Why do managers fail to get people moving in the right direction? More often than not they blame their staff, even as they lack the drive to push themselves to communicate outside their chosen comfort zone. The answer to being a better motivator? Know ...

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  1. Why Managers Now Need to Communicate Until It Hurts
  2. Got a Backlog of Anything? Use Process, Not Psychological Solutions
  3. How to Close Communication Gaps For a New Corporate Strategy
  4. Controlling Email Flow Can Transform Your Company
  5. How to Avoid Costly Responses to RFP’s
  6. More Recent Articles

Why Managers Now Need to Communicate Until It Hurts

Why do managers fail to get people moving in the right direction? More often than not they blame their staff, even as they lack the drive to push themselves to communicate outside their chosen comfort zone. The answer to being a better motivator? Know your limits and exceed them.

 

If you supervise the work of others, consider my observation: most managers chronically under-communicate.

While I can’t prove the above assertion with research data, my anecdotal evidence suggests that many of your employees may find themselves stranded. Without sufficient dialogue and adequate answers, they arrive at their own conclusions with only the help of others who share their skewed thinking. A yawning gap emerges which can only be spanned if you take the initiative.

You must do more than sit in your office or meetings, feeling safe in the belief that your intentions are being well-understood. They aren’t. The only reason you don’t realize the problem is that most employees are reticent, reluctant to confront you. Only after a disaster strikes, do you see the truth: some time ago, you left them far behind.

To prevent this outcome, borrow a trick from weight-lifters who accept that their development only comes from “progressive overload”—the addition of extra pounds. The principle is simple. Muscles become bigger and stronger when they are subject to increasing loads. Added stress produces growth. It’s the very opposite approach taken by the typical manager who is trying to reduce pressure, not increase it.

One solution is to engage in the following three practices to be executed by you, as a manager, with a kind of systematic, ruthless diligence.

  1. Use New Technologies

When I started in the corporate world as a 20-year-old, internal communication occurred via the printed word or in speeches. Today, if you stick to those approaches, employees are likely to associate them with you and your message: i.e. as stale.

Use improved, enriched forms of communication if you hope to steal your employees’ attention away from their devices with their continuous barrage of multi-media distractions. To keep up, you must learn how to adopt the latest popular technologies.

For example, today it’s as important to master social networking tools as it is to know Word or PowerPoint, with one difference. The social network’s features are evolving more quickly, implying that you need to be a permanent student, experimenting and learning how to communicate with today’s employees.

  1. Use Interactive Channels

As new hires, my colleagues and I understood that information was meant to be sent in one direction. Down. Thirty years later, this just won’t do. Now, employees who are the targets of one-way communication offer up bored, blank looks, especially if they are Millennials.

The fact is, they have been raised with an expectation that problem-solving is a joint activity, regardless of who initiates the interaction. Don’t think of a sermon. Instead, study Facebook, Netflix and Snapchat to understand their addictive, game-like qualities. Their interactive design is the new norm.

To thrive in today’s world, you must be persuasive, using blogs, podcasts, live dialogs and the written word in ways that provoke employees to interact. Like masterful Internet marketers, you have no choice but to keep pushing the envelope in order to inspire others to action.

As you do so, expect these interactions to change you as well. No longer is communication about “delivery.” Now, if you aren’t being transformed during these dialogs, both live and virtual, then you should suspect you are either being boring or irrelevant.

  1. Over-communicate

As I mentioned at the beginning if you are a manager it’s likely that you are not communicating enough. You may talk a lot when given the chance (perhaps even drowning out others) but that’s not the same. Most managers aren’t equipped to deliver the high frequency of communication required to proactively answer employees’ questions and concerns. Understand that if they are using WhatsApp to touch bases with every other important person in their life several times per day, then your monthly update meetings fall far short.

The worst managers resist such requirements, convincing themselves that “I am paying these people, so they should listen, be content and perform.” It’s old, outdated Bakra thinking. He also believed that feeding and housing slaves was enough to earn their loyalty.

