All Roads Lead to Communication

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It doesn’t matter who you are or what industry you’re in: if you’re struggling at work, the odds are, your communication needs a fix.

“No way!” you think, “We’re struggling because we’re not hiring the right people.” This means you haven’t assessed or communicated what you truly need to your managers, your recruiters, or your candidates.

“Nay!” you say, “It’s because our employees have lost their passion.” This means you haven’t ironed out, effectively shared, and/or gained buy-in for your vision and purpose. Or, you haven’t hired the right people for your vision. See point one above!

“Never!” you yell, “It’s the economy.” This is one of my personal favorites because “the economy” is “happening” to everyone, and everyone is not flailing. What this means is that you haven’t showed or told your team members that you care enough to recognize and compensate them in non-monetary, meaningful ways when times are tight. & if your times are tighter than usual and it really is a deviation, you can simply . . .tell everyone what’s going on and give them the option of staying to pitch in, or beginning their search in a non-hostile environment before they find themselves jobless. Loyalty will go a long way there, too, but you’ve got to open up a little!

We could give more examples, but in my experience, no matter the scenario, it all boils down to what we say to, and show, our people. If you disagree, or know you’re killing it with your communication and culture, that’s awesome! Please comment what you’re doing and help out the rest of us 🙂 If you reflected and realized your communication approach could use a little work, what’s next? How can we take steps to improve our communication throughout our work day, when our jobs as HR and/or leaders can be so sensitive? We can start with a small list, and go from there!

  • Be prepared. When possible, particularly when sharing new information, gather answers to the questions you anticipate before making any kind of announcement or update, so you can share them in real time or in follow-up messaging. If you don’t have all of the information you want, but you tell everyone you’ll follow up to get them answers, then follow through and keep it timely. If you’re just as in the dark as everyone else, take it upon yourself to pull key people into a room to get whatever information you can to guide others. Model what you’d like to see, and do what you can to set the company, & yourself, up for success in times of transition.
  • Keep your managers informed. Managers are our first line of defense: they see most of our employees day in and day out, sit alongside them in the trenches, and ideally know more about them than we ever will. If they know what’s going on and that new initiatives or decisions are in everyone’s best interest, they will gladly diffuse challenges, dispel myths, and settle their teams before rumors have a chance to get out of hand. Yet, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen information shared with managers and their team members at the same time, or with less than 24 hours to spare. They hear new information while sitting next to the people who report into them, & as human beings, they get confused and then frustrated, too. Next time, whether it’s a less complicated employee relations issue or a full-on transformation, loop them in ahead of time so they can process their own emotions and get their questions and concerns addressed before their teams find out: this can only help you form the united front you’ll surely need.
  • Trust more often than not. Along the same lines as above, trust is crucial for everyone, not just managers. When one of your people is upset or curious about a situation, sit down with them and openly share what you can. Does this mean you should breach confidentiality or alert them that even you feel like the sky is falling? Not necessarily. Can you say, “This might change so I’d like to keep this confidential so as not to cause challenges down the line, but here’s what I understand is happening/can share . . .” Most people will just be happy to be heard and out of the dark, and can at least temporarily go back to being more productive and calm. Can a gossip occasionally slip through the cracks and take what you say out of context? Sure! We’ve all been burned, but don’t let fear stop you from being a light for those who are mature enough for the truth and your trust.
  • Tone matters. Yes, we’re all human beings. While vulnerability is crucial and emotions can be impactful, it isn’t optimal to show disrespect, negative sarcasm, or rudeness. If you find yourself saying, “I’m just blunt,” “They don’t get me,” “They’re too sensitive,” or any variation of this more often than not . . . the problem might be you. Even if your message isn’t negative, assess how you’re delivering it. Although this is hard, it isn’t impossible! In your next potentially upsetting or challenging conversation, take a breath and put yourself in the other person’s shoes before responding. Also, before going into a meeting you know will be challenging, go back to tip number one above and prepare: ask yourself how you’d like to receive new information, and what information would be important to you. Then model that behavior and transparency for more of a win-win.
  • Don’t assume your vision is crystal clear. How many times have you said or heard, “Didn’t I already say this? How does So-and-So not know this is going on?” We’ve all played the game telephone. But we still sit in small meetings and make comments, delegate messages to distracted peers, and assume that the right message made it to the right people as soon as we leave the room. If only it worked this way! Moving forward, make sure you directly send/say/share the information with the intended recipients, or check in with your team to make sure everyone’s on the same page before assuming all is well. Note: this doesn’t mean you have to micromanage or take everything on yourself. This tip is more helpful if you’ve found yourself wondering what’s going on more times than you can count, and need to recalibrate. If you and your team are aligned and this isn’t a problem for you, all the better, and please feel free to share how you got there!
  • Remember that the little stuff counts. Whether you set a calendar reminder that pushes you to send a follow-up announcement to a group, or add “Say ‘thank you’ to a team member” to your to-do list, it only takes 28 days for new behaviors to become a habit! The more you reflect and share, the more relationships and loyalty you build, & the easier transparency becomes across the board.

