Dialogue Flows

Why does the CEO of a major bank want to ban powerpoint? Why are our traditional approaches to leadership, management, marketing, sales and PR less effective? Why don’t employees get more engaged when we explain why they should be? Why do political pitches get shorter and simpler but no more effective? Why do fixed knowledge management hierarchies disappoint users? Why don’t our customers or community understand us better?

Talking at

We talk at people. We don’t talk with them.

Our traditional methods of communication and exchange of knowledge talk at people. We have been taught to see communication as:

Who

Says What

To Whom

In What Channel

To What Effect?

– Laswell’s model of communication

This model of communication sees communication as a single transaction moving my stock of knowledge to you. That’s not a dynamic flow or a two-way exchange of information. It is the one-time relocation of a given stock of information, whether you want it or not. Because the transfer is one way there’s no chance to improve the knowledge or the process.

We can’t blame the failure of this approach on bad luck when it has little regard for whether someone wasn’t paying attention, didn’t need that information or doesn’t understand it.

Talking with

In a connected world we no longer have the luxury of talking at people and ignoring their understanding or replies. We may design our organisations to ignore their responses but failure to discuss now has consequences. Someone will be prepared to listen to the replies of your employees, customers and community, even if it is only the other members of that group. Over time others will listen better, learn faster and new competitors will be born.

Dialogue has far more power. Working together to share and use knowledge in flight builds community and deepens understanding. Critically, the conversations that build a shared understanding also create a rich shared context on the knowledge. In many cases, the context proves more valuable than the information exchanged. If these conversations occur out loud, everyone’s understanding benefits.

Begin a new Dialogue

Start a new conversation today on a project that matters to you.  Start with someone else’s purposes, concerns and circumstances. Talk with them and learn. Your turn to share will come and it will be richer for the dialogue.

What do you need to discuss?

The Creative Conflict of the Eclectic

“Chief among our gains must be reckoned this possibility of choice, the recognition of many possible ways of life, where other civilizations give a satisfactory outlet to only one temperamental type, be he mystic or soldier, businessman or artist, a civilization in which there are many standards offers a possibility of satisfactory adjustment to individuals of many different temperamental types, of diverse gifts, and varying interests.” – Margaret Mead

The Creative Conflict of the Eclectic

As a singer, writer, actor and more Nick Cave is a prolific and creative artist. Part of his creative potential flows from his long list of influences, if this partial list is anything to go by. The creative power of an eclectic list of influences from a variety of fields, genres and schools of thought is that it offers us the contrast & conflicts that enable us to push our work beyond its normal range. The ability to span a wider range of influences and to embrace ongoing conflict of schools of thought is an important part of why culture moves forward when management often sits still.

A wide range of inspirations & inputs offers us views that shatter our hallucinations and draw in the perspectives of the wider communities around us. Ideas profit by the testing of conflicting view points and the demands of additional stakeholders.

As Margaret Mead suggests in the quote above, we need diverse roles and viewpoints to be able to realise the creative potential of all people. We need diverse sources of conflict to see the world as it isAverages & standards constrain us. We need to leverage the creative potential of all human capabilities. In our organisations and our approaches to personal knowledge mastery, we need to resist the temptation to associate with similar people and to be drawn to the bubble of our own reflected opinions. We need to engineer difference of views and the conflict that flows from it.

The leadership task is not alignment without conflict. The work of leadership is alignment before, during and after conflict. In a world of continuous change, the conflict is inevitable. We must choose to embrace it.

But Conflict Must Change Work

Conflict and debate can be captivating. Generating new ideas and thoughts is often an extraordinarily exhilarating process. Creativity is itself an occupation for many.

Most organisations need more than creativity. They need change that can create new value.  The delivery of better value in its widest sense is what matters. That takes new and better ways of working.

Let the conflicts and the inspiration catch you in the process of making a little change. At that moment, there is a far better chance of inspiring some new form of value.

Inspiration exists but it has to find us working – Pablo Picasso

The New to Social Executive: Actions to Get Ready

As a senior executive starting to use social collaboration there will be a little nervousness when you engage at first, unless you are supremely confident or incredibly extroverted. You need opportunities to practice your new mindsets and learn new skills of social collaboration before you hit the main game. Even if you are confident and extroverted, you may need practice, because you may need to learn to adjust to the expectations of others.

