the message they can relate to. If you are communicating a sales goal, relate it to how it affects the organization AND how it impacts them directly.

Who do you remember as a great communicator? What made them great? What would you duplicate if you could in yourself and others?

Share your thoughts here or write me at psimkins@BoldlyLead.com.

And while you’re writing me, ask for a FREE copy of my e-book “12 Skills that Make You an Extraordinary Listener”.


Leadership Truly Starts at Home

The Passing of a Leader

My father, Paul F. Simkins, Sr., passed away recently after a year and half battle with cancer. He left a tremendous legacy in his chosen field, the Credit Union industry. He was a pioneer, helping lead the way in community charters. He founded an ATM network for credit unions that is now the largest in the nation. He had a national reputation in the industry. You can read more about it here in the Credit Union Times.

What follows is a trimmed down version of the remembrance I shared at his funeral. I share it here because my leadership journey began here. It is my hope you will look at the leadership lessons you can learn close to home as well. It better prepares you for the lessons you can learn elsewhere.

Remembering the Leadership Lessons

So I am up here today to make the speech you secretly hope you won’t have to make, yet deep down know one day you will.

And while I make a living making speeches, I have found this one to be one of the hardest to make. At the same time, it was one of the easiest. Hard because of the circumstances, easiest because there are so many things I could say about my father. The content is there in the life he lived but I was told to keep this short so the challenge is editing it down.

I am the namesake of Paul F Simkins Sr. Many will tell you we share more than just a name; some of it good and some not so good.

We both had to deal with sleep apnea, hypertension, and a tendency for gout. We both have had to deal with issues with our weight. Large noses run in the family. As I have joked several times recently, we tend to be a phlegmatic family. That was inherited.

Yet there is many more good things that I got than bad. The lessons I learned from my father through his words and his actions. From him I learned what to do and even what not to do. It’s these leadership lessons that stay.

Dad taught us to be faithful. Attendance and participation in church was expected and encouraged. Being an active part of the faith community was important. He built relationships with the pastors and would ask them questions and challenge them. In the end, Dad became comfortable with his pending death because, in his words, “I know where I am going.”

He taught us that family came first. Whether he was taking us on an adventure, or to baseball practice, or Boy Scouts, or dance class – sitting around the house or disciplining us he never left any doubt as to how important we were. Like most families, we had our moments but they were just that – moments. When the smoke cleared we were still family and the bond was still important. Even as we the children went off and established our own lives, much of it still revolves around the family as a whole.

Dad taught us presence. Having been involved as a teen, Dad loved Drum and Bugle Corps. When I had a chance to join one, he came along with me and participated in coaching the drum line.  I joined little league and they needed a manager for the team or there wouldn’t be a team. There was Dad. Same with Scouting. We needed a Scoutmaster or no troop. There was Dad. As a result, the influence he had was not just on me, but on dozens of other kids and adults over the years. I am a Scouter today because my son, Charlie, is passionate about Scouting and because of the lesson I learned from Dad to care for and influence others.

He was there for people in his business as well. Several managers and executives in the financial services business will acknowledge they owe their career path to Paul Simkins. He saw potential, gave them an opportunity, mentored them, and helped them to shine.

Dad taught me how to love your wife and make her a priority. As important as we children were, it was very clear to us where we stood in the pecking order. Dad’s world, first and foremost, revolved around his bride, Martha Jo – Mom to me. He was fully devoted to her, loving, affectionate, and thoughtful. I’ve tried to model that in my relationship with my wife, Sherry. You’ll have to ask her whether or not I have succeeded.

He taught us humor. Ask anyone who knew Dad and they will talk about how he was funny, entertaining, that he had a great sense of humor. One of our favorite pictures we included in the slide show is of several of his grandchildren sitting around him on the couch. He was supposed to be reading the Christmas story to them, yet in the picture all of the children are practically rolling around the floor laughing. You just know he said something – a funny voice, a funny name, something silly – that made them delight in peals of laughter. He brought humor into his workplaces and his interactions with others. He used it as a tool to connect with people and make them feel at ease around him. It speaks volumes that many of the memories shared about him revolve around that.