There’s always more to say when it comes to communication (ha!), but these are a few of my go-tos! & if you need inspiration to get back on track, think of Warren Buffet’s wise words: “Without good communication skills, you won’t be able to convince people to follow you, even though you see over the mountain and they don’t.”

Ultimately, all of our challenges start and end with us, and what we put out there! Whether it’s through our actions or our words, we send a message to people. What do you want yours to say?

What about you? What challenges have you faced or had to overcome with your or your company’s communication? What other tips do you have when it comes to effective communication at work? Thank you for reading, and please feel free to comment or reach out any time! I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Cultivating Dream Teams of Confident Decision-Makers: An Exercise in Trust

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There’s no secret agenda: in an ever-changing economy, we all want to scale up and improve capabilities, and promote joint accountability, across our organizations. We need ourselves, our own HR teams, leaders, and employees to glide our companies through global disruptions and beyond, but time and again we see confidence slip away, and analysis paralysis take over in the face of transition. Why does this keep happening, and why does it seem to grow more prevalent? There isn’t an easy or a one-size-fits-all answer to this, but we can dive into two common causes that we can swiftly and positively impact.

First, we have a web of pooled knowledge at our fingertips. Our laptops, tablets, and phones bring endless answers to our questions at any moment. When faced with too many options and a lack of hands-on experience, many fear they’ll never know which solution is the “right” one for their situation, and they tend to lock up or slip back into the status quo.  

Next, we have companies that wobble at tipping points with policies and processes that haven’t caught up with the modern workforce and/or their rapid growth. Established companies also tend to be ripe with lingering, inherent “right” and “wrong” ways to handle different scenarios. Existing leaders who are too engrossed in the culture sometimes can’t see the need or path for change, and new leaders and employees are focused on learning the ropes or trying to climb the ladder. It’s easier and more palatable to put out the fires than to push the norms, so again, long-term problem-solving takes a back seat. 

Now, why is this particularly relevant to the HR field? To start, whether our employees freeze and reach out to us for proactive guidance or for reactive course correction, HR remains in the crosshairs of cultural change and strategic decision-making. This fly-by-the-seat approach is not sustainable, and we all know this. But as HR, how can we be our peers’ trusted advisors, instead of their band-aids and policy pushers after the problems have already emerged? How can we move away from “right” and “wrong,” to foster a company of people who are comfortable with change, on-the-spot decisions, and scale without our guidance every step of the way? It’s a long journey, but we can start by implementing 3 practices. Hint: each of them are related to trust!

