Archive for the 'Confronting communication' Category

Approaching redundancy with care

Some of you may have heard about Aviva’s recent faux pas when they accidentally sacked 1300 members of staff in 1 quick tap on the key board. A calamity for the HR department responsible for sending an email to 1300 people asking them to pack their bags and leave the building, when really it should have gone to just one person. Surely though, irrespective of the mistake of getting the audience wrong, is sacking by email really an acceptable way of letting staff go?

For anyone involved in Change Management, HR or Communications, the how and when of communicating redundancies often creates a high level of tension and discussion. The choices of who should communicate the message, how it should be communicated and when, always bring out different personal views and different cultural perspectives. Often those involved in making the decisions are influenced by either previous personal experiences or seeing what has worked or not worked in different organisations.

In all cases, I would encourage the decision makers to take a step back when thinking about the redundancy strategy. The decisions should be based on:

Being consistent with the Corporate values

Recognising that everyone who becomes and ex employee will be an advocate or an opponent and will build or damage your brand

Putting yourself in the shoes of those receiving the news

I am sure that if these 3 things are considered then the approach to communicating redundancy would change in many organisations. And more often than not the reasons for using short cuts (like sending an email) or impersonal and often fear based approaches would be shown up as being inconsiderate and unnecessary.

Whilst making people redundant is a difficult experience for all involved, I have seen it work well in organisations so people leave with their dignity intact. My hope is that more organisations will consider the big picture before getting in to a debate about the process.

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Owning up to a communication mishap

Week after week I share my views on ways to communicate effectively, build relationships and work through change situations. On occasions what I say seems to resonate with the people who I talk to, who come along to a training program and read my blogs. Yet last week I had a sobering experience – under pressure, in a room full of people I froze and went in to a free fall half hour of hell.

To give a bit of context, without having to relive the whole embarrassing situation again; I was in a situation where I was under extreme pressure to perform, with people in the room making judgments about my every move and every word. I started the session feeling well prepared with a certain level of nervousness; I told myself this was a good thing and was ready to go. Things changed just a few minutes before my session started when the lead in the group told me what they were hoping to get from the session. For a minute this threw me as it was different to the things I’d prepared, but I drew on some of the things I tell others and thought I would manage the changes OK.

How wrong I was.

Free fall began……..

I realised within a few minutes of starting the session that I wasn’t connecting with the group and from there it went downhill. With my facilitator/ presenter voices babbling away to me in my head I became tongue-tied, I panicked and I lost my focus.

It’s been a long time since this has happened to me so,as you’d expect, I took time out afterwards to think about what happened and what I would do differently. The first thing I realised was that this particular situation triggered a memory for me from an experience I’d had 20 years ago – it was almost as though I reverted back to the way I handled the original situation and I lost everything I’ve learnt since.

The second thing I realised was that I needed to listen to the voices in my head and my instincts. My facilitator/ presenter voices were telling me to:

– Slow down and breath

– Make it very clear upfront about the purpose for the session and why we are covering the topic

– Make it very clear upfront how the session will work

– Bring out concerns and questions and involve the group early

– And when things seem to be going astray, stop and involve the group in what now needs to change

On this occasion I didn’t have the courage to stop when I knew things weren’t going well. My learning from this experience is that stopping couldn’t have resulted in a worse outcome than the one I had, so I should have done it.

The good news from this experience is that I now have a refreshed and more acute awareness of some of the barriers that come up for people when it comes to talking in groups, presenting or facilitating. I’m also confident that the points above really would have made a difference so practicing this myself and helping others to get these pieces right will provide a great starting point for future coaching and training sessions.

Saying what’s on your mind

As an advocate for clear and authentic communication I would tend to endorse the idea that we should say what’s on our mind. I do this though with a big HOWEVER……

Some people would view the idea of saying what’s on their mind as being absolutely the right thing to do. The HOWEVER with this is that it often goes with the idea of engaging mouth before brain and the repercussions can be widespread and on occasion damaging.

For others the idea of saying what’s on their mind would fill them with dread, bring out the cold sweats and cause lock-jaw. These people are at the other end of the scale and engage brain before mouth, letting their brain convince them that they can’t speak up.

