We are all familiar with the character Ebenezer Scrooge, from Charles Dickens’ famous novella, A Christmas Carol. This character is depicted, as a surly, cold-hearted businessman who hates Christmas, spends his life hoarding his wealth and forces his employees to work long, grueling hours for little pay. Scrooge is basically everyone’s worst nightmare when it comes to a manager. However, as we learn more about Scrooge through his journey with the ghosts of Christmas past, we find that he actually is a victim of circumstance. His childhood experiences, misfortune in love, and depression overcome him, not allowing him to re-frame his perspective to understand how he, as a manager, needs to communicate with his employees.
In communications, this is called understanding your frame of reference, or how individuals assess information. This can be based upon an individuals education, background, personal values, experiences, cultural differences and more, having a large influence on how information flows from or to us. The greater the overlap in frame of reference between two people, or the greater the similarities in individual’s backgrounds, the higher the likelihood that communication will be successful.
In the case of Scrooge, due to his lack of willingness to open up to his employees and allow them to understand his background, employees as well as others, simply assume that he is crotchety and cold-hearted. Therefore, any message that he sends to an intended audience will misconstrued, and may be dismissed due to the disrespect that the intended receiver may have for the sender. However, if the intended receiver of the message understands Scrooge’s background, they may be more willing to understand his situation and receive the message without the attachment of bias.
So, what can be done to fix these communication issues?
In order to fix this communication barrier, managers must do a bit of re-framing. Meaning that as leaders, we must seek to look at things in a different way and seek to understand the other person’s frame of reference. The following can assist with this process:
- Take the time to get to know your employees. Learn their personalities and interact with them regularly so that you not only build a trusting relationship with them, but you also learn how they communicate. Doing this will help to improve the likelihood of successful communication.
- Let your employees learn about you. Communication is a two-way street, unless, of course, you want to talk to yourself. Managers need to ensure that they share their best practices for communicating, including their favorite way to deliver messages and feedback. Allowing for face-to-face time to get to know each others personalities is key as well, as this is the time that you will learn how to interpret each others non-verbal cues.
- When communicating to the outside public, know your audience. Do your research. Learn about the background of your intended audience and speak to that. Although you can’t get to know everyone you are speaking to at a conference, classroom or otherwise, you can speak to their general experiences and speak to them through that perspective.
My advice to you is, don’t be a Scrooge. Teach yourself to look at things from a different perspective; learn your audience and communicate in a clear, concise manner, giving feedback as necessary to improve internal and external communication within your organization.
What are some of techniques or methods that you use to help improve communication?
A few months ago I was on the hunt for a job, a task that I’m sure many of you are familiar with. It’s not easy. After a few months of searching you begin to wonder if there is something on your resume that is glaring up at companies and holding them back from hiring you…and you ask yourself, what could be the problem?
I am a Navy Reservist, so for a while I thought that my reserve status was holding companies back from hiring me. Maybe they had seen a military movie and thought I’d be screaming my head off at employees like a drill sergeant or maybe they immediately associate a service member with deployment. But then I thought to myself, that’s ridiculous. Why wouldn’t they want to hire me? Sure, there is a chance that I could deploy. But if I am put on orders for deployment, I would be enhancing my skills in a professional field, a field that they would be hiring me in.
It made me question whether or not employers see the value in hiring and employing service members. So, I put together a list of five attributes that a service member brings to your organization:
1) Leadership skills
Service members are bred to become leaders. We are instilled to accept responsibility for getting things done, manage cross-functional team communication and promote a culture of hard work by setting the example.
2) Work well under pressure
Military training assists members to flourish when working under pressure. A key trait necessary for working in high-stress career fields in the civilian world.
3) Attention to detail
If you miss one tiny detail during a mission, you are putting lives at risk. The military workplace puts service members into scenarios where they are challenged to pay attention to every detail. Making a conscious effort to understand causes instead of just the effects translates well into the corporate world, because details that fall through the cracks can cost a company time and money.