Here are a few actions to help the new-to-social executive to get ready for the art of social collaboration: 

  1. Start by being social: The technology is just a facilitator of conversations. Do you go out of your way to have social conversations in your organisation now? Are you mentoring and helping others across the organisation now? When did you last have a coffee meeting with no agenda? It is no good running chats on twitter or posting think pieces on Linkedin, if you don’t talk to your own employees or customers in the foyer. Start using your new social mindsets and engaging a wider audience in other ways first.
  2. Choose a purpose: When starting out in social collaboration, focus helps build reasons for connection.  Choose the one topic on which you want to start to engage purposefully with others. If you can’t think of anything else, choose one of your corporate strategy, meeting talented people or better understanding customers. Add these topics to your everyday conversations and your team. Refine your purpose as you go. Eventually this purpose will flower into a personal manifesto.
  3. Reflect & Start to share your learnings: New-to-social executives often say “But what do I have to say?”. The things that you share are going to come from the interactions in your day and responses to the activity of others. Reflect on what you experience and read each day. Start to take some notes about what these experiences mean for you and what you learn (Tools like Evernote are handy for this). Those insights are ideas that you can share. Explain to others how these ideas came about. They might seem minor to you but to others without your experience your thought process can be incredibly valuable. Over time this will become a form of Personal Knowledge Management where you constantly refine what you read, capture insights, and also learn how you share your insights with others.
  4. Test the influence of your insights: Most senior executives are used to their teams listening to their words. Social audiences are busy with many competing voices. You may need to test how influential your ideas are before you debut them to a wider and more discerning audience. You may need to adjust your style of communication. Social favours the short, sharp and punchy. Run some tests sharing your thoughts in a variety of different means through email, internal social posts, voluntary talks or blogging internally. Measure the response and seek feedback. Use that feedback to refine your style and your messaging. 
  5. Start Working Out Loud in your Enterprise Social Network:  There is no better place to practice social collaboration than in your organisation’s Enterprise Social Network.  You will be practising in front of an audience that is well aware of your fame, power and influence. They will be forgiving. Use your enterprise social network to start to practice Working Out Loud. Develop new habits that you can carry over to external social media. Make sure you get the network’s mobile applications so that you can easily access, share and respond to others as you go about your busy life. Most important of all, learn the lessen that the value of social collaboration grows with your consistency and your effort.

From that point on there are plenty of experts that tell you how to use Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and other social tools for business.

Search, experiment and keep the practices that work for you 

This is the second of two short posts on tips for the senior executive looking to move into using social collaboration tools inside and outside the enterprise. This post deals with actions to get you started. The previous post dealt with mindsets.

The Power of Collaboration

I was recently chatting to a doctor who described to me why she still works in emergency rooms well after others may have chosen to retire from a successful career. These days she sees fewer patients but she still plays a critical role in the functioning of a ward.

Her role is to contribute to management of the ward and most important of all she shares her wisdom and experience with her colleagues. She is a sounding board for opinions, guides the choice of tests and scans, helps read charts, and generally available to consult and guide others in the high pressure and high stress environment of an emergency room.

Where is the special value in access to advice and experience vs more hands-on work?

Well, the hospital asked the same question. Hospital budgets are tight and they need to be allocating their resources carefully to produce the best outcomes. Rather than assume an answer the hospital looked at the data and compared the time patients waited and the outcomes for the whole ward on the days the experienced doctor worked versus the other shifts. To everyone’s surprise, there was a dramatic improvement when she was working and advising her colleagues. Wait times for patients were significantly reduced on those shifts. In an emergency ward that time makes a big difference.

Adding a doctor to the shift who had a career of experience and had accumulated years of tacit knowledge made the entire system of the emergency ward perform better. Doctors took less time over their decisions and needed less often to wait to interrupt a busy colleague to get advice. That matters a great deal when many of the decisions are time critical and life threatening.

This is not a story about skills. All the doctors are smart, passionate and talented. They made their own decisions on what to do and when they needed advice. The ward is always well run, but it runs better with the opportunity for more collaboration. What mattered was that the opportunity for collaboration and access to greater experience, improved the outcomes by speeding the exchange of knowledge in the ward.

Tacit knowledge and experience matters to speed and to outcomes in knowledge work. Knowledge is a flow and comes from interactions between people with diverse experiences. Being able to draw on more of these interactions can save a great deal of rework and mitigation of doubts and concerns.

