Posts Tagged ‘CEOs’
Posted October 10th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
We have the tendency to think of others from our own world view, in other words, when we think about the messages we believe our organizations need to communicate, we get caught up in our own world, our internal language and what we know. We forget – most of those with whom we come in contact everyday do not share our experiences, including education, opportunity, social and family background, culture, you name it. As a result, we communicate from where we feel comfortable and are knowledgeable and experienced. As a result, we don’t reach or connect with our audience.
To reach an audience of customers, citizens, taxpayers, employees, patients, whomever your audience might be, the most effective communications start with getting out of our own parochialism. Tough to do when you’re used to using certain language, acronyms and images every day in your own work world.
Clients often ask us, “Why can’t we just tell them how important this is?” Well, that’s great if you have unlimited resources and can populate every place they get information in a non-stop, consistent way with what you think should be important to them! Even then you’re unlikely to get them to pay attention.
Ask yourself this simple question, “What was the last TV commercial I remember, including the product, the message and images?” Yet, here’s where companies spend a small fortune seeking your attention and, as my friend and colleague, Dan Kully of Laguens Kully Klose Partners always reminds me, have done some of the most extensives audience research on the planet. Tough to remember that last commercial, huh? And you’re probably even saying to yourself, “I don’t even watch that much TV!” Ah, and that makes you quite unlike your audience… your employees, customers, patients, etc.
Just check some of the statistics on how much TV people watch and that alone will give you a little clue. According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the Americans watch more than four hours of TV each day (or 28 hours/week, or two months of nonstop TV-watching per year). For the average 65-year old, that’s about nine years of their life. This is not a discussion pro or con for TV watching, just pointing out that if those are not your habits, then by the same token, you’re not like most of your audiences.
Your assignment this week: Make a list of all the acronyms you use in your industry, profession, etc. and when you’re at your favorite restaurant, retail store or wherever you can ask the question without getting arrested, ask your server, clerk, etc. what the acronyms mean; just limit your self to about five of them. I think you can anticipate the results.
So, next time you and your organization decide you want to talk to the public, your audience, invest some time in asking who they are, where they come from ideologically, experientially, culturally, economically, etc. Get out of your own comfort zone, your own space. You’ll be surprised at the result.
Let me know what you learn and how you do. Especially with your assignment!
Posted August 29th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
Just did another senior management training last week and the topic always comes up – what about email? How do we manage it, use it, control it, keep from getting buried by it and fix communications that get broken by it… the list of questions, comments and consternation goes on and on. The 29 August 2010 Sunday column, Corner Office by Adam Bryant, includes a comment about email (along with a number of other key insights Bryant’s weekly column provides) from Kasper Rorsted, the CEO at Henkel, a consumer and industrial products company, so I thought it was time to underscore some tips from an earlier post and make a point about email and the importance of face-to-face communications.
Email is NOT dialogue! It is not a substitute for honest, open, transparent communication. Email is two-way monologue, where one person gets to make their point, state their case, convey information, thoughts, feelings or whatever, without the benefit of the other person being present. Email is NOT a short-cut for communication. It is a form of communication, however, designed for one-way transmittal.
Remember: There is no substitute for direct, face-to-face communication, especially when an issue warrants it. For example, anything that affects your organization’s mission, vision, values, goals and deals with major strategies, decisions or compromises them requires direct, real-time communication. Personnel issues, challenges and coaching opportunities – set a meeting. Major problems with a product or service – set a meeting. Customer/member/client complaints – set a meeting.
Don’t let email get the best of you. It’s your job to manage it, rather than it managing you. Use it wisely as a tool for information transfer, not as a comprehensive communications program. There’s no substitute for getting up from your desk and making contact, or setting up time to communicate, face-to-face, with people! Use your email wisely so it’s not being misused by you or others.
P.S. Try adopting Henkel CEO Rorsted’s tip on deleting ALL email where you are only in the cc line. His point: being in the copy line is often only for someone’s ‘cover’ and if they want to connect with you, those emails should be To: you. Try it for a couple weeks and let me know if your email flow is more manageable, and if it helps make your communications more productive, valuable and meaningful.
Posted August 8th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
A common issue in my work with boards and chief executives is the challenge of micromanaging. It’s something that happens as well with parents, supervisors, co-workers, peers and others. What’s at the root of it all and how do we know when it’s happening? Truth be told, micromanagers are often aware of what they’re doing; like any addictive behavior, they just can’t seem to help themselves!
If you’re a micromanager, ask yourself what the underlying emotion is that drives the behavior. Using the ‘think, feel and do’ exercise from an earlier post, call a meeting with yourself. How we act is more a result of what we feel rather than what we think. If we’re ‘feeling’ frustrated, for example or overwhelmed and out of control, we’re more likely to ‘think’ we can ‘do’ something about the little things, and sometimes even the big ones, however, these are not often the important things.
