Leaders & Managers – Different Kinds of Communication

We’ve identified four “productive conversations”, and noticed that Leaders mostly use the first two while Managers use the second two. (P.S: if you know of a 5th productive conversation, let us know!) Here’s how it breaks out:

  1. Initiative Conversations get things started. They introduce a new goal, propose an idea, or launch a project, so people can see what to accomplish, when to accomplish it, and why it is worthwhile. (How many of these do you have in a week?)
  2. Understanding Conversations are discussions – two-way exchanges that include questions, explanations, and ideas – about how things will be done, who will do them, and where the resources, activities, and results will happen. (And how many do you have of these conversations in a week?)

Those are the two conversations Leader use most often, to engage people in talking about a possible new future and how it could or should happen. They get people thinking in new ways, and imagining how the possibilities or changes might alter their work and their lives. The Manager ones are:

  1. Performance Conversations always include specific requests, promises, and agreements that clarify which actions, results, and other requirements (such as timing, quality, etc.) are needed to implement portions of a goal or project. These conversations get people into action, and Managers that track who promised what, and when it will be complete, are setting a foundation for accountability. (Do you have a lot of these conversations, or only a few?)
  2. Closure Conversations update the status of a project, or follow up on a request or promise, and acknowledge when an assignment is complete or overdue. Managers who have regular team meetings for people to report on their progress (or problems), are using these conversations to practice accountability management. (These are my favorite to practice – they can create accomplishment and momentum in your life).

Managers are usually the people who make requests of others to do specific goal-related tasks. When team members agree to do those tasks (in Performance conversations), they can all track the progress of the whole project as well as each of their assigned responsibilities. This puts a strong focus on results, and lets the team course-correct as needed to reach the goal(s).

The way those two sets of conversations are used reflect the saying that “Leaders speak the future. Management makes it happen.” Of course, in real life, Leaders and Managers are often the same person, so they need to know how to use all four productive conversations.  PS: You and I are better at some of the “Four” than others, and you can find out your strengths by answering the 20 questions in Your Personal Communication Assessment. Learning more about the four conversations is a handy way to update and strengthen your communication skills for more accomplishment.

We need Leader-Managers – both skill-sets are important to effectively engage people and have them be successful in their work and in their lives. Productive conversations can help us add more trust, effectiveness, and integrity to our relationships with individuals and groups.

Personally, I’m practicing #4 and #1 these days to see if I can gain a little momentum in a new environment. Let me know if you are taking on a new communication practice!

What is a “Needs Assessment”?

Almost every HR initiative begins with a Needs Assessment. One HR training specialist announced to a group of manufacturing Operations Managers, “Our most important deliverable to you is the Needs Assessment.” The Operations Managers hooted. “We don’t need your needs assessment! We just need you to train our operators to use the equipment without breaking anything.” Sandra, the HR lady, burst into tears.

In the jargon, a “need” is a discrepancy between “what is” and “what should be.” That’s a big playing field on which a consultant can build an assessment investigation. And there are plenty of methods for doing that (just Google “needs assessment”). That’s a good thing, because HR – and consultants, both internal and external – need some way to determine what and where the organization’s problems are.

One tool we use – the Workplace Communication Assessment – is a survey that asks people about the issues they see daily in their organization. It’s quick – 56 questions – and lets each employee say what causes the biggest headaches in doing their jobs. The tool then tallies the answers by categories and prescribes a few ideas to include in a training program, based on the kinds of communication that will reduce or eliminate the problem.

Example: A recent client’s survey scores revealed that 3 types of workplace issues (out of 8 possible categories) were the most frequent barriers to their job effectiveness:

  • Poor planning and workload overwhelm – Too much work to do in too little time;
  • Lack of teamwork – People not working together or helping each other; and
  • Lack of accountability – People not “owning” their jobs or honoring their agreements.

We used the diagnostics that came back with the survey results to add four elements to our training programs for this client, putting each of “The Four Conversations” to work:

  1. Drafting a brief statement of each Department’s current goals and objectives that would go on the top of each Departmental staff meeting agenda.
  2. Getting the staff into Department discussion groups to make a list of ideas for improvements in (a) having clearer job results and schedules, and (b) interactions with one another and with other groups.
  3. Making specific agreements to adopt several of these ideas right away, and to review the progress at each Department meeting.
  4. Reviewing and updating the goals, ideas for improvements, and agreements at each Department meeting.