How do you enable sharing of knowledge and experience?

This story resonated deeply with me because I have both benefited from the advice of others and spent a significant part of my time sharing my experience with others. Knowledge work is a growing share of most developing economies (around 40% in Australia, US and EU) In my experience, the use of experience and advice in knowledge work is often undervalued by organisations and they rarely consider the impact of advice and counsel on team performance. This story was a great example of an organisation that measured that impact and saw a dramatic result.

There are a few lessons from this story that apply to all organisations:

  • Recognise that in knowledge work the discussion, debate, advice and counsel is part of the work: Many organisations take an industrial view of knowledge work. If there’s not an immediate tangible final output it is waste. That means any conversations in and around the process of work are seen as waste. It is a common misguided criticism of enterprise social media – ‘why is there so much talk? shouldn’t people be working?’ They are working if they are improving their understanding, gathering insights, learning and solving problems more quickly. That a is all knowledge work. Importantly, that learning is permanent and shared.
  • Design ways of work, teams and connections to leverage experience and other forms of tacit knowledge: People with experience, shortcuts and life lessons can be an invaluable part of the team. Their prior experience as a part of a conversation with the team can accelerate progress and reduce risk. The smartest, most talented and most energetic bunch of people in the world are better with a wise advisor. Drawing out tacit knowledge into conversation improves others learning. Make plans to leverage this. Foster mentoring, make it OK to ask others and build an advice culture. Social collaboration tools are a great start.  
  • Use data, not assumptions, to determine the contribution of individuals to their groups and teams: Individual performance is usually easily measured. It takes a little more effort to understand the contribution of people to group performance. As many organisations have learned to their detriment, the person underpinning team performance may be the person with less visibility but who is sharing the most.

PS Don’t forget the value of diversity too: Another key lesson is the power of leveraging older workers, especially female role models. There may be benefits you have not considered in a greater diversity of experience. This takes effort from organisations to create flexible roles that suit their interests and passions and a work environment to which they want to contribute. With the changing demographics of an ageing workforce, this is an important consideration for all employers.

We need shared context

If you are struggling to get your message across it might not be the message, it might be the context.

You are an expert.  You might be an universally recognised expert, have some special qualifications or you just might be the person who best understands your job, your customers or a problem.  That better understanding of some context, however narrow, makes you an expert.

Any form of work or collaboration will require you to use your expertise. That expertise can also be a barrier to communication and collaboration.  Your challenge is that others don’t share your unique context.  

Unless you share a context, others won’t be able to understand what you are doing or what you want to share.  If we don’t share enough context, we can’t see things, trust or understand what experts tell us.

Here’s a simple example.  Start working with a new group of people and you will find people are speaking incomprehensible new acronyms or using buzz phrases you don’t know. The group knows their history and you don’t. That group has a context and you are not part of it. Until you learn enough of their context and share enough of your own, you won’t be able to follow conversations or contribute.  The friction and surprises will undermine your confidence and potentially your trust in the group.

So how do you make sure others share your context & your expertise?

  • Work aloud: Sharing what you are seeing and doing with your connections enables them to pick up your context.  You don’t need to push it on them, but they can pull what you share when needed
  • Ask questions: The questions that you ask will be some new ones and obvious ones.  The fact that you are asking will enable you to explain a little of your context in response.
  • Be curious and generous: There is no right or wrong context.  Explore the context others have. Ask them to tell your their stories and share your own in reply.  Learn more in the process about what you may not have seen and also how your expertise can help others

On Sound Bites

Complexity is increasing. People demand simpler messages. How can leaders deliver?

Jacob Burckhardt, a Swiss historian of the 19th century, described the paradox that as material conditions improve, complexity increases, but so does that demand for simplicity. Increasing complexity creates a growing social appeal of simple messages and solutions.  Society is exposed to the risk of increasing appeal in the messages of demagogues who promise simplicity often at the cost of tyranny, ‘terrible simplifiers’. We need only look to the ideologies of last century or our current politics and media to see the pull of overly simple messages.

Modern leaders face this challenge daily. Easy jobs get done. The challenges leaders face are complex, networked and moving rapidly. All stakeholders want simple easy solutions. Deliver a sound bite and the leader’s work is done.