So, we ‘manage’ the details instead of stepping back, recognizing what’s really going on…and most importantly, and letting go. Empowering, rather than managing, others.
We all have our tell-tale signs. I bet if you take that meeting with yourself, you’ll be able to write down a few of yours.
And if you’re the one being micromanaged, remember, it’s not about you! Work with your supervisor, board, spouse, parent and ask the more critical question: What is the result or outcome we need in this situation? Then, when you’ve created clarity about that, encourage the micromanager to empower you to come up with some acceptable solutions (not how you get there and myriad of details along the way!) and offer an agreeable timeline for delivering results.
Let me know how it goes next time you experiment with your new behavior!
Posted June 6th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
I was recently asked to attend and facilitate a small planning meeting. Before we got started, one of the attendees asked the question, “Why am I here?”I could tell it was not about the meaning of life nor was it rhetorical! It actually startled everyone, and I realized immediately not everyone was on the same page as the person who ‘called’ the meeting (in our business that’s commonly referred to as the ‘convener’).
Meetings are one of the biggest issues I hear folks in my world talk about, question and criticize. In fact, the word ‘meeting’ and the phrase ‘waste of time’ are often either synonymous or at least heard in the same sentence. Rarely do people seek my services because they have such great meetings and just want to make them even better. Usually, as part of the executive coaching, team-building process and overall improvement program, they want to know how to make their meetings work.
The question was one of the most direct ways I’d heard of asking that series of questions we should all ask when we’re planning to attend or, if it can’t be done prior, actually attending a meeting. Why am I here? What value do I add? What value will this meeting add to my work, what I need to produce for the company, how I support my peers, satisfy my customers, enhance my skills, etc.? Is this a meeting I need to be in face-to-face? Can the results be achieved in some other manner that’s less costly and time-consuming and more effective? What’s expected as a result of my attendance? What will I do differently, more of/less of, as a result of this meeting? You ever ask yourself these questions? Out loud? In front of your peers? Try it.
It’s the convener’s job (remember, that’s the person who calls the meeting) to be crystal clear about the meeting purpose: what key outcome(s) need to be achieved that warrant(s) those in attendance being there to achieve that purpose. The second job of the convener is to select the right participants. Who is, and why are they, necessary to achieve that purpose? This isn’t determined by title or even the job they hold in the organization. It’s more important to consider what ‘value add’ each participant will have to achieving that meeting purpose. Another key question for the convener is what exactly do we need to accomplish in the meeting, and how should the meeting be structured to accomplish that, in order to fulfill the meeting purpose? Finally, ask what materials and information participants need to have in advance and/or at the meeting to wisely use their time and produce the outcome. (This is guided by the proviso that a meeting should never be used to ‘read’ information to participants!)
If you’re a convener, don’t call your next meeting without answering these questions. If you’re a meeting participant, don’t be afraid to startle your colleagues and the convener with this critical question, “Why am I here?” If you want to be part of effective, high-energy, high-impact meetings, apply this simple question and encourage a business culture that supports it. Your company, co-workers, customers and you deserve it!
Posted May 2nd, 2010 by Steve Alexander
A client and friend recently sent me a Harvard Business Review article, titled “The Acceleration Trap.” Important reading if you’re leading a company or organization and you’ve gotten caught up in the ‘more is more’ addiction and find yourself multi-tasking and using technology to ‘stay in touch’ at all times. The reason the concepts they highlight are so startling is that the authors have studied the impact all this 24/7 ‘in-touchness’ can and is having on the work environment. What we think is making us more productive is actually hampering our effectiveness… and there’s a big difference between being efficient (for example, staying in touch at all times with lightning speed response to e-mails, tweets, texts, etc.) versus being effective (actually achieving productive, meaningful, tangible, mission-driven results).
I facilitate a lot of medium to large meetings, retreats, team-building and training sessions, strategic planning events and other types of in-person meetings, including some with just one or two people. For years we’ve been applying some common-sense ground rules about the use of technology in those sessions, the importance of being ‘present’ to have effective interaction with peers and team members and how to productively engage with others in a way that creates meaningful outcomes. Technology, and its applications that try to keep us in touch with what’s happening ‘outside the room’ can actually be a big deterrent in those settings. With some playful and thought-initiating exercises and ground rules, we establish an important commitment from participants to connect with those in the room.
I’ve had more friends and colleagues admit their e-mail addictions recently than ever before. So, what can we do to make ourselves the master of the technology we have at our disposal rather than how it’s become/becoming our master? How do we avoid the pitfalls of multi-tasking and re-learn how to focus and regain effectiveness (and our sanity!) and how to be present in the moment?