All of their “top 3” workplace issues began improving in just 1 month after implementing the ideas they developed in the training. The biggest surprise? They had not been having regular or standardized Department meetings at all – only meetings to solve problems or announce changes. They used the results of the Workplace Communication Assessment to invent their own staff meetings. One group leader for Development emailed me saying, “Now Staff Meetings are a thing! We have an agenda, we really talk, and we don’t get bogged down in side conversations that waste some people’s time.”

They put their “Needs Assessment” to work. Sandra would be pleased.

 

Give Your 2016 Goals a Little “Infrastructure” for Success

Happy New Year! Looking at some examples of New Year resolutions on the internet, I see a lot of good ideas for how to have a terrific year. Some of them focus on only one topic: health, or money, or relationships, for example. Others focus on combinations of those, or on less personal goals for accomplishing something in an organization or a community. They’re all good.

But most of those ideas for 2016 goals will not include one thing that will increase the probability of success. If you can get even a little bit more specific about the communications that can support your success, you just might give yourself a win. Take the example of the three types of resolutions the internet tells us are the most popular:

  1. Lose ten (or more) pounds;
  2. Make more money; and/or
  3. Improve my relationship with a family member.

#1. In order to lose weight, I’ll probably have to alter my diet and exercise habits. So who do I need to talk with in order to make those changes? Will my spouse or roommate(s) be affected in any way? If so, what do I need to ask of them, or do for them, to make my diet and exercise changes work in my real life?

#2. To make more money, I’ll need to get a raise, or a new job or additional work responsibilities. What are the conversations that will make this happen, and with whom? My boss? An employment service? Marketing and sales support?

#3. What’s missing in that family relationship, and what conversations need to be stopped, changed, or started? What do I want them to say or do differently, and what could I say or do that would help that happen?

Whatever your goal(s), give some thought to the productive conversations that could give you a boost in reality instead of hoping your “resolution” will do all the work. The quick recipe for implementing your resolutions is sketching out your “effectiveness plan” for productive communication:

  • What is the current situation in this matter? How are things happening right now? What works well the way it is now, and what needs to change to work better for accomplishing my goals?
  • Who else plays a role in this? Who is – or might be – affected or influenced in the process of me getting what I want?
  • Who could help me or hinder me? What do I want from them that would increase the likelihood of my success? What might they want from me?

Then, the communications:

Initiative Conversation: Share your goal – what it is, by when you want it, and why it is important to you.

Understanding Conversation: Tell them how it relates to them, and ask for their feedback. Listen to their input, ideas, and critiques – this is likely to be useful information to help you adjust your game.

Performance Conversation: Make the requests for whatever will support you in reaching the goal. Make the promises you think might be useful to them and to you in moving ahead. Create an agreement – including specific times – to stay in touch and continue developing your progress into the future.

Closure Conversation: Report back on how things are going. Be honest about successes and failures and be appreciative about their participation in this dialogue. Refresh your agreements or cancel some of them when appropriate.

Giving thought to the communication aspect of achieving your goals is a way to recognize that goals are not achieved by one individual alone. Similarly, a change in one aspect of your life will likely impact other parts of your life. You can prepare to reach your goal(s) by looking at what connects your life’s many dimensions: communication. Then design your communications to give structure and support to your success.

Big Change, Part III: Em-Powerment

Matthew, the CEO of the company that is closing a regional office and laying off 11 staff members, talked with the HR manager. Her name was Emmeline, and everyone called her Em. She is tall, smart, and lovely, and she knows her business.

When I told her I wished she had been at the first Executive Team meeting, she rolled her eyes. “I know,” Em said. “They don’t think about HR until it’s sometimes too late. I’m glad Matt came right back here and brought me into the picture.”

She looked accustomed to being left out of the Big Cheese discussions, but didn’t appear unsettled about it. She showed me her list of tasks and timelines: Contact the attorney; Plan the agenda for the regional office announcements; Review the employment longevity for each person who would be laid off; etc. She knew what to do.