We work in teams. That’s just what we do. Never leave a man behind. Veterans instill a sense of team pride and cohesiveness. Teamwork builds trust and trust builds speed. Working together, we are able to achieve organizational goals and success faster.
5) Great work ethic
Military members have an incredible work ethic, and make personal sacrifices to accomplish the mission. We don’t let the team down. We get our jobs done, and we do it well, regardless of the organizational demands.
While there are other traits that could be mentioned, this short list is great to keep in mind when hiring and employing a Veteran because they all have the potential to promote a culture of teamwork and growth.
So now I ask you, what benefits has your organization seen in hiring veterans and service members? Let us know your feedback.
For more information about employers who have benefited from hiring veterans or if you are a veteran seeking employment go to the ESGR website.
As part of my MBA program at Texas Tech (Wreck ‘em), I am taking a Business Analytics course. Recently, we did an exercise in class where we had to rank how certain we were about answers to random trivia questions (80% sure the answer is A, etc.). It looked like this…
Answer: A or B
Confidence in your answer: 50-100%
(Obviously, if it is less than 50% you would choose the other answer.)
After we completed the questionnaire, the instructor called out the correct answers and we tallied the results to show which we answered correctly/incorrectly and how accurate we were when we guessed our confidence level in our answer. Some of you may already realize this… but we were ALL over-confident. Everyone in the entire room, law school graduates, CPA’s, CEO’s, future CEO’s, and one Managing Director of Development and Collaboration were all more positive that we knew the correct answer than we really did. (I think my statistic was something like when I say I am 70% sure, I am only correct 30% of the time. Scary right??)
Fortunately, for this defeated group of students, this was exactly the point the instructor was trying to prove. We rely on gut instinct and intuition, and we are wrong… A LOT. Then, once the facts do show that we are indeed incorrect, we actually rationalize our error (typically using extenuating circumstances beyond our control). We say things like, “that would have been successful, but we ended up having to switch gears to focus on something else” or “it really was a great idea, but the customer base ended up needing something else…” or “nobody could have predicted that downturn in the economy.” Next, we repeat this situation, time and time again.
So, how do we overcome this over-confidence? Well, the answer is really not that black and white. We can make use of metrics, data, and algorithms, but we have to be careful. As Mark Twain once said, there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics” but, numbers can be powerful and algorithms are more accurate than our gut feeling (seriously, it is true, read this). When you track data over a period of time, find trends, form algorithms and analyze, you are able to look at results in a more unemotional state that lets you make truly informed decisions without your own preconceived notions, desires and bias weighing in. This type of decision-making can also lead to greater efficiency organization wide, because instead of multiple people using debate and brainstorming (or worse, group think), you can implement tools and processes for making quick and accurate decisions.
That said the POWER of over-confidence is actually very beneficial to an organization. Yes, you heard that correctly! When looking back over the course of history, we see inventions and innovations like the first car, first flight, and medical advancements. It is clear that without some creative humans setting lofty goals, brainstorming, and trying again, and again, and again (despite the overwhelming statistics showing they would fail), we would not have progressed as a society like we have. Innovation is the key when starting new initiatives and staying on the leading edge (being in the 16%). Especially in local government, it would be detrimental to eliminate or even stifle the creativity that over-confidence brings to the organization. Sometimes success is not about what would be supported through numbers and data, because only a human can make a JUDGMENT call.
All of this is to say, while we all think we are more correct than we really are, it is important to acknowledge and understand and use it to our advantage. Leaders in local government face an even more unique challenge, because while most are driven to serve the public and create a learning organization, they are also focused on streamlining operations and overall efficiency. As leaders, we must find the right balance to utilize the over-confidence to spur innovation, while being aware of the impact over-confidence has on accurate decision-making.
My boss, Ron Holifield, often says, “I would rather try ten things and only succeed at five than to try three things and succeed 100% of the time.” This is a truly innovative approach and has allowed the entire company to take risks and think outside the box.
So, what are you doing in your organization to overcome over-confidence? Are you using it to spur innovation?
