How to Persuade During a Crisis

You may not be the right messenger, show both sides, find common ground.

How To Persuade Employees During a Crisis from HBR

Can You See It? – Setting Goals That Get Done #2

Child pulling down grandfather's hat
If you can see it, you can do it

Part Two of  Series that begins with Setting Your Intent (and Deciding What You’re Not Going To Do)

Visualize Your Goal

The part of your brain that makes decisions and drives all human behaviour has no capacity for language. So, if you want to motivate somebody, including yourself, you could literally draw a picture. Tell a story. Use concrete language. Have a tangible outcome.

Use all your senses. Imagine success. See, hear, feel, taste, and touch it, as if it is real to us already. When we know what success looks like, our brains starts filling in what we need to do to get there. Athletes have used mental rehearsal for years, and the performance improvement they get from visualization is almost as great as actually physically practicing.

This is where setting SMART goals get it right, mostly. The “S” in SMART stands for specific. But you can set very specific but intangible goals. Like (and I wish I was making this up, but I hear this all the time when coaching executive teams) “Increase EBITDA by 10%”.

Would everybody in a company be able to get excited about this? Would they even understood what it means? It’s certainly specific enough, but it doesn’t say anything about the why or the how, which are also important.

Here’s a personal example. When I was trying to quit smoking for the 99th time, what finally got me over the motivation barrier was imagining going for a hike in the Rockie Mountains with my grand-children. I don’t have any grandchildren yet, but I a) wanted to be around if and when they do show up, and 2) wanted to be able to carry them, not an oxygen tank. I can see the picture in my head. I can even show you on the map which trails I’d like to take them on first.

So if your have to set a financial goal, perhaps describe what the money you hope to earn will allow you to do, instead of just imagining the money. Maybe don’t get trapped by being specific about the amount of profit (or growth, or weight you’re going to lose). Instead fixate on what the specific outcome will allow you to do.

If you can draw a picture or describe the outcome to somebody else in a concrete way, then you’re there.

Next: Imagine the Milestones

Who Owns the Strategy of Your Company?

Omar Bradley studying the current situation

I believe that there are two responsibilities a CEO cannot give away or delegate: deciding who works for them, and the strategy / vision / direction of the company. Which is interesting, because I make my living helping companies build and execute strategic priorities.

Really, if I think about it, my role is to create the habit of strategic thinking and execution inside their companies. Not just an event that happens once a year. I consider myself successful when I’ve worked myself out of a job. My clients “graduate” when they exercise disciplined strategic review and energetic execution  for themselves.

How do I know when their ready? First, they have priorities. Second, the way they spend all their individual and company resources (time, money, materials, people) lines up with what they say their priorities are. Third, they are successful doing so (for whatever their definition of success is), and can vigorously confront or adjust for any obstacles to that execution.

If you need a little more strategic thinking in your organization / team / company / life, this article talks about the role of the strategist / strategy in a company:

Rethinking the Role of the Strategist

 

Emotions are Contagious

There’s a joke I used to tell my Scouts around the campfire, when it was late and that youngest ones had turned in:

There was a pirate captain who, when attacked by the British Navy, called for his cabin boy to bring him his red vest. The captain fought bravely and his men, following his example, repulsed the Royal Navy ship trying to arrest (and then inevitably hang) them.

The cabin boy was curious but hadn’t worked up the courage to ask the captain why he called for a red vest when they were under attack. It seemed odd to the boy that a change of clothing be at the top of the captain’s mind at such a time.

The next time they were attacked, this time by three Royal Navy ships, the captain called for his red jacket. Again, he and his men fought bravely and barely managed to escape. The cabin boy couldn’t hold himself back any longer.

“Captain, sir, if you please. Whenever we’ve been attacked you’ve called for your red vest. The last time we fought off three ships, but not until you donned your red jacket, sir.”

“Yes, that’s right.”, replied the captain, “And you want to know why?”

“Yes sir, if I may.”

“Well, whenever there’s a chance I may be injured in a skirmish, I don my red vest or jacket so that the men won’t know if I’m injured and bleeding. That way they won’t lose heart no matter how dire our situation, and fight on.”

The cabin boy nodded and smiled, because he know knew how the captain inspired his men. “I want to be as brave as the captain one day.”, he thought to himself.

The next day six ships of the line came over the horizon, spotted the their ship, and made sail to catch the dread pirate.

“Shall I bring your red vest, sir?”, the cabin boy asked.

“No.”, said the captain.

“Shall I bring your red jacket, sir?”, the cabin boy asked again.

“No.”, said the captain.

“Then what shall I do, sir?”, the cabin boy asked a last time.

“Bring me my brown pants.”

One Email Outta Do It

Fourth in a series about communication and change management.

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Face to face communication is always best

I love email. It’s fast, it’s easy, its’ cheap. It also provides us a record of what was said. Sometimes it’s important to have a record.  Also I don’t have to ask people how their day’s going, or remember their kids kids’ names. But maybe that’s just me.