I saw Em in her first meeting with the Executive Team. She mostly stayed quiet, occasionally reminding someone of a legal requirement or a way to support people in transitioning from one situation to another. Afterward, we talked about her one new role: educating the other executives. She could not assume they would know – or remember – what to do in a transition like this. She would strengthen her productive communication as a way to be heard above the stress of the situation over the next few months:

  • Initiative conversations: Remind people that one key purpose is to support the whole workforce of people who are in a difficult situation, including considering security, privacy, and respect. And mention this at every Executive Team meeting – even Big Cheeses can lose sight of the big picture.
  • Understanding conversations: For every problem that Em will observe, anywhere in the workforce, she will either solve it on the spot, get help from her partners on the Executive Team, or bring it to the weekly meeting and ask for ideas. She’s not going to be the Lone Ranger here – everybody needs to contribute their best.
  • Performance conversations: Em will make requests for assistance, and will press for agreements from her Executive peers, and from workforce supervisors and staff, for what they will do and by when it will be done. She’s going for impeccability on agreements throughout the transition.
  • Closure conversations: She will have lots of these, including: (1) Bring a report to every weekly meeting, updating the facts of what’s happening in the workplace regarding the transition; (2) Say “thank you” easily and often, to everyone, and be appreciative of every conversation and contribution of support. (3) Take responsibility wherever possible, never blaming “other people” for their decisions or actions. (4) Update agreements as needed with other executives, and with workforce personnel as appropriate in every conversation.

Em is taking on deepening her own personal and professional power in this matter. As an HR manager, she is going to be an important engine to have this transition go well. They are lucky to have her.

Back to School: Reduce Office Communication Problems

Here’s some feedback from people who just found out about solving the biggest issues in their office communication:

  • We took you up on your idea to find out about the communication issues underneath our department’s problems, and found that the category for “Poor Quality Work” was our biggest concern. We are putting your recommendations to work, reminding people about our department goals, talking to clarify the quality standards for what we want our products and documents to look like, and making better agreements for each assignment. After just 2 meetings where we added these conversations, our Quality issue is much reduced – so we’re going to tackle the 2nd-highest problem next!
  •  The boss thought our problems were caused by personality issues. But now we have proof that it’s time to upgrade communication. Thanks for just giving us just the group scores – we liked the seeing the totals and the averages on each of those 56 questions. It gave us individual confidentiality plus probably softened the Cranky Lady’s score too.
  • Wow – we didn’t know we had such a problem with “Lateness”! But we see it now – we didn’t have good deadlines for our assignments, and most of our projects went beyond the scheduled time and budget. We’ve been getting better at specifying due-dates for things instead of saying “ASAP” or “It’s a priority”. Thank you very much!

Our Workplace Communication Assessment for groups is available now – just go to the regular page where you can take the Workplace Assessment for yourself – http://usingthefourconversations.com/workplace-communication-assessment-2/ – and read the instructions. When you get to the “PS”, you’ll see that you can also arrange to have a profile done that summarizes responses from your whole group or department. Just click on that email and you’ll get the information on how to do it.

We’re betting you will appreciate getting your group involved in improving communication with just a few easy and simple steps to reduce recurring workplace problems. Much quicker than sending everyone back to school.

Management is Communication… Plus…

Conversation at a lunch meeting with a world-class manager the other day was centered around one word: “tracking”. Jake said, “Communication is important for managing, but the way I know if someone is going to be a good manager is when they tell me they are good at tracking.”

Tracking what? Tracking certain communications!

Jake has studied “The Four Conversations”, and when he adds that one ingredient – tracking – he says it adds up to good management. Here’s what – and how – he tracks:

1. Initiative conversations are good for suggesting ideas or proposing actions. Where do YOU keep a record of those suggestions and proposals? Some of them can be developed now, but some could be valuable later. Jake keeps a Good Ideas file for ideas he hears but is not ready to implement.

2. Understanding conversations, where people sort out their roles and responsibilities in developing and implementing a plan or project, give rise to even more good ideas. Some of those ideas go into the Good Ideas file for future review, but others are things that actually need to be done, so they go on an Actions List.