  • When someone approaches you for advice, ask them how they think they should handle the situation before you offer your input. This is crucial because when a person comes to us to guide them through a simple question or a crisis, our urge to manage kicks in. More often than not, we want to listen to the scenario, and share our view on how they can address it effectively. It can be instantly gratifying and eliminate stress for both parties, especially when it comes to the policy or process-related scenarios we face in HR each day, where methods are important. The problem with this quick fix is that our views were formed over time and are based on our experiences, and our experiences – both the great and the painful – are what helped us grow. If we tell a leader, manager, or otherwise how we’d handle their plight, we not only become their crutch, but we hinder them from thinking through the challenge themselves. To help them build confidence and capabilities moving forward, be their trusted advisor and allow them to start to form that same trust within themselves: hear them out, support their thought process, and then coach them along as needed so they arrive at an appropriate solution on their own. 
  • Encourage people to accomplish mutual goals as they see fit. From collaborating with another team to revamp an operational process, or partnering with your company’s leaders on a crucial employee program, it’s tempting to micromanage how and when ideas we’re passionate about are met. It can feel like the success of the team and initiative reflect on us and our department: why would we just let it go and hope for the best? Well, there are actually two good reasons to do just that: 1) To build trust in and out of HR. Trust is a give and take, and if we show another person or their team that we trust their expertise to accomplish what they set out to do, it’ll boost their confidence and esteem for us, as well. They’ll return that trust to us in this exercise and, likely, going forward; and 2) To encourage creativity and diverse perspectives throughout our organizations. Periods of ambiguity paired with a sense of mutual purpose across teams are great times to promote innovative and thoughtful solutions to company challenges. So next time, when the situation permits, why not set the goals together and let everyone soar toward the finish line as they want? More often than not, we’ll be pleasantly surprised by some new ideas along the way! & how great does it feel to celebrate a success everyone has a stake in?
  • Embrace failures as a chance to improve. Some of us follow the above tips more often than not! We stay optimistic, we trust our leaders and team members, and we wait for fresh ideas, collaborative efforts, and trust to come right back to us in abundance! & then we are flicked in the face by the harsh reality that will never leave us: the “H” in “HR!” Our interactions humbly remind us we are all just human beings, working with other human beings.  We all make mistakes and we all misstep for too many reasons to count, excuse, or deny in one swoop. When we’re let down in a big or small way, especially with our livelihoods or professional brand on the line, it’s easy to want to finger point, send a scathing email, remove initiatives from someone’s plate, the list goes on. Not only is this not recommended from a professionalism and relationship-building standpoint, but it will also do no good for any of us long-term. Dwelling on the failures of someone else or ourselves once the moment has passed only has toxic effects. It stifles innovation, lowers individual and group confidence, and allows fear of future failures to permeate. Who feels encouraged to critically think or ideate when they are scared of repercussions to come? Nobody. They will seek “approved” answers from other people and departments to avoid accountability, and we, our people, and our companies will suffer as we slip back into “the way we’ve always done it.” Instead of sinking too deep in the face of our next failure, let’s seek to elevate! Elevate others, ourselves, and the situation. Proactively set aside time to focus on what we learned, where we went wrong, and how we can all work together to avoid this happening again moving forward. & then do just that: move forward together.

If none of the above resonated with you, that’s OK! If you’d like, just remember this key takeaway and address it however you want: the more we model trust in others, the more they learn to trust themselves, their decisions, and eventually, their peers. It enables trust to flow throughout an entire organization. (Sound absurd? Picture a company with a distrustful culture. How do you think they got there? Why can’t the opposite work, too?) Putting the effort into building a climate of trust will allow for risk-taking and innovation, and will cultivate stronger decision-making skills and collaborative efforts across all teams and departments. It takes time, but it will do more good than harm, and really, we have nothing to lose! 

Will these strategies solve all of our workforce challenges in one get-go? Of course not. Can they help us start to chip away at it, step-by-step, if we all actively do our part to model what we want to see? I’m a firm believer!

What about you? I’d love to hear each of your ideas, too. How do you increase the confidence in your peers and collaborative partners who rely on you? What has worked? What hasn’t? Share away, #HRTribe! & Happy Sunday, in the meantime!