Managing Director of Development and Collaboration
Like many American’s I am pretty much obsessed with the confident television phenomenon that is Scandal’s Olivia Pope. As a communication’s professional, it’s hard for me to not want to be her. She’s confident, she’s smart, and she’s basically everything that you would want in a crisis management professional. So instead of ranting about how great the show is, I’ve opted for informing you on some of the things that I’ve learned from Scandal that directly translate to real-life communications situations.
- Never Tell a Lie
This is probably the most important one, especially for government employees. In government as well as the business world, it is vital that you maintain transparency with your public. The days where “no comment” would suffice are no longer here. “No comment” has warped from a way to avoid responding to a topic to a term that evokes wrongdoing and gives your public the impression that you are hiding something. So, don’t ever use that. Instead, stick with the truth. Don’t make anything up, don’t stretch the truth, simply state the facts that you do know. And if you don’t know how to answer a question, it’s perfectly OK to respond to someone by telling them that you will get back to them. But, let me emphasize that you MUST get back to them. You can’t leave them hanging.
- Always Have A Backup Plan
Another important thing that Olivia Pope does is that she develops multiple plans. It is vital for organizations to formulate crisis plans so that they are prepared to respond to just about any scenario that they may come across. If your organization does not already have a crisis plan in place, say something. Lead your organization in the development of a plan, the creation of a crisis team, and acquire or reach out to obtain the necessary resources that are necessary in implementing something of this magnitude. It is far easier to respond to a crisis when there are already steps outlined on how to respond. If you have no plan in place, you are relying on your reactions and emotions to formulate a plan at the last-minute, and this has the potential to add to the crisis rather than help to solve it.
- Confidence is Key
I feel like that phrase is strong enough to use on its own, however I will elaborate a bit so you see where I’m coming from. In a crisis scenario it is vital that you choose a confident spokesperson to respond to the community about what is not only happening, but also what is being done to solve the problem at hand. The spokesperson needs to not only believe what they are saying, but they need to be empathetic with their audience, letting them know that the situation is being handled and that there is nothing to worry about. Sometimes all it takes is a little confidence to reassure the public that they are in good hands. There’s nothing worse than having an unconfident spokesperson, as their lack in confidence in themselves translates to the community as untrustworthy and creates panic and worry in a crisis scenario. Both things that you do not want proliferate.
- No One Is Perfect
Always remember, no one is perfect. Not even Olivia Pope or Mary Poppins (who was only practically perfect). We all have our faults and we all make bad decisions every once in a while. It’s how you respond to these bad choices that makes you a good leader.
- Be a Gladiator
Finally, this is my favorite take-away from Scandal, “be a gladiator.” Get out there and be a leader. If you see something wrong within your organization or if you have an idea on how to improve something, be a gladiator and take the necessary steps to lead your organization down the right path.
Along with major events, the developments in technology have impacted us enormously. The influences technological advancements have had on our lives have been huge. Each generation has had a vastly different experience because of the developments in technology that have occurred at certain ages. Technology, perhaps foremost, has impacted the way we communicate so significantly. The way people of each generation communicate has one of the greatest impacts in the workplace. We constantly hear grumblings from Silents, Boomers, and even X-ers towards Millennials and the Homeland Generation because of their ability to “communicate appropriately”. Where older generations will prefer to physically speak to another person, Millennials and the Homeland Generation will send a text, or send an email, or some sort of electronic messaging. It is faster, more efficient and less invasive than demanding someone’s attention at that very moment. The way Millennials and the Homeland Generation communicate has developed from what we were taught in school when we were growing up. We were taught to use technology, and it is what is socially acceptable among our peers. Using technology to communicate is something we have learned, just as much as the way the Silent and G.I. Generations learned to communicate by writing hand written letters and having meetings. What we have to remember, particularly in the workplace, is that each generation has its own way of communicating. Neither is necessarily better than the other. There is a time and a place for verbal, in person communication, and there is a time and a place for electronic communication. We need to teach each other the skill of communication. One thing is for sure about Boomers, X-ers, and Millennials – we are all learners. We all love to learn. But, we are also great teachers.