3. Performance conversations are the “requests, promises, and agreements” for getting things done and delivered. This is where the Action List gets further developed to become an Assignment Chart: it lists the job, who will do it, by when, and a note about why it’s important to get done.

4. Closure conversations are where accomplishment gets created – and if you haven’t tracked the Good Ideas and Actions and developed an Assignment Chart, you might not be able to create any accomplishment for yourself or others.

Closure conversations remind people of What they said they would do, When it was going to be done, and Why it matters. If they did their job, there is an accomplishment to point out – and your saying that’s an accomplishment is what creates it! If they didn’t do their job, there is a discussion to have about what’s in the way and how to resolve it – and you can point to that as an accomplishment too.

Communication + Tracking = Management? Could it be so simple? Maybe so.

Productive Communication: Your Best Goal-Getting Tool

I just looked up “management communication” to see how it is described in the world today. I’m a woman with an undergrad degree in Psychology, and two grad degrees in Engineering, and I admit to being horrified.

The American Management Association has a communication training on “Getting Results Without Authority”, subtitled “How do you influence other people who don’t work for you to get the results you need?” It covers:

  1. Personal power: Your source of influence and authority over others, independent of the position you hold (based on theories from psychology and sociology);
  2. Reciprocity: Your ability to behave in a friendly manner to build positive relationships that will encourage others to do things for you (from social psychology);
  3. Personal style in relationships: Your responses to psychology quizzes about whether you are secure, anxious, dismissive, fearful, dependent, etc.;
  4. Persuasion: Your ability to change other people’s attitudes or behaviors by sharing information, feelings, and/or reasoning with them.
  5. Conflict resolution: Your ability to bring about a peaceful ending to a conflict (negative and non-productive interaction) between other individuals or groups;
  6. Negotiation: Your ability to facilitate dialogues that craft outcomes satisfying various interests.
  7. Action plans: Your ability to outline the actions needed to reach a specified goal.

Interesting. I might want to Google some of those things and take the quizzes just for the fun of it. And certainly a few skills in building positive relationships and making good plans are valuable in every area of life.

But, as the authors of “The Four Conversations: Daily Communication that Gets Results”, we’re really simple. We see four productive conversations to have at work – and we have tested them with people who are managers as well as people who have no authority whatsoever. Here they are in a nutshell:

  1. Talk about your goal(s) – what you want, when you want it, and why it matters – with other people who could be involved in accomplishing it. Have those conversations frequently.
  2. Have dialogues with others to find and clarify ideas about how you could achieve the goals, who else could be involved, and where you could make connections for resources and results.
  3. Get people in action (yourself included). Make clear requests for what you want, and when and why. Make good promises to deliver results to others so they can support your objectives. Create agreements with people for making things happen on time and on budget.
  4. Clean things up regularly. Update the facts about progress toward the goal and revise plans accordingly. Thank people when they’re great, or even just for showing up, and don’t be shy about holding them to account. That means reminding people to deliver what they promised or to revoke their promise so you can stop waiting for them. Apologize when other people are inconvenienced, or when you see either a mistake or some kind of misunderstanding that could slow down progress toward the goal.

That’s it. Have each of those 4 conversations on a regular basis, in whatever sequence is needed to keep things moving toward goal success. Productive communication is simple talk to propose specific goals, engage people in planning, and boost them into action with good agreements for What-When-Why something will happen. Then you have a regularly scheduled “status check” to get everyone updated, appreciated, and refreshed for the next steps toward the goal.

So if I want to reliably get results – including with people over whom I have no authority – I could learn to propose ideas, discuss them with others, make requests, and track progress. That’s my plan: I’ll keep practicing The Four Conversations.

Emotional Intelligence – Nice, But Not a Management Tool

Emotional intelligence measures the ability to recognize, understand, and use emotions – our own and others’ – as a guide to our thinking and behavior in family, social, and work situations. So it’s a good thing to have – it has been shown to correlate with better mental health as well as social influence, popularly called “leadership”.

Emotional intelligence (often called EQ to relate it to IQ) is a personal ability or capacity that can be developed to improve our score and, presumably, our mental health and our ability to influence people. But that’s not much help for management, which is what you need when you want to get timely results from others. Why not? Because leadership is not management. Management depends on the use of specific practices and tools, and not so much on our personal style or psychology, or even our ability to influence others.