So what’s the problem with email? Words themselves make up only as much as 40% and maybe as little as 7% of communication. Words themselves are only a small part of what’s being communicated. So for trivial or strictly objective communication (“Where are we having lunch?”, “Please send me the numbers for the third quarter.”) email works just fine. After that, the chance of mis-communication goes up.

The more complicated the message, the greater the chance for mis-communication. The more emotionally laden the communication (“I think you have an attitude problem.”) the greater the likelihood of misunderstanding. The more people involved, or the less time people have worked together, the greater the opportunity for misinterpretation. Add all those together and the chance of added drama, resentment, and wasted effort is almost certain.

My experience, both as a manager and as a facilitator, is that mis-communication is really easy. You have to work really hard to *not* mis-communicate. Yet we often choose on one of the worst ways to talk to others about complicated, potentially emotional issues with people we don’t really know that well – email.

Fix #4  Talk to a Human

Talk face-to-face. Wash , rinse, repeat.

Mark Hortsman has an amusing saying (I paraphrase): “I’m glad to hear you want to work with people. All the jobs with trees and dogs are taken.” As managers and leaders we manage and lead people, not email. If our jobs were to manage email I wouldn’t have to write this blog post.

Keeping a record isn’t going to engage and influence people to change behaviour or create enthusiasm. Repeated human interaction, building relationships and trust, is the only thing that does.

Phone calls are better than emails for engaging human beings. Video-conferences better than phone calls. In person meetings better than video-conferences. One-on-one, face-to-face meetings are better still. Regular, repeated contact.

If you need a record of agreement, write it afterwards. First pick up the phone, walk down the hall, learn to speak publicly. Tell stories, have a vision, be passionate. Email is efficient  but it’s ineffective. If you’re a manager of human beings, learn to manage human beings. If you’re a manager of trees or dogs, carry on.

I’m Going to Provide an Overwhelming Rational Argument, and then Fail

Third in a series about communication and change management

An Aurora Police Department detective takes a witness statement following a shooting outside the 16 movie theatre in Aurora. Aurora Police responded to the Century 16 movie theatre where police confirm at least 14 people are dead and 50 others injured. AP Photo/Karl Gehring Shooting at Batman screening

“Fact, just the facts ma’am.”

Great if you’re investigating a murder. Insufficient if you’re inspiring action or driving change. It is a mistake to believe that any solely rational, logical, or well-constructed argument will persuade people to set aside their own perceived best interest in favour of doing what’s right or doing what’s correct.

Many people will listen to a rational arguement, analysis, or well-constructed thesis and wonder what you’re up to. What do you really want? What are you trying to hide? Even executives – especially executives – know that any one set of numbers and facts can be tortured to confess whatever is needed to support both sides of the same arguement  Most of us make decisions based on gut, and rationalize that decision with facts and analysis afterwards.

I’m not saying you don’t need to be skeptical, or that you don’t need to do that analysis. As Stephen Lynch once said, “You can run your business with discipline, or you can run it with regret.” But rational  arguement is not going to overcome behavioural inertia in others.

You are going to need more than just the facts.

Fix #3 Appeal to Their Hearts Too

Martin Luther King didn’t say “I have a plan.”

He said “I have a dream.”

Stories, vision, passion, vulnerability. These are what persuade. Concrete, tangible, visual goals are what drive action.

Yes, your plan has to be based in reality. Businesses have to make money to live. But the purpose of a business cannot and should not be just to make money. Your body needs to make red blood cells in order to live, but that’s not your life’s purpose. A doctor gets paid well, but doctors don’t exist to make money.

Businesses need a higher purpose too. Maybe you’re not going to solve world hunger, but you should have a vision beyond just X percentage growth, or Y dollars revenue. Have the guts to stand for something. Something that inspires people to leap out of bed in the morning and eagerly embrace their work.

Amazon’s goal is to provide “Every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.” Henry Ford wanted to “Democratize the automobile.” Google wants to “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Not every purpose is going to appeal to every person, but you want it to appeal to the people that are working for you.

Hopefully your change is tied to the higher purpose of the company. An emotional, human connection that impels the actions, and energy needed to overcome inertia and drive change deeply and quickly in your team or company.

Or you could write another policy change. Your choice.

Tell Them What They Want to Know

The second  article in a series about communication and change management.

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Tell Them What They Want To Hear

Mistake #2 *I* Know What You Need To Know

When we’re excited about a new project or initiative, our brains light up. It’s a cool feeling. We want to tell people all about it. We want to tell them everything they need to know so they’ll be excited as us. Now. Right now.

Please take a deep breath. Change freaks people out. Please think about who is affected and how. Try to think about it from their perspective. We all have a finite but varied capacity to handle it. Everybody can deal, but only so much at a time.