We should all communicate as simply and concisely as possible. We also know overly simple messages can mislead, be disengaging or be counterproductive. When simplicity does not deliver solutions or when the stakeholders craves a simplicity that is not yet possible, how does a leader progress?

Converse, Don’t Communicate: Politicians speak in sound bites to fit a traditional media broadcast mentality. Leaders can use a range of tools to foster a richer and ongoing conversation. Encourage questions, debate and engagement. Conversations cover complexity more efficiently than any prepared speech.

Talk Purpose, Not Plan: A purpose can and should be simpler than a plan of action. A key role of a leader is to connect stakeholders in a common & worthwhile purpose. People united in purpose are more engaged and more collaborative. Purpose helps people work through complexity. Use your leadership communication to engage people in a simple common purpose.  Better to let the group build a plan together and address the many complexities when united around a simple purpose.

Use Immersion, Not Information: Complex scenarios can be hard to express and share.  Resist the temptation to cut the problem down to a soundbite of fact or a single measure to improve. Show people the situation and let them immerse themselves in the experience. The action is simple but people’s takeaways will be far more complex.

Offer Confidence, Not Certainty: Confidence and certainty are often confused. Leaders can be confident in the capabilities of a group, but uncertain as to the path or the outcome. Offering certainty where it cannot exist is a path of disappointment and deceit. If you cannot express confidence, then the first task is to do what is necessary to do so.

Be Credible, Not Consistent: Complex systems change. Solutions and conversations need to iterate. Conversations should involve learning. Holding to a consistent position in the light of changing facts is likely to be inflexible at best and damaging to credibility at worst. Building trust by building your credibility & capability as a leader is more important than holding to a consistent position for the sake of simplicity. Bear in mind that if you have engaged others in conversation, they will understand the rationale for the change in position for they will have experienced the debate.

We can all communicate more simply. We should. However, we must not trade simplicity for effectiveness as leaders. Even these simple approaches are likely to fail in some circumstances. Leaders must continue the challenge of finding simple ways to engage people in solving the most complex problems.

Communications or Engagement

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. – George Bernard Shaw

The traditional mindsets in corporate communications come from the historical use of traditional media. Without return channels, the focus of communication is around reach and frequency of the messages to influence an audience. There is little if any discussion in traditional media unless you make it happen. The speaker has control. The mindset focuses on perfecting a message and deploying it at the right time and channel with minimal distraction.

Increasingly, you see discussion of tips and tricks on how social media can be used in this broadcast way. The mindset of traditional media is being carried across to social. In a related point, we still see debate on whether individuals or organisations should use this channel for their outbound messages.  Many senior executives see social as another optional channel for their outbound messages.

image

However, social media is not a one-way medium. It is more than a two-way medium too. Conversations move in all directions in the network at the choice of the recipient. That’s more than an extra or useful feature. It changes the game.

Suddenly real engagement of your audience matters. Social media is not just another way to get a message out. Your audience’s actions to reply comment and share are critical to how your message spreads in a network. Messages without engagement die quickly.  Engagement can dramatically change the meaning of the message.  

We need an engagement mindset in a social media communication strategy, internally or externally. Social media is most valuable as a way to connect, engage, collaborate and build on ideas with the feedback and input of others. Social media enables community building, advocacy and creating real movements. Asking for input shows respect, deepens relationships and builds connection.

Importantly, that engagement goes on whether you choose to participate or not. The network of customers, employees and community does not require your presence or your message to discuss you or what they want to discuss. They are in control and you need to respect that.

To get the most out of social media remember to focus on the engagement to create real communication between the members in your community. 

Talk Like a Customer

Every moment of every customer or employee experience matters. Talk like a real person, your customer. What you say sends a big signal.

We all know the moment. The moment a starts talking generic corporate speak to us. Often we are so used to these meaningless generic moments they are almost a parody

– “we apologies for the inconvenience”
– “your call is important to us”
– “because your safety is important to us…”
– “our operators are waiting for your call”
– “it’s not personal”
– “policy says…”
– “buy now and as a special offer we will throw in free steak knives”
– “satisfaction guaranteed”
– “have you tried restarting the computer”
– “thank you for your business”
– “is there anything I can help you with”
– “operational issues require…”
– “the assets of this business walk out the door at the end of each day”
– and many more

Don’t use these words. Stop. Every moment you use a generic phrase you remind customers and your people that you are just like everyone else. Every time an employee has to say one of these things you run a big risk that they stare blankly into space and disengage from the customer and from you. You have declared to your customers and employees that there is absolutely nothing special or unique about you.