Some simple tips: 1) Read the HBR article. It will get your attention if you’re responsible for your or others’ results and the achievement of goals and priorities. 2) Ask yourself, when you’re with someone else or in a group setting, how important is it really that I check the latest e-mail, news, tweet or some other external information source? How will that add value to who I am with and what I’m doing at this moment? 3) Learn to be present… in the moment, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, to ensure you are truly (intellectually and emotionally) connected to the person(s) with whom you’re supposed to be communicating and interacting. 4) Disconnect on purpose. Plan some times when you are completely off the technology grid. Use the time with family, friends, peers and colleagues. Or even invest in time to be alone. 5) Build a habit of shutting off your ‘connected devices’ when you’re in a meeting and invest instead in actively listening and engaging in the discussion. You were asked to be present because your presence matters. Make it matter intentionally. 6) When you find yourself getting caught up in the ‘acceleration trap’, ask yourself if doing more is the same as achieving more. Create and apply a litmus test that will guide you to determine if more and faster actually equals better.
Bottom line: It’s up to you to make time to take a break from the pace and impact that our technological connection has created. Stop to smell the roses. Just promise you won’t snap a picture of the roses on your iPhone and tweet it to your Facebook friends!
Posted April 18th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
When you’re responsible for a meeting, whether it’s a one-on-one or a group, in-person or by phone, teleconference, etc., try this effective technique for driving solid, measurable results from the time and effort you’ll spend with your meeting participant(s). The process can be used in a brainstorm session with others who are involved in designing and making the meeting successful, or you can do it on your own. The key element is to do it in writing until you’re crisp, clear and focused on the three outcomes from the following question.
“Thinking about the participants (again, this can be a meeting with one or more), what do I want him/her/them to think, feel and do as a result of this meeting?” Sounds simple enough, right? Now try it quickly with an upcoming meeting you’ve generated or one you’re planning.
First, what do I want them to think: Depending on your meeting, you should come up with “I” statements as to what the person(s) should be thinking about you, your fellow meeting planners, your proposal, project, etc. “I like this idea!” “I believe this will provide us what we need.” “I want to hear more.” “I like the thoughtfulness that’s gone into this proposal.” The more “thoughts” you generate that connect with the feelings you want to elicit and the action you want to lead to, the better.
Second, what do I want them to feel: People are often motivated by the feelings generated during an experience. Feelings are typically one-word statements like, “confidence,” “encouraged,” “excited,” “invested,” “respected,” “trust,” etc. You get the idea. Any time you follow a feeling by the word “that,” “like,” “as,” or similar words, you know you have a thought, not a feeling. Put those responses back in the first category.
Finally, what do I want them to do: Based on the thoughts and feelings you’ve created by your presentation, discussion, interaction, etc., you should end up with a crisp, concise, thoughtful and strategic “do” from this session. Homing in on this will help you build the discipline to use your and your audience’s time wisely, respectfully and productively. The length, format, venue, number of participants, etc. for the meeting don’t matter.
Next time you’re planning a meeting, even if it’s a stand-up five minutes, use this brief exercise wisely, complete it in advance and write it down. You’ll quickly find your meetings generating thoughtful results and engaging your participants respectfully and productively.
Posted March 29th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
If you don’t have Corner Office set up for your Sunday morning New York Times read, you’re missing out on a great column and an opportunity to become a more effective leader. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the CEO, just getting started in a new career or anywhere along the way. For that matter, you’ll find the insights valuable and applicable for life in general.
Columnist Adam Bryant conducts interviews of top leaders and explores provocative, interesting, insightful topics that mine the perspectives of these CEOs and top industry executives. These are challenging times, and finding new views, effective tools, insights from the experts and the candid comments from those who have learned lessons from real-world experience is worth the few minutes you’ll invest.
More than that, make it a point to find a lesson in each interview, something that you can apply yourself or pass along to someone you know who can benefit. And be sure to check out the blogs for lively debate on the range of issues you’ll discover from your read.
Simple. Easy. And I guarantee you’ll find something useful within the first few doses!
Posted March 13th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
I recently attended a seminar on employee motivation, team-building and coaching, looking for some additional, new tips and reminders for my coaching work with leaders and teams. I was struck by this simple phrase, “What gets rewarded, gets repeated!” It reminded me of my early days as a young pup working on my bachelor’s degree in psychology. B.F. Skinner’s theory about rewarding behavior is easily summarized in that phrase. Yet, too often we forget it. And when we forget to acknowledge how much we appreciate our co-workers, and others in our lives who matter to us, as a result we see our teams, co-workers, the workplace, even our own relationships slip into mediocrity. Folks end up “just putting in the time.”
On a recent vehicle purchase, when the person who handled the transaction went above-and-beyond my expectations (this during the swirl of media about problems with Toyotas), I made sure I completed the customer satisfaction survey, and that they got complimented for their extraordinary effort. Sure, it took a few minutes to complete the survey (we get most of them on-line these days, so they’re easy to do… and also easy to ignore). It does take something from us to extend that compliment, the notice and thanks for someone who took the time to care. Was it worth it?