One thing that we sometimes lack is the patience to understand one another, and to slow down and take the time to remember why it is we communicate a little differently. Understanding this, will help reduce frustration and increase our ability to understand one another.
The importance of strong communication and empathy in the workplace really cannot be understated. We are now living in a time where we have up to four generations in the workplace. Understanding and appreciating how each person functions and communicates can greatly reduce frustration and lead to a much more understanding and successful environment. Understanding this about communication is more important for those in leadership positions, perhaps more than ever before. Having empathy, as a leader, is so vital in today’s work environment. Ask yourself, when you were twenty-something, were you an expert communicator, or an expert in your field? I am one of these twenty-somethings in the workplace that we are speaking of, and I confess, I still have a LOT to learn… and I’ll thank you for being patient and remembering this fact. For all the Millennials out there, when your parents and grandparents ask you how to use a computer, I always keep in mind that these are the people taught you how to use a spoon…
We all have differences and we all have similarities, but one thing that we know for sure – we were all twenty-somethings at one point, and the older generation felt we were all frustrating, immature and lacking basic life skills… this is not something that is new, or particular to a specific generation. A wise woman once said about the generation that succeeded hers –
“Annoying? Yes. Dangerous? No. They were simply our youthful doppelgangers who need our compassion more than anything.” – Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City.
Member Collaboration Manager
In case you missed part one of Generations with a Twist, you can read it here.
Having said all this about generations not being as different and defined in characteristics as people think, it is important to remember that…
generations are heavily influenced by their environment and the events that they have lived through. What goes on around us vastly impacts our perceptions, decisions, understanding, and our culture.
We all have that parent or grandparent who has lived through war and as a result has a heightened sensitivity to not wasting food or who never takes having enough food for granted. For those of us who have lived through economic downturn or times of great economic prosperity – this will influence our behavior and outlook. The Boomer Generation grew up through a time of great economic prosperity, which contributed significantly to the beginning of the “credit obsessed” trend in the U.S. The Boomers became well-known for being highly focused on pursuing material possessions because of the economic prosperity they experienced for much of their lives, at least until 2008.
If we think about other major events in American history – the various wars (WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, the Gulf, the Middle East, etc.), man landing on the moon, Pearl Harbor, the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Death of JFK, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Fall of the Berlin Wall, 9/11, etc. – the events that we have lived through have and will continue to impact us all differently, depending on the age that we were when the event occurred. There are people reading this blog post who were young teens when 9/11 occurred, and there are people reading this who were in their 40s. We will have been affected by this event differently because of our age and capacity to comprehend events. The age we are when an event occurs, along with our ability to comprehend such events, shapes our opinions of the world, it shapes our culture, our views on religion, the way we view and understand international affairs and global organizations, our ability to understand alliances, our views on gender equality, etc. Regardless of when we were born, we are all products of our environments and the effects major events have on our lives and on our societies.
In an attempt to consolidate my point above, I am going to tell you the story of where I was when 9/11 occurred. I was actually eleven years old, about three months shy of my twelfth birthday. Being an Australian, I was living in a small seaside town about one and a half hours outside of Melbourne. I remember waking up in the morning (because of the time difference between our two countries, the planes hitting the World Trade Center actually occurred over night for us Down Under) and walking into my Mom’s room to say goodbye before I headed off to school. She was sitting at her computer (something she never did this this early in the morning). She called me over to show me footage of the planes hitting the towers. I didn’t think much of it at the time, I thought it looked like a scene from another action movie about hit the cinemas. I think my response to my Mom went something like this “OK. Thanks for showing me. I’m off to school.” Ten years down the road, I was now at university. Being a student of international relations and politics, all of my university text books were defined in eras. This is pretty normal as international relations and politics are closely tied to history. All of my books referred to the “pre-9/11 era” and the “post-9/11 era”. As a young adult, I was finally able to understand the gravity of what happened that day back in 2001. This event changed the world. It changed the trajectory of international affairs and foreign policy. It changed the lives of everyone, all over the world. But on the day it happened, I was eleven years old and had no idea. But at the same time, how do we expect an eleven year old to understand an event like this when the biggest thing on our minds is “am I going to pass my math test tomorrow?”