Customers don’t talk this way. They say things they mean in their own words. They are real people. You should be real people too.

Leaders reach magic in people

The great leaders are like the best conductors – they reach beyond the notes to reach the magic in the players.” – Blaine Lee

As a board member of Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, I have had the opportunity over the last 5 years to witness the power of leadership in drawing out the magic of exceptional personal and team performance. In that time, I have learned a great deal about leadership from William Hennessy, MCO’s exceptional Artistic Director.

MCO performs works both conducted and unconducted.  A group from 8-30 performers is led either from a conductor’s podium or from within the orchestra.  However the group is led, you see five elements demonstrated by the leaders in the best performances:

Passion:  A great leader brings passion for the work, the players and for the performance.  That energy is infectious inspiring the players and will be conveyed to the audience.  This passion is inspired by a sense of creative purpose and a will to create excellence.

Preparation: Preparation runs from design of the program years in advance through rehearsals to the minutes before performance.  Quality of preparation for performance is key to the results of the group.  An audience only gets one chance to hear a great performance. Every thing must be done beforehand to maximise that outcome.   

Attention:  Great performances just don’t happen.  They are shaped by a meticulous attention to the detail.  No leader goes through the motions or relies on their big picture view of the desired result.  Leadership of an orchestra cannot be outsourced.  As lean organisations where everyone must pull their weight, the leader of an orchestra must pay attention to every aspect of performance to lead a great result.  Their eyes and ears are constantly alert to the detail of the work and to their next intervention.

Communication: A leader does not need words to communicate.  A tempo & level of performance can be set by role modelling.  Coaching can be made with a glance or movements of the body.  However delivered, the communication is continuous and two-way.  Leaders receive feedback from the players in the same way and use that to shape the group together in a great performance.  The leader is looking to ensure that the whole orchestra remain together at the peak of performance in the work.  

Effort: Leadership of an orchestra is not a passive endeavour.  It is physically and mentally demanding work.  Beginning well before performance in planning and rehearsal this effort continues through until after the audience has left the hall.   You don’t lead an orchestra through hierarchical position.  You lead through sustained physical engagement with the players and music.  It is not uncommon to see a musician using every spare moment to practice for a piece.  The same applies to their leaders.  

All leaders can learn from other domains.  Come see MCO perform and be surprised by the magic of leadership in another domain.

Don’t confuse the tool with the result

We all use tools each day. Don’t let the tools takeover.

Many years ago I was lucky enough to experience on a sailing class on Sydney harbour. A spectacular location for sailing and we were all very excited by the opportunity to spend an afternoon on the water. Some of the men in the group were particularly excited that the yacht had grinders. Grinders winch the sheets that set the sails like on the yachts we had seen in the America’s Cup and Sydney to Hobart ocean races.

Our veteran instructor had seen that enthusiasm for grinders before. He had one simple piece of advice before we started. ‘Always remember’, he said placing a hand on the grinder ‘this is the tool.’ he then pointed to the great expanse of sail fluttering in the breeze and said ‘That is your result’. Suffice to say he had to gesture and shout ‘tool’ and ‘result’ more times that day before everyone got the message that the object was not to grind furiously. The purpose was to set the sharpest sail for best performance in the wind.

I have seen that experience many times. People can lose sight of their purpose and what generates performance. When that happens, they often furiously work their tools for their own sake. The role of leaders is to shift the focus from working on tools immediately at hand to the point of work.

Let me give you some examples of tools that commonly go awry:

– The power of a brand is to generate incremental sales and returns. It is not to have the best compliance with brand guidelines. Guidelines are the tool.
– The power of customer relationship management is to enhance the value of conversations with customers. It is not to have a CRM that has every feature and tracks every unit of data.
– The power of enterprise collaboration is to allow a community to achieve some valuable purpose. It is not to have the best solution with all the features or to prevent the community from acting in an unapproved way.
– The power of visual communication is to convey ideas more easily & effectively It is not to have the coolest or most complicated PowerPoint or infographic.
– The power of a meeting is to get buy-in to a collective decision when required. It is not to produce the best or longest stack of minutes.

Next time you see someone who is confusing the tool and the result take the lead. Like the yachtsman, give them a steer in a better direction.