Don’t fall into that trap. Instead, use new technology, interactivity and over-communication until you find yourself far outside your comfort zone.

When it starts to hurt consider that a good sign. It’s what you need to grow into the kind of manager who is meeting employees where they are, rather than where you wish they were. Embrace the new level of receptivity, sensitivity and openness which is now required to be a great communicator.

 

 

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170129/francis-wade-why-managers-now-need-communicate-until-it-hurts

    

Got a Backlog of Anything? Use Process, Not Psychological Solutions

What can local companies do when faced with backlogs of any kind? From lists of overdue phone calls to folders of email messages, this nagging issue is difficult to solve. In this article I argue that we are better off staying away from pop-psychological diagnoses in favor of process-oriented solutions.

 

Case in point: Our justice system shows evidence of several, alarming backlogs. As citizens we agree that they partially cause our increasing crime rate. When suspects never become inmates, criminals are emboldened. When an unsolved murder takes five years to come to trial, people lose hope.

Like folks in other Caribbean countries we find it easy to provide psychological reasons for these problems. This tendency might just be a function of the times: the twentieth century defined a new focus on mental states – their origins, manifestations and abnormalities. In time, managers followed suit. The hypothesized happenings in employees’ heads, invisible to the eye, gained a new primacy that arose after Freud’s theories regarding the unconscious became popular.

Today, we ascribe a wide range of workplace ills to these mysterious hidden forces. Low performance is due to laziness. Black people’s true role model is not Marcus Garvey but Bredda Anansi. A backlog is caused by rampant disloyalty and even by “poor ventilation.”

That’s not a misstatement. Recent Gleaner articles on the topic of backlogs in Supreme Court matters, divorce cases, public sector audits, PPV licenses and elective surgeries have offered a wide variety of causes.  One blamed the lack of efficiency in some government offices on the need for better louvre blades. (I’m not making this up.)

Setting aside the dubious link between window treatments and performance, let’s focus on the more popular belief that workers produce backlogs because of their psychology. It’s a mistake. While this notion makes for interesting verandah talk, the research indicates that the truth is more nuanced. Apart from a few hardy souls, most of us who join an organization for the first time readily conform.

In other words, if you put the most motivated workers in the middle of a backlogged department, it won’t take long for them to start contributing to the problem. But it’s not because their mindset is faulty. Instead, credit a more natural occurrence well understood by industrial engineers.

As specialists in factory processes, they solve these challenges every day without the use of headspace remedies. On the contrary, they have learned that backlogs are naturally caused by a mismatch between volume and capacity. For example, as I have shared in previous articles, when someone fails to reply to your email, they usually don’t leave you hanging because of “Bad Mind.” Unfortunately, their 10,000 unprocessed messages are a product of inappropriate behaviours. They do their best: it’s just not sufficient.
If we extend that simple analogy to your organization, it implies that the answer to your backlog also does not lie in tackling psychological objects. Instead, look to make the kind of changes industrial engineers would implement, such as the following.

1. Understand the Process
It’s hard to improve the actions of a system you haven’t analyzed. As individuals, we do it often, purchasing the latest gadget without knowing its impact. Fortunately, the damage is minor. However, on a much larger scale a lack of analysis produces hundreds of thousands of backlogged items. In these cases found in most big organizations, introducing a major change initiative can even make things worse. Laying off staff, implementing a new piece of software, automating tasks, cutting budgets, culture transformation efforts: these are all attempts that often fail to meet their goals because they ignore the underlying processes by which work is done.

2. Check for Wasted Steps
In-depth process knowledge gained from an analysis reveals problem spots immediately. Before you rush into a big change effort, put in metrics to ensure that it produces the result you want. This is a must in complex systems where invisible cause-and-effect loops lurk in the background, ready to produce unpredictable mal-effects. They destroy your finest intentions.

3. Improve and Then Automate
Be cheap. Discover the impact you can have without spending a penny. A costly intervention should be your last resort after exhausting all other human-centred, behavioral solutions. Don’t be enamored by what you find in other companies, especially those overseas. Long before they put in place a flashy solution employing the latest technology, they took the necessary steps to remove waste in a steady, unglamorous effort that didn’t attract headlines.