To understand one another, it is vitally important to remember age. Our age, more often than not, defines our ability to understand and comprehend things. If we defined generations by the characteristics they display as children, we would all be one giant generation of sociopaths that completely lack the ability to rationalize. Now, I’m not saying we need to go out and start treating the twenty-somethings of the workplace like children, but the next time you find yourself unable to understand someone from another generation, whether older or younger, remind yourself of their age and their experience and how best to communicate.
Check the 16% on Saturday for the final part of this three-part series!
Member Collaboration Manager
The topic of generational differences has been a hot one for quite some time. However, in this three-part series, we will take a slightly different approach to the topic. Understanding generations is now more important than ever as we currently have as many as four generations being represented in the workplace. As we look at this new perspective on the generational divide, we are going to explore the concept that generational differences are not actually as heavily based on the generation you were born in, as has originally been suggested. We are going to argue that each generation actually felt the same way about the generation that followed it, no matter which decade they were born in (or what fashion trends they embraced at the time). Each generation felt that the one that succeeded it was a generation of narcissistic, self-centered, unfocused rebels, irrespective of whether you were born in the early 1900s or if you were born in the 80s or 90s. The fact of the matter is, it’s all about the stage of life we are in. To be successful in the workplace we need to understand particular things about the different generations and learn how to communicate across the generational divide.
Before we begin, I want to add in a little disclaimer. When we talk about generations, we are talking in extreme generalizations. We are going to focus on the overall so-called “trends” of generations. So, please do not freak out or look for the exits if one of the trends that we discuss for your generation does not reflect you.
We have all had moments where we felt that younger generations are borderline sociopath. Common, admit it. The older and thus more mature generations in the workforce will always see the younger employees as immature and inexperienced. But, what do you expect? Of course those twenty-somethings are not going to have 10 years of experience, or any significant exposure to the workplace. We cannot expect the twenty somethings of the workforce to be expert communicators, or to have a strong sense of emotional intelligence, because these are skills that are learned over time.
We always feel that the youngest generation will fail to grow up. They will become the generation that failed to mature, that failed to understand what is important, and who simply do not have the ability to get their priorities straight. We are constantly gasping at the next generation’s sheer audacity and what they can get away with. But guess what? This was your generation once, and it was the generation before yours, as well. No one ever says that the youngest generation of the time will grow up to be put-together, well-rounded, worldly leaders with great communication skills. Think about it. This is what the generation before yours said about you, and I’ll put any money down to say that you have thought the same about the generation following yours.
Let’s take a look at some of the things that have been said about generations:
- “The Now Generation has become the Me Generation,”
- “The Video Generation. There they are, those preening narcissists who have to document every banal moment with their cutting-edge communications technology.”
- “…was a bunch of screw-ups: “They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder… They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial… They postpone marriage because they dread divorce.”
- “…self-centered, fickle and impractical.”
- “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders, and love chatter in places of exercise. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”
Now, I know what you are all thinking. Surely these must pertain to the Millennial and the Homeland Generation! Believe it or not, none of these quotes were written about the Millennials. In fact, quote number four was what Generation X said about the Boomers. Quote number five is actually from Socrates back in Ancient Greece. Let that sink in for a moment… does it really sound all that different from what we are currently saying about the most recent generations? We are all the same. What it ultimately comes down to is the stage of life we are all in and the priorities that are common to each age group. We often forget that we were there once. It’s easy to look at the younger generation and think, “what were you thinking?” “Why are you wearing that?” But remember, you were this person once!
Check the 16% on Tuesday for part two of this three-part series!
Member Collaboration Manager
Have you had a team member that was reluctant to move forward with a new program or plan? And it wasn’t the normal naysayer or the daily dissenter – it was your loyal, dedicated team member. Maybe it was even the one person on your staff who is always on board and supportive.