In a nutshell, there are 4 distinct practices of management:

  1. Use productive conversations – Initiative, Understanding, Performance, and Closure – to identify, activate, update, and report on the four components of good management: (a) The goal; (b) The type of performance, e.g., efficiency, quantity, quality, effectiveness, etc.; (c) The “performance circle” of senders and receivers with whom the development of agreements for delivery of products, services, and communications will be necessary; and (d) The scoreboard tool to record the measurable status of progress with each of those components;
  2. Identify and activate each of the four components of good managementgoal, performance type(s), performance circle, and scoreboard – on a regular schedule;
  3. Update and report the status of the four components of good managementgoal, performance type(s), performance circle, and scoreboard – on a regular schedule; and
  4. Repeat these 4 management practices until the goal is reached or abandoned.

So, will “emotional intelligence” help with any of this? It likely will make for a more pleasant workplace, so it is a definite plus. But it does not substitute for any of the necessary practices or components of good management. And it isn’t a tool, either.

So go ahead and boost your “EQ” for mental health and influence – it’s good for you and those around you. Just don’t expect it to replace management for getting results to accomplish your goals.

A Culture of Conversations: Power to the People!

The Workplace Communication Assessment (a freebie on this site) is being tested this month with a large group of managers and staff. I’m looking to see whether it is true that “organization culture” is a product of communication problems.

This assessment has 56 questions, so it takes about 15 minutes to fill out completely. But when each person finishes it, they receive feedback on how to resolve their biggest workplace communication problem. Of course, each person may see a completely different thing as the “biggest problem”. But when we look at them all together, a pattern will likely emerge.

One thing we’ve already seen is that most people don’t think they have any power over changing those patterns. Diana is a manager who was frustrated about getting her portion of the budget transferred to her control. “They promised they would move it over,” she said, “but it hasn’t happened yet and I don’t know who to talk to about it. I’m hoping they will do it soon.”

Ah, the infamous “They”, source of all troubles. We had been talking about making good requests, getting good promises, and establishing firm agreements. But Diana still didn’t see her solution.

“What if you could find out all the key people involved in making the transfer happen?” I asked her. “Then maybe you could make a good request for action by the end of the month?”

We talked about the details for a few minutes, then the lights came on in her eyes and she said, “Yes, I can do that. In fact, I will do it. Maybe even by Friday!” Everybody in the room applauded, including me.

Realizing that our conversations have the power to change things is wonderful news. I’m excited to see what will happen when a whole group of people chooses some negative part of their culture to upgrade. Tomorrow they will look at their patterns of communication and pick a target or two. Power to the people!

A Not-Serious Conversation

I had an interesting conversation recently when someone asked me why I always seemed to be working. “You’re too serious,” she said, seeming a little worried about me.

It seemed odd, because I don’t have the sense that I’m always working – I just enjoy trying to solve some puzzles that interest me. But she explained what she’s seeing.

She said, “Your book on The Four Conversations – it’s all about getting what you want, when you want it, and making your workplace function better. What about the social part of work? Don’t you ever have any fun?”

Oh boy. Got me thinking. The truth is I enjoy workplace socializing, but mostly leave solving problems in the social part of office life to either Miss Manners or Dear Abby. Plus, I was a management consultant my whole career and what interested me was solving the problems managers had in getting their employees to be productive and working together toward a few key goals.

“What are you interested in?” I asked her.

“Cooking,” she said.

I laughed out loud, suddenly remembering a discussion I once joined where people shared their dearest commitments in life: real estate investment, one person said. Children and family, said another. Anthropology, said one woman. Improving veterinary hospitals, said someone else. Now I’m going to add cooking to the list of things that people find most important.

Still, they all benefit from the ability to have productive conversations, at least sometimes, don’t they? Even when you aren’t at work, you might want to make something happen – Get a new recipe? Sell real estate? Have a great family Thanksgiving dinner? Even in your non-work life, it’s helpful to know how to have those four conversations: to introduce a new idea, conduct a dialogue, make a request or a promise, and wrap things up in a positive way. It’s not a serious thing. Just useful.

You’re always welcome to send me your thoughts about this or any other blog post here, at Laurie