In organizations of all sizes, there is no escaping the fact that backlogs are often produced by process failures. As an executive or manager, don’t fool yourself by insisting on psychological solutions. Instead, uncover the hidden system that connects the concrete, visible actions your people take. Give them the means to fix them and problems like your nagging backlog will disappear.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170115/francis-wade-struggling-backlogs-use-process-not-psychological-solutions

    

How to Close Communication Gaps For a New Corporate Strategy

As an executive in a large Jamaican company, how do you ensure that good strategic ideas spark the right conversations between important stakeholders? Too often, these dialogues get trapped at the top or bottom of organisations so that fruitful meetings between leaders and those being led never take place. Sadly, poor corporate results ensue leaving everyone mutually mystified, annoyed and disenchanted.

 

By contrast, small companies have it easy. In a start-up in which I’m involved, a person with a bright idea is never more than one or two steps away from someone who can implement it. There’s lots of opportunities to explore ideas in deep conversations, tearing suggestions apart in order to improve them. Obviously, this can’t be done via email, memo or in a speech. These channels just don’t get the job done.

If your company employees hundreds or thousands, quick water-cooler or coffee conversations simply don’t take place. They take too much work. It’s easier to let the Status Quo remain, along with stubborn, distant feelings. The top-down, one-way communication that remains is stilted, dry and dull. Over time, you’ll also see the following three problems crop up.

Problem 1 – A key exercise used to spur transformational ideas involves carving out a preferred 20-30 year future for the company. When this exercise is restricted to the top leaders, it becomes a predictable affair. They gravitate to short, comfortable horizons in which plans are limited to merely “The same thing we did last year, plus a bit of difference.” Also, they fail to take into account the impact their decisions (and indecision) have on the next generation of employees. After all, current leaders are close to retirement and won’t be around to experience the 20-30 year consequences of steps they failed to take.

Problem 2 – Many leaders fall into the trap of treating their younger staff like some die-hard followers of political parties – loyal to the point of stupidity. The result is predictable: the least able (who don’t think for themselves) remain in the same jobs while the most capable leave. The departed understand that long term trends are being ignored and question the ability of leaders to incorporate concepts they barely understand. Cloud computing? The mobile Internet? Robotic automation? Artificial Intelligence? Leaders pretend to have a grasp of these concepts, avoiding uncomfortable questions from young employees who should, in their minds, be just following orders.

Problem 3 – When there are communications gaps, chosen strategies become confused when leaders try to “cascade” them down the organisation. It’s only human nature. By definition, a fresh strategy involves a new course of action. It’s a cognitive and behavioural intervention, but many CEO’s under-estimate the challenge employees have upon hearing a new strategy for the first time. Whereas the top executive may have considered the new strategy for years, it’s folly to expect employees to grasp it after a mere one-hour presentation. It’s also crazy to ask them to believe it will work, then act on it with full motivation. Dialogue is required. Sometimes, making the strategy “stick” means encouraging staff to challenge it.

The net result of these problems is that key information and strategies never make their way from the top of your organisation to the bottom, and vice versa. Left to fester, this condition makes the company vulnerable to disruption by smaller, nimble competitors. A typical example? Jamaica’s Cable and Wireless in 2001 had leaders who ignored the threat of Digicel, even as many of their own employees knew better. How can your company and other large firms reduce the risk inherent in their size?

1. Offer internal strategy conferences
Conduct an internal symposium in which employees present critical trends and ideas. Demand a high standard of content and use it to shape the firm’s strategy. Where necessary, teach employees the complexity lying below the surface via structured learning opportunities.

2. Create long-term brainstorming sessions
In structured workshops, give employees a chance to look 25-30 years ahead to select a preferred future.

3. Conduct research
While companies often rely on outside experts to tell them which direction an industry is heading, motivated employees can often do a great job if given the same time and resources. Their findings may have higher quality as they will be informed by their exposure to daily reality.