In the excitement of new initiatives, we can assume that the problem is with those who don’t share our enthusiasm. We can easily think, “What is wrong with him? Why isn’t she running with this? Why don’t they see the benefits?” We’re tempted to explain again all of the reasons why ours is such a phenomenal plan.
Even when we’ve done our due diligence, sometimes we still get ahead of ourselves or miss an important detail. A loyal supporter who is slow to embrace the change may have insight we need to hear. Yet many employees don’t feel comfortable disagreeing with their leaders. They may question their own hesitation, fear being wrong, and say nothing. But they just can’t seem to get on board.
Perhaps like some of you, I’ve occasionally focused more on convincing than listening. In one particular situation, one of my team members who was typically very supportive and positive, was hesitant about a contractor we had hired. I thought we needed the outside perspective and additional resources the contractor provided. Eventually my employee took over the project with much better results than we experienced with the contractor. I would have been wise to fully explore his hesitation much sooner.
If we are met with reluctance, what are some options for us as the leader of the team or organization?
We can remain confident that we are on track and move forward without complete buy in. An employee with less experience may not be able to conceptualize the end result. For some people, the pieces begin to fit together when the puzzle is partially completed. For others, change is difficult. Even positive changes require time for them to adjust. Pacing the implementation of the new initiative may be the solution.
Or we can probe a little deeper into the resistance. We can ask more questions with a genuine desire to understand, and a willingness to hear sincere objections. We will need to make it a safe conversation for the employee who doesn’t like disagreeing or fears disappointing us. We can assure the employee that we welcome input, and we will listen and carefully consider his or her opinions and objections.
One aspect of crisis prevention is to keep asking at every step along the way, “What could possibly go wrong? What are we missing? What could backfire?” Dreamers and visionaries often see only what could go right. That’s the wonderful balance of a diverse team! We need the idealist, the realist, the “jump in and get it done” people as well as the “let’s wait and evaluate” team members.
It can be a very wise investment to keep humbly asking the right questions to get to the source of reluctance. What we learn could be a gift that allows us to sidestep a land mine, readjust our timeline, or tweak the plan so we are on the very best path for success!
Executive Search Manager
We’ve all heard the phrase, “it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch,” and while much of the time this can ring true in an office environment, it really doesn’t have to.
If you have someone in your office that you feel has a “negative” attitude toward work, this is a huge red flag for you as a leader to look around and make sure that all of your employees are satisfied with their positions and the work environment. Chances are, the negativity or frustration is affecting more than one person. This is where relationship building comes in and the importance of actually getting to know your employees. Not just their names, but actually who they are.
Let me give you an example. Many moons ago I worked as a retail manager. While in this position I was transferred to a new store, a store that already had their own culture and employees who were used to a certain management style. Let’s just say that the change in management did not go over well with employees, because after all, adding someone new into the mix, especially a newly promoted manager, can be a hard thing to adjust to. Instead of letting the defiant attitudes get me down, what did I do? I got to know my employees. I learned about who they were, what they liked to do for fun outside of work, and most importantly what their aspirations were for their careers. I listened.
What I learned from all of that is that, like customers, frustrated employees simply want to be heard. They want to build that rapport with their managers so that they can go to them with any issue they may be facing, because they then know that their manager will look out for them and get things done. So while you must listen, you also must show that you follow through with your promises. Never make promises you can’t keep. This is what makes a good leader.
So here’s a list of some suggestions for how to become a better leader and cut out office negativity:
- Get to know your employees and build a lasting rapport with them.
- Listen to them. This is where that open door policy that everyone talks about comes in.
- Show them that you are a doer not a don’ter, because the minute you promise something to an employee and don’t follow through, you lose their trust.
- Finally, ensure that you are treating your employees as well as you treat your customers.
In my opinion, dedicating yourself to these steps will help to cut out any negativity that may invade the workplace. Treating your employees as well, if not better, than how you treat your customers will give them the motivation to succeed, contributing positively the organization’s goals.
That’s just my two cents. What are your thoughts?