So where’s the happy medium and how do any of us reach this point in every conversation that we have? Whilst an important part of being authentic is to say what’s on your mind I think there are some caveats around it. For instance:
– Be conscious of what you want to achieve by saying what ever it is you want to say
– Check out what response you may get
– Be ready for a potentially emotional response

Let me give you an example – last week I met a man who I hadn’t seen for 3 to 4 years. I know him as being a jolly and friendly man so when he greeted me with a smile on his face and said ” You’re obviously enjoying the good life as you look chubbier” I hesitated. In this instance:
– I’m not sure he was conscious of what he wanted to achieve by saying this. I suspect he thought he was being funny
– He certainly didn’t think about the response he would get.
– I don’t think he was ready for an emotional response. I wonder what would have happened if I’d burst in to tear or started commenting on his own appearance?

This really does highlight for me that we do influence relationships one conversation at a time and that every conversation has consequences. So finding the right balance takes thought and most importantly awareness. I know there are times when I could do with thinking more before starting a conversation and saying what’s on my mind? What about you – any experiences of getting it very right or very wrong?

Asking the million dollar question

In my work I’m lucky to collaborate with some great people who have an attitude of wanting to do things differently. Inevitably I am working with them because they want to do something different in the way they communicate; this opens up a plethora of opportunities for the way they communicate as an organisation, a team or individually.

Working one on one with leaders we often reach a point where we are exploring strategies that will engage other people; in most cases this comes down to asking the million dollar question or questions.

Let’s take a typical situation……..You are about to have a team meeting and want to gain commitment from the team to take a particular direction e.g to manage something that is changing, increase performance or engage new customers. Before you go in to this meeting you know that there are likely to be some tensions, emotion and resistance. You know the team should be involved in forming the outcome yet you’re feeling uncertain about how to handle the meeting. What do you do?

Often the starting point for leaders is to find ways to avoid a discussion about the emotions or the elephants in the room and to shift in to TELL mode. This is a strategy used by many to reach an outcome which on the surface may appear to have reached commitment. For some it then comes as a surprise when the required actions to deliver on the change, the performance improvement or the new customer, don’t happen.

For the leader an alternative path to take before you go in to the meeting could include:
– Planning the parts of your meeting
– Planning what you will say to set the context for the change
– Mapping out the real or potential issues and hot spots
– Thinking about the million dollar questions you will ask

Probably the most difficult part is to think about the relevant million dollar questions and in particular how to use these questions. What ever your million dollar questions are, you are looking for the questions that:
– Involve people in the discussion
– Allow people to give their opinions
– Create a safe space for issues to be raised
– Move the team towards a collective outcome

Inevitably, your million dollar questions will need to be open questions – the How, What, Where, When and Why questions. On top of this, they need to be open questions with thought. Asking “Why aren’t you committed to this?” is likely to create a more defensive or negative response than asking “What do you need to commit to these changes?”

For many, finding the million dollar questions is hit and miss. To hit more than you miss will take practice and awareness; the planning steps mentioned above will help you to go from random shots to thoughtful engagement.

Having adult to adult conversations in the workplace

With over 20 years of working I had an experience recently that left me flabbergasted. There are other words to describe the event…..flabbergasted will do for now.

As a fairly seasoned communication professional I was horrified at being on the receiving end of an organisation treating me as a child that couldn’t be trusted. And this got me thinking………

Is it still prevalent for organisations to put in place structures, processes and people who ensure that there is always a parent v child relationship? And if it is prevalent is it really healthy for the organisations and people involved?

I was in the process of negotiating contract terms with this particular organisation. A conversation that I’m sure could have been amicably and satisfactorily managed through a discussion between the parties involved (see article on having tough conversations). Instead the organisation decided that they had to cover their rear ends and the only way they could do that was by becoming terribly official, condescending and belittling – layering on unnecessary formalities and processes to something that really wasn’t that hard.

Their stance was – We have the Power (i.e. we’re the parents) and you have none (you are the child).

The end result was a breakdown in the discussion and probably the relationship. I’m convinced that a discussion could have taken place over a cup of coffee and would have had a very different outcome, even if it had only been the relationship that remained intact.

Inevitably organisations do have processes and structures that are needed to run their business. Are we really still in an era though; where managers are unable to have the confidence and take the responsibility to treat the people they deal with as equal standing adults?

If you are one of those managers who use your position and processes to gain power, what is this doing for you, your team and the organisation?

And if you are one of those people who is at the receiving end of this imbalance, what can you do to fight back, have a say and be treated with respect?