When these three activities are performed well, including the right blend of leaders and employees, your company can provide the missing conversations essential to planning and implementing strategy. People at both the top and bottom of the organization benefit from in-depth, dynamic conversations which do a far better job than static, one-way presentations.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170101/francis-wade-how-close-communication-gaps-new-corporate-strategy

    

Controlling Email Flow Can Transform Your Company

In most companies, “email” means more than having a messaging app on your computer. Its ubiquitous nature, plus its tendency to be addictive has turned it into a productivity killer most people abhor. Gaining control has become more than a personal choice for individual benefit – it’s a matter of boosting corporate capacity.

Readers of this column may know that controlling one’s environment is a skill that’s essential to high productivity in the digital age. Visual distractions, audible disruptions, and haptic alerts are the modern contrivances of clever designers, intent on pulling your attention away at random times.

Email is no exception. It exerts a unique influence due to its central role as a communication medium used by all companies. It cannot be avoided: all professionals must teach themselves to cope with ever-increasing volumes of email if they hope to grow their business or ascend the corporate ladder.

Unfortunately, as I have explained in prior columns, most don’t cope very well at all. Using stale techniques, they struggle, falling short of expectations. The evidence? Inboxes filled with thousands of unprocessed messages.

A few try to keep up by remaining hyper-alert to every notification, checking for new messages over 100 times per day. It’s called a FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out. By contrast, the best alternative is to shift to batch processing: going through all your messages a few times per day, emptying the Inbox each time. Here are three steps that may help you implement these two difficult changes.

Step 1 – Learn how to control your personal flow of messages
One way to gain control is to avoid checking your email outside pre-scheduled times. To stay focused, turn off all email-related notifications so that you aren’t tempted to break the practice.

To help accomplish this discipline, use software to pause email downloads between visits. In Outlook, this trick is achieved by hitting Ctrl+Alt+S. Up pops a screen with each account displayed. Select the one(s) you use, and un-tick the setting for “Schedule an automatic send /receive every [ ] minutes.” Now, when you revisit your Inbox to process messages, hit the Send/Receive button and all your unread email will be downloaded in a single batch.

If you are a Gmail user an add-on such as “Inbox Pause” can be used to the same end. In either case, you may discover a new ability to focus on the task at hand. How can you maintain it?

Step 2 – Start to Manage Your Mind
Many of my productivity trainees argue that their notifications cannot possibly be turned off. Repeating the same arguments, they announce the need to be available to respond to a possible “emergency.” As proof, they cite stories of instances when they picked up an important, urgent message and avoided a disaster. It’s all the proof that’s needed, in their eyes.

Unfortunately, they are committing a cognitive error called the “Availability Heuristic.” It implies that an action which works once shouldn’t necessarily become a regular habit. According to several studies, being hyper-responsive to electronic notifications carries a tremendous cost.

Once you decide to turn off notifications in order to focus, you must learn to manage your mind by not falling prey to a FOMO. If your anxiety won’t go away, I recommend techniques such as meditation or Byron Katies’ “4-Question + a Turnaround” technique.

However, in the typical company, these personal changes are not enough: you must involve other people.

Step 3 – Launch a Movement
By far the biggest obstacle to overcoming this problem is one that’s social. In a prior article I showed that it’s maddeningly easy to destroy the productivity of others: just insist that people respond immediately to urgent email. This ties up untold amounts of attention as people check their Inboxes over and over again, just in case something important happens to have just arrived. This wasteful habit is made worse by the fact that some 10-15% of messages get lost in cyberspace.

The problem that gets created affects people at all levels, so your movement must include them. Don’t waste time looking for a single person – no individual ever owns this issue. Instead, become the educator-in-chief even as you look for people who are already implementing the right solution: insisting that other channels be used for urgent communication instead of email. Encourage them to make the switch, even as they gain control over their Inbox.

