September 19, 2011
On Leadership: 5 Tips for Improving Communication
In the super-connected times we live in, people can share every aspect of their lives in real time via social media. They can record all their personal ups and downs on their blogs. We can all call, text, or email anyone -- family, friends, coworkers, and managers -- at any time. Are you experiencing communication overload? If not, you're among the very few.
According to OfficeMax cofounder and former CEO Michael Feuer, the author of the new book "The Benevolent Dictator: Empower Your Employees, Build Your Business, and Outwit the Competition," innovations in communication sometimes make it more difficult to get your point across.
"Since we can say as much as we want in multiple forums these days, almost everyone -- including businesspeople -- provide too much information (or TMI) in their exchanges," says Feuer. "In many organizations, the art of cutting to the chase has been lost."
The lessons he has learned have convinced him that a great leader's management style should mirror that of a benevolent dictator. This, he says, is not as scary as it sounds, because the "dictator" side of you calls the shots and makes the difficult decisions, while the "benevolent" side makes sure to put the interests of the organization, your team, and your customers ahead of your own. And part of being a benevolent dictator is requiring clear, concise communication at all levels, so that key decisions can be made quickly and effectively.
Here are five of Feuer's tips for making your own communication more concise and effective, while inspiring the same communication styles in your organization:
Be clear about what you need. The first step in encouraging concise communication is to be straightforward about what you need. Don’t expect your team members to pick up on the hints that you’re dropping. (In other words, if you don't want to read between others' lines, don’t force them to do so with you.) Remember, though, that one size doesn't fit all, so you may have to infuse your cut-to-the-chase request with humor or compliments to soften the message.
"When someone is giving me way too much information, I politely interrupt and tell him that I recognize him as an expert on the subject matter being discussed," Feuer shares. "Then I say that since I know it's a given that this person knows his stuff, I merely need a short sound bite. Usually, this strategy soon leads to more frequent one- or two-sentence summaries."
Talk through conversations. While you can't control every word that comes out of your team members' mouths, you can establish standards of what is appropriate. Tell them that brevity and clarity are key, and point out that these things will set your organization apart from the competition. After all, clients and callers will appreciate the chance to do as much talking and question-asking as they want.
"Also consider asking your employees to end all conversations and messages with a tagline that expresses your organization’s best attribute," suggests Feuer. "Some tried-and-true examples are 'Your satisfaction is our number-one priority,' and 'Getting to the point makes us better.' At Max-Wellness, our branding tagline is simply 'Be well.' I've found that clients respond better to these than gratuitous endings like 'Have a stupendous day.'"
Get frequent updates from key people. (Simply put, micromanage.) Somewhere along the line, "micromanage" has become a bad word. It conjures up images of bosses who can't delegate, who don't trust their team members, and who don't give employees room to do their best work. No, you shouldn't do your team's work for them, but according to Feuer, you should get regular (and, of course, succinct!) updates from key people. These fast-and-frequent communications allow you to keep your finger on your organization's pulse.
"When you know what's happening in real time, you can accelerate your organization's growth and prevent garden-variety problems from snowballing into disasters of Biblical proportions," explains Feuer. "During the first 18 months of OfficeMax, I required every store to call my home seven nights a week to give me sales figures, which I recorded in a ledger. This ritual helped me to manage our growth by knowing our daily cash flow, with an emphasis on accounts payable down to the last few dollars. This protocol not only accelerated our growth but set a management style for executives to operate in a similar know-what’s-happening fashion. Don't underestimate the importance of remaining aware of the flow of factual information!"
Use your negatives sparingly. Say you're telling your team everything they need to know, but you still aren't getting the results you want. What gives? Well, the problem might lie in how you’re delivering that cut-to-the-chase sound bite. Think about it: How many of your announcements start with a negative, followed by a litany of unpleasant consequences? (For example, "If we don’t increase sales next month, we'll have to start letting people go.")
"Many leaders think that this style is more forceful and expedient, but it's actually counterproductive," says Feuer. "If you make too many of these negative announcements, your employees will be motivated only by fear and desperation -- at least in the beginning. As time goes on (and presumably, a majority of your threats don't come to pass), your team will come to see you as a knucklehead, and they'll start to ignore your message altogether."
Look in the mirror. The Golden Rule -- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you -- definitely applies to leadership and business. It's always a good idea to treat your team as participants and partners in whatever you're doing ... not just as people to blame when something goes wrong. Remember that they appreciate appropriate amounts of respect and praise, and that they also enjoy being given credit for having the ability to grasp the obvious.
"If you’re not getting the results you want, you might be the problem," Feuer says. "Leaders, especially those nearer to the top of the organizational hierarchy, sometimes forget how it felt to be directed. Ask yourself how you'd want to be told to do something important. Chances are it wouldn't be to do XYZ, or face dire consequences without any further explanation. When you're open about what's at stake and use a logical, positive tone, you'll probably find that your communications take root and grow!"
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Important step in encouraging concise communication is to be straightforward about what you need.
Posted by: geotargeted seo | Sep 21, 2011 1:41:51 PM
I would consider them the 5 golden rules. I wish this kind of article was around years ago, it would have helped me alot. I guess I was just to niave then. Thank for the advise.
Posted by: dvlokken | Sep 24, 2011 11:40:52 AM
Don't underestimate the importance of remaining aware of the flow of factual information!
Posted by: geo targeted search engine optimization | Oct 5, 2011 10:43:26 AM
Be true to what you are saying.
Posted by: geo targeted seo | Nov 15, 2011 12:55:25 PM
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