My father’s life was a model of how to care for, connect with, and influence others. Not a perfect model to be sure but an effective one. His influence lives on forever in my life and the lives of so many others where he made a difference.

What lessons are there for you within your family? Within your community? What have you learned that stuck with you? Share your thoughts here or email me at psimkins@BoldlyLead.com.

The Employee Engagement Survey Says….

The Employee Engagement Survey is likely the biggest FAIL in our efforts to bring people back into workforce activity.

Dissatisfied survey with red circle and pencil on textured paperIf you want evidence of this, simply look at the survey numbers. According to the 2016 Gallup Employee Engagement Report, the most any particular industry has risen in employee engagement in four years is only four points. Note that those numbers were pretty low to begin with. So we haven’t exactly made leaps and bounds.

Same Song, Different Title

The Annual Employee Engagement Survey is really just a new name for an old system. For years it was called the Annual Employee Satisfaction Survey. It was typically only done at large enterprise organizations. Siemens, Lockheed Martin, and countless others would produce a survey every December. They would then spend so much time compiling the feedback; guaranteeing that the results were dated and no longer valid. At that point they do it all over again.

What’s the old adage about insanity?

Isn’t it doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

The outcome is that the newly named survey gets the same results as it did before.

Think about it. Have you ever really had a company announce a positive initiative based on last month’s employee survey? If you did, it was likely a small company.

Here are some reasons Annual Employee Engagement Surveys don’t work:

  1. The word ANNUAL

    Determining where your employee engagement stands cannot be successful if only done once a year. It’s hard to be agile when your measurement of progress and direction is so infrequent. What if you conducted a survey quarterly instead of annually? How about monthly?

  2. They ask the wrong questions

    Typical questions asked on the survey are things like “Are you happy in your work?”, “How do you rate your supervisor?”, “What’s the one thing you would change about your job?”, “Do you think you have a future here?”

    The first question is irrelevant because happiness is not your job. An employee can be unhappy and still be engaged. It’s better when they are happy AND engaged, but that’s their choice and not a factor you can affect.

    The second question is usually given using a scale of some sort. What makes it useless is that one person’s 7 is another person’s nine or five. Unless very well defined criteria is given, scales aren’t very useful.

    The third question is limiting on the one hand and ambiguous on the other. It allows for too many different answers; making it hard to get a consensus and also most answers can’t be implemented. Better to ask about specific initiatives that are already in the works or in place.

    The fourth question is not really applicable anymore, particularly with Millennials in the workplace. In general, they can’t imagine a long-term future anywhere, good or bad. With few exceptions, the days of long-term, single-company employment are over. Why ask about it?

  3. They ask the wrong people

    Most surveys are voluntary; heaven help you if it isn’t. Most of the people who voluntarily take engagement surveys are the ones who are already engaged. The disengaged – the ones you hope to actually learn something about – are not very open to taking a survey, because they don’t believe anything positive will come out of it. Think about ways to directly reach the disengaged – I guarantee you it won’t be through a survey. It requires a personal touch.

  4. They are not trusted

    We are going to use the results of this survey to improve the work environment.
        “Yeah, sure!”

    You will be totally anonymous on this survey. No one will know what results you submitted.

    A whopping 80% of employees, according to one study, do not believe there will actually be a positive outcome to an employee engagement survey.In addition, they don’t believe they will actually remain anonymous and believe they may face repercussions from their responses. Usually, they are right on both counts.

    As a trainer, I have asked hundreds of groups to complete course evaluation surveys for me. I read every one of them, usually immediately after the class. I can look through them and identify exactly who completed it based on responses and my memory of their attitude and behavior.

    If trust does not exist to begin with, the survey will not improve it; in fact, it will break it down even farther.