Even though this may make sense, be aware that things won’t change overnight. Although the problem is widespread, your real enemy is not people, but their ignorance. As such, be prepared to act as a lonely voice of reason until you can build a critical mass. Only then can you join others who have also produced this transformation which, in the end, benefits everyone.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20161218/francis-wade-controlling-email-flow-can-transform-your-company

    

How to Avoid Costly Responses to RFP’s

A juicy Request for Proposal (RFP) could be a dream or nightmare. As a business-owner, how can you tip the scales in your favour so that you end up winning a higher percentage of better opportunities?

It comes as a pleasant surprise. A casual scan of the Gleaner reveals an RFP that fits your company’s work. From all appearances, it’s an easy shortcut: a lead which has fallen into your lap without any marketing effort.

Unfortunately, “easy” is a misnomer. By definition, each RFP wastes the time, money and resources of losing respondents, who are in the majority. In the worst cases, they fail to be awarded so no-one benefits. How can you protect your firm from costly distractions? Here are three suggestions.

1. Adapt Your Approach to Your Offering
There’s a big difference between responses to the following kinds of RFP’s:
(a) a delivery of five computers.
(b) the installation of a new plumbing system.
(c) teaching a farm how to use different kinds of soil to grow better crops.
(d) helping a business overcome the sudden loss of its founder.

RFP’s are ideal for commodities like example (a) which involve a tangible object delivered via a single transaction. Usually, price is the main criterion. In the case of its extreme opposite (d), that factor is modified by the length of the engagement. In this case, a mutual relationship of trust with the client organization is critical.

Understanding these differences is the first step.

2. Read an RFP Critically
If your product or service offering has a high relationship component (c) and (d) you must be wary about RFP’s which are poorly written. They are the ones which treat all products or services as if they were just like a commodity (a).

Also, keep an eye out for the RFP which makes no attempt to stimulate your interest. The most basic ones are little more than cut-and-paste jobs from prior projects, intended for desperate vendors with a lot of time on their hands. They are the ones happy to gamble on an RFP, even though they know the odds of winning are low. They ask nothing of the prospect, even when obvious facts are missing.

Take note of these discrepancies. The client’s lack of foresight is your opportunity to shine. For example, the company may not appreciate the trust and partnership required the make the project a success.

3. Act in an Extraordinary Way
Most vendors squander opportunities to forge a relationship with the company issuing the RFP. Don’t be like them: take the initiative to create a relationship as early as possible, much as you would a “normal” prospect.

There are many approaches to take, even when the RFP limits them.

One ethical alternative is to ask the kind of questions that make it obvious your firm has specific insights which are critical to the success of the project. This not only builds credibility, it also allows you to subtly shift the decision criteria. Better yet, conduct such a Q&A session in person. Try to include decision-makers who you need to work with closely if your project is to succeed.

Regardless of what’s written on paper, or espoused, you should understand that no-one wants to work with people they don’t like and trust. Your use of smart, caring questions can enhance both.

Of course, this strategy works if you actually do possess adequate expertise. That’s why I recommend that you avoid RFP’s where you can’t demonstrate a significant difference in capability.

The fact is, your knowledge and experience usually far surpass that of your prospective clients. Their self-diagnosis is often piece-meal, while the decision-making process they intend to follow is likely to be crammed with more legalese than anything useful.

Given your experience, once you have made your best attempts to follow the above steps, don’t rush to write the proposal. Sit back and ask yourself whether or not the project is adequately defined, and if you have significantly improved the odds of winning. If you can create a checklist to help you think through the pros and cons, that would help.

As you may imagine, the greatest risks arise from unwritten, word-of-mouth RFPs. When responding, be prepared for random, unpredictable behaviour – the client may be protecting a pre-selected vendor. To prevent this problem, ask if there are additional bidders who have already been invited. For this and other reasons, it might be wise to cut your losses and walk away from unresponsive, inept, un-clientable companies.

If you proceed to respond, fill your proposal with unique insight and details that make you professionally proud. By eliminating the faults, you have made your best effort to make your involvement in the project a success.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20161204/francis-wade-avoiding-costly-responses-rfps

    

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