Yet we must constantly change to adapt and thrive in a changing world. It’s a conundrum. How do we connect with people, instead of alienating them under an avalanche of confusing avalanche data and buzzwords?

Fix #2 Tell Them What *They* Want To Know

Every message needs a purpose. Every communication needs one and only one intent. What’s the one thing that your audience wants to know? Not what do you want them to know, what do *they* want to know? Ask yourself, if you were this audience, what questions would you ask?

This shift of perspective is very powerful. People, for the most part, don’t care about you and your brilliant ideas. Sorry. Despite best intentions we’re self-centered creatures.

Let’s use that to our advantage. If you talk to their needs, and what you’re proposition means to them (not you, not the company, to them), they’re more likely to hear what you have to say. If you answer their questions, they’re more likely to listen.

Bonus points for tying this to a “higher purpose” that speaks to their heart. I know for some this sounds corny, but if you speak with sincerity about the vision for the company, this is very powerful.

A fantastic example of an inspiring message (“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”) see Simon Sinek’s “How Great Leader’s Inspire Action

Over-Communicate to Drive Change

First in a series about communication and change management

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Mistake #1 They Know What I Know

You and your team have create a brilliant plan during that conference, workshop, planning session, meeting, brain-storming, or tiger-team. It is so blindingly obvious (to you and everybody that was in the room) what needs to be done. You’re inspired and energized. Momentum and success are sure to follow.

Yet think about the time your boss came back from a conference or a retreat full of vim and vigour, thoughts of incentivizations dancing in her head. How well does that usually work out? You try to carry out your brilliant plan, it falls flat. Bitterness and disappointment soon follow.

Other people cannot read your mind. They do not know what you know. They have not experienced what you experienced. They were not at the retreat with you. Your plan, initiative, or strategic shift may be brilliant, but it needs to be as inspiring for the people on whom we’re foisting change as it is for us.

Which is a shame, when may just need a little explaining and inspirational communication .

Say you’ve decided to roll out a performance review process. Please don’t, and I’ve seen this done – really, tell your managers: “Do performance reviews. Follow this process [hands over slide deck], use these forms [hands over forms], have it done by this date.” It will fail.

Fix #1 Over-Communicate

Back in my Air Cadet days, they forced us to practice “public speaking”. One of the simpler tools in our tool box was: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them.” This pattern works for change management too.

That new employee performance review process? Your first communication might be just for managers who will be performing the reviews. Announcing the initiative, explaining the process, and inviting them to a training session. Tell them what you’re going to tell them…

Consider repeating this first step for different audiences. Your first communication to non-managers might be an all-hands e-mail announcing the initiative, explaining the process, and inviting people to an in-person information session (like a lunch-and-learn) where they can ask questions.

Now your managers are ready for the questions that will come from their direct reports (which inevitably won’t be asked when you’re at the front of the room), because you’ve already told them what you’re going to tell them…

After the review process is complete, you might consider having a “hot wash”, inviting feedback, and compare how the process was supposed to be carried out and against what actually happened. Share this analysis. Tell them what you told them…

When You Don’t Over-Communicate

When people don’t know what’s going on and why, they make stuff up. And not the good stuff with fluffy bunnies and unicorns farting rainbows. The bad stuff. Worst case scenario stuff. Corrosive speculation and rumour-mongering follows.

Over-communication will save you time, energy, and grief in the long run. It’s worth the effort.

Future-Oriented Feedback

Look forward, not backwards
Look forward, not backwards

The point of giving feedback is to encourage the behaviour you want to see repeated, or something you’d like change in the future. Try not to dwell on the past.

Especially when giving corrective feedback. Unless you’re just trying to make somebody feel bad.  Otherwise ask them what can be learned, and what they’d do differently next time. Staying future focused gives them a much better chance of doing things differently next time, rather than thinking about and then repeating their past mistakes. 

And if you have to give corrective feedback, let them come up with the solution / correction / change. It’s much more powerful if they own it, even if it isn’t exactly what you’d do in the same situation. Even if you think their solution is less effective than yours. Their poor solution enthusiastically implemented is better than your better solution dictated

Focused Feedback

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Focused Feedback: Timely and Specific

Some of us have met, or even worked for, the boss that thinks they’re great at giving feedback. The particular self-delusion I’m thinking of is the “Hey, great job” variety, perhaps even accompanied by a pointing / clicking gesture.

This kind of generic, blanket praise is nice, but also totally ineffective. Effective feedback needs to be focused.

By focused I mean actionable and timely. Tell them exactly what behaviour is good (or bad) so they now exactly what to repeat (or change), as soon as possible. Feedback is useless if the target of your feedback doesn’t know what to do with it. A general “good job – keep it up” is meaningless unless it’s tied to a recent, repeatable action.

For example: “Scott, you did a great job getting all those videos recorded before the start of the conference. Having that is going to make the conference so much better.”