  5. No real commitment from executive level management

    The upper management is willing to put out a survey but not willing to dedicate themselves to taking action. They would rather wait and see what the responses are. From that point they either say “that’s nice” or “what should we do now?” That leads to the last reason.

  6. There is no action plan

    When there is no commitment there is no plan. For a survey to be effective, you must have a pre-determined plan of how to analyze the responses and act upon the results. Too many times we spend a lot of time and money creating the survey but very little for making it productive for our organization. What good is it to know about a problem if we have no idea what we are going to do about it? It’s money thrown to the wind.

Step up and Boldly Lead

Most organizations are implementing or allowing some sort of social media now. Microsoft Office 365 has a social media feature in it. Many organizations are using SharePoint. It’s possible to create private social media pages for your company or initiative.  What if you used that medium for reaching your employees in a more real-time manner?

How about a question of the week? Ask about their opinion on a very specific project or service for employees; no more than 2-3 questions. It’s quick and easy, it’s engaging, and it’s actionable.

Throw the surveys out. Step up and Boldly Lead. Gauge your employee engagement by being more engaging.

[tweetthis]Gauge your employee engagement by being more engaging.[/tweetthis]

How have you see surveys work (or not work) in the past? What’s the funniest or dumbest question you have ever seen on a survey? Share your thoughts here or email me at psimkins@BoldlyLead.com.

Growth Occurs Out of Change

The hardest decisions we make are the ones that can lead to the greatest growth.

Our family enjoys our Tower Gardens. We buy very little produce at the store now because of what we get off the towers. Lettuces, tomatoes, bell peppers, herbs, strawberries, and eggplant among many others. It all grows in large quantities when we pay a little attention to them.

pruning helps your garden be more fruitfulMaintenance of the garden somehow became primarily my realm. One of the things I have to do is trim back plants, calledpruning“. The idea is that you can help a plant become more fruitful by cutting back dead leaves and branches as well as areas where branches are growing out too much. When the plant doesn’t have to spend a lot of energy trying to maintain dead or overgrown branches, it can focus instead on flowering and growing it’s fruit.

The Struggle to Change

I have a hard time with pruning back, especially when the plant seems to be doing so well. Like my eggplant. LIttle buds all over the place that can potentially turn into eggplant. While I KNOW that pruning back is necessary to foster growth and make the remaining fruit better, I also deal with the hesitation of making the wrong choice and ruining the whole dynamic of the plant. I am afraid if I make the wrong choice that somehow I will kill the plant.

Realistically, I know the only way I could really do that would be to hack the thing down to nothing. But the hesitation is there anyway. Yet hidden among all the overgrowth is sometimes a lot of fruit waiting to develop.

Where is Growth Hiding for You?

Comfort and stability are the enemies of increasing our team productivity and growth. As our team becomes more familiar and settles into a system or process; things become more habit or rote. We no longer remember the core of who we are or what we are; we simply keep doing it because it looks good and feels good. We may be bearing some fruit but not as much as we could be or should be.

[tweetthis hidden_hashtags=”#BoldlyLead” display_mode=”box”]Comfort and stability are the enemies of increasing our team productivity.[/tweetthis]

As a leader we should spend more time looking for the indicators that we have gotten too comfortable. When productivity starts to level off, new ideas are not coming forward as often, and statements like “that’s not the way we do it.” pop up, it’s time to look at how things can change.

Pruning for Growth

This is time to break out those pruning shears and start to work. And guess where you are going to start?

Take a look at how you might be causing or contributing to the current situation. Are you engaged in any practices that you have comfortably settled in to? Are you hesitant to elicit or support change for fear of disturbing the status quo? Have you moved away from the open door to suggestions and ideas?

Prune back those areas within yourself to more readily see where things can be improved. The more you can see, the easier the pruning becomes for the rest of the process.