When I got the call that the survey was mentioned at a staff meeting, and this professional beamed with satisfaction for the recognition, I knew it mattered. And it was worth it.
If we want folks to show up on time and be prepared, thank them when they do. If someone’s gone the extra mile, find a way to call it out… to them and to others. Build into your teams and your work day the opportunities to reward and recognize the kind of behavior you want. It’s easy to fall into the habit of simply taking it for granted.
So, next time someone does something worth noticing, notice it. The cost of a compliment is inexpensive. The results… priceless.
Posted March 4th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
“We’re going to have to let you go.”
I remember my first experience in my early 20s when I supervised a small crew and had to face an employee to let him know his employment was going to end. As clear as it was that it was the right step, executing the decision was tough. It’s personal. To the person who hears those words. No matter what. So, a few key thoughts for your consideration and use.
1) Hire slow, fire fast! – The most important strategy is to make sure you have the right people in the first place. To borrow from Jim Collins in “Good to Great,” the most important decision a CEO/leader can make is to put the right people on the bus in the right seats, and to get the wrong people off the bus. Great companies with effective leaders, according to Collins, make these kinds of decisions early in their tenure and the benefits endure. No seat is expendable for other than fully committed, loyal, passionate people who are dedicated to the company’s mission and vision, and want to contribute to its success. Invest your time wisely finding them (that means days of interviews, not an hour!) and the pay-off will be exponential.
2) Compassionate, well-conducted exit interviews can actually be beneficial to both the organization and the departing individual. – I was called in once to assess a situation on behalf of a board executive committee who knew it had a problem with staff leadership and didn’t know how to proceed. After careful interviews with the entire staff, including the chief executive, selected board members and some external audiences, it was apparent there was a bad fit for the organization and its CEO, even though, on the surface, her qualifications, intelligence, enthusiasm and desire to succeed were remarkable. A decision was made that saved the organization (staff were beginning to leave, board members were disillusioned, etc.) and gave the departing CEO the opportunity to assess her own goals and identify opportunities that were a much better fit for ultimate success.
On a final note, if you’ve seen the movie, “Up in the Air,” one of this year’s Oscar nominees for George Clooney’s performance as the consummate “hatchet man,” you can understand the devastating impact the words, “We’re letting you go,” can have. (It’s hard to believe we popularize a TV show with the title, “You’re Fired!”) What most don’t know is that Jason Reitman, the film’s director, with whom we met during a Cinema Society of San Diego screening (a shout-out to Andy Friedenberg for running one of the great organizations!), explained that the interviews conducted at the opening and closing sequences were of real people (one notable exception) responding to their own employment termination. The filming of the movie started before the economic downturn, and yet becomes very timely given today’s challenges. According to Reitman, those same folks were given an opportunity to express themselves and what they would have liked to have said had they had a chance to do it again. You’ll see those scenes during the closing credits. It’s a real eye-opener and education for anyone who ever has to say those words.
Tough as is it sometimes, making the right decision (and taking the time) to hire the right people for the right positions in the first place, and then moving timely and compassionately when you have to move people off the bus, will serve your organization well. And guarantee enduring results.
Posted February 26th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
If you’ve not yet read Jim Collins’ “Good to Great,” you’ve missed one of the best books ever for business lessons and insights you can apply to just about everything you do. Another easy order from half. com or amazon. com. One topic he discusses, when writing about how some companies achieve greatness and endure, and others not, is the Stockdale Paradox, named after his conversations with Admiral Stockdale, a prisoner-of-war from ’65 to ’73 during the Vietnam war. Collins used the results of that conversation to describe the paradox like this, “[the ability to] retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties. AND at the same time, Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”
Is there anyone for whom, in these challenging economic times, with public dialogue barraged by joblessness, recalls, scandals of various sorts, political fighting and finger-pointing and a general gloom that’s sustained itself for a significant time, who is not tempted to fall victim to that doom and gloom, and lose their way, as company or a leader? Just switch on the news. Any time. Any channel, regardless of your politics. You’ll find plenty of reason to forget the first part of the paradox.
What’s interesting, as Collins further explains from his discussion, is that the great companies followed this line of pragmatism (the combination of hope and faith that you will prevail while simultaneously confronting the facts, the reality in a “brutally” honest way). We could all use a dose of this pragmatism as we face budget challenges, staff reductions and re-organizations and in many instances re-analyzing where our industries should go and what they should become in the future. It doesn’t matter if you’re a non-profit, a worldwide service or product provider or elected leader entrusted with defining a path through the quagmire of challenges.
Next time you find yourself confronting a choice, remember the Stockdale Paradox. It’s a great concept to guide right thinking and right action. Especially if you expect to go from good to great. And to lead others there as well.
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