Keep in mind that when we talk about pruning back, we are almost never talking about pruning back people but rather what the people do. In fact, it’s usually the opposite; instead of looking at who we can do without we look for how we can have them provide more. How can we can the most out of the strengths of our team members? What do we need to change for that to happen?

eggplant from our tower gardenHidden Fruit

If you want to know the outcome of the eggplant pruning, I forced myself to do a little bit of cutting back on the overgrowth. Not a lot, just a little. Hidden behind all that overgrowth was some very hearty eggplant fruit. Who knew?

Where do you see the need for pruning back for yourself? How about for your team or organization?

Share your thoughts here or you can email me at psimkins@BoldlyLead.com

Double-Dose of Leadership

John C. MaxwellWe had the benefit at the 2014 L2:Learn-Lead simulcast to hear from John C. Maxwell twice.  He opened the proceedings, which I documented in the post Why Leaders are Learners – Part I, and then closed it with another talk.  This was an excellent close for many, who left raving about what they learned from this.  I did too!

Leaders are Learners By What They Ask Themselves

John emphasized that the first place he looks to ask questions is to ask questions of himself.  The questions we ask ourselves direct us — and sometimes re-direct us — to keep us focused on our vision and goals.  They help us determine if we are improving, if we are making an impact, and if we are truly leading.
Asking yourself questions on a regular basis helps keep the main thing the main thing.  It keeps us from majoring in the minors and getting lost in the details.  It helps us maintain a big picture view.

Three Questions to Ask Yourself

1.  Am I investing in myself?
When we take time, energy, and money to invest in our own growth, we prepare ourselves to lead more effectively, to be a more productive contributor, and primarily to unlock more of the potential in others.
[snaptweet]It doesn’t get any better for my people until it gets better for me.[/snaptweet]
This requires DAILY, INTENTIONAL growth.  I call it being a 1%er.
[snaptweet]Focus on growing yourself by just 1% a day.[/snaptweet]  That seemingly small 1% compounds quickly and soon you find yourself doing great things before you realize it.
Three Investment Indicators
  1. MY SELF-IMAGE – How do I perceive myself?  Do I truly believe in myself?  Quickly gauge yourself on this on a scale of one to ten.  Where are you?
  2. MY DREAMS – Do I have BIG dreams of what I want to achieve?  Are they scary and yet exciting?  Quickly gauge yourself on this on a scale of one to ten.  Where are you?
  3. MY FRIENDS – The Law of Environment kicks in here.  Are the people around you encouraging and uplifting?  Do they challenge you?  Do they add value to you?  Are you able to encourage, uplift, challenge, and add value to them?  Quickly gauge yourself on this on a scale of one to ten.  Where are you?
We will only invest in ourselves if we can honestly rate ourselves high in these areas.
2.  Am I investing in the right people?
  1. Do they influence others?  Who do they influence?  How many do they influence?
  2. Do they have potential to grow?
  3. What is their attitude and competence level?
  4. Chemistry Factor – Do they fit into the formula?  Do I like them?  Do others like them?
  5. Passion Factor – Do they have a genuine passion for what they do?  Are they motivated?
  6. Character Factor – Do their character traits fit in with the character traits I desire for my team?  Are they grounded?  Trustworthy?
  7. Values Factor – Are their values compatible with the team or organization (or my) values?  Critical to have this for the right culture within your team or organization.
[snaptweet]Culture eats vision for lunch![/snaptweet]
  1. Team Work Factor – Are they able to fit in and perform well as part of the whole?  Or are they a lone wolf?
  2. Support Factor – Are they supportive of other team members and organization objectives?  Can they support and complete me?
  3. Creative Factor – Can I count on them to seek out creative solutions to challenges?  Can they find possibilities out of impossibilities?
  4. Options Factor – Can they give me options?
  5. Ten Percent Factor – Can they give me the last 10%?  All the fruit is in the last 10%.  Can they stay for the harvest?
3. Am I genuinely interested in people?
Leaders see more than others see and see before others see.  Do I really care for others?  If so, I can use my advantage to add value to others.  If not, I will only use it to add value to me.

Where did you find yourself on this?  What questions do you ask yourself regularly?  Do you set aside time to think?

Add your thoughts and comments below.