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LEADERSHIP: Leaders, We're Not Communicating Enough!

dmackinwebRecently, I was walking with a participant the day before one of our training courses on quality service. I asked her what had been communicated to everyone about the reason for the course and why quality service was important to the organization. “Not much,” she replied.  I mentioned that the leadership group would be seated together in the training and would have the opportunity to address communication issues head on. She replied, “Well, 60% of them believe they are doing a good job communicating right now, so I doubt anything will change.”

I hear this same story over and over with so many initiatives. In fact, in one organization, I encouraged  the management team to “calendar in” two visits per day on the manufacturing floor just for the purpose of communicating about the initiatives they were planning. One month later, when I checked on the results, most replied that they hadn’t taken the time — nor did they see the need — for that level of communicating. One even said, “Why would I do that?  I’d just keep repeating myself.”

I’ve come to the conclusion that leaders often don’t know what to say. While they are typically very familiar with issues at hand, they may be reluctant because of the feedback they might get from what they communicate. So, rather than engaging in the dialogue that would follow the feedback, they avoid communicating all together and convince themselves that everything is fine.  I also think sometimes they just don’t know how to construct what they want to say. It’s like looking at a blank sheet of paper and not knowing where to begin.

The 5Ps create a helpful way to construct the conversation:

1] Purpose. The first P stands for purpose and opens the dialogue by explaining why the initiative is important. For example, a leader might begin, “We are experiencing a decline in the retention of students caused, in some part, by the quality of the service we provide. In the training we are going to learn new methods for developing stronger consistency in our service.”

2] Picture. The second P encourages you to create a picture or metaphor of what the initiative might look like. Using our quality service example, we might say, “Developing our quality service program is like having a net under the flying trapeze — it will always catch the problems and concerns before they become critical and land on the floor.”  The picture is vitally important because it often stays with people far longer than your words do. Pictures should be analogies or metaphors from real life to which people can easily relate.

3] Plan. The third P defines briefly how the program or initiative will be approached. For example, “We’ll begin our quality program with this day of training and then launch a quality service task force to draft our service platform and standards.”

4] Performance Measure. This fourth P helps us define how we will measure success in the initiative. “Our target is to have a quality service program that we can roll out to the entire campus staff by the beginning of September.”

5] Part. The fifth P is so critical to the success of the communication and often forgotten. Here we spell out exactly what we need from others. “I need you to play an active role in the training and to consider being on the task force that will drive this initiative forward.” Very few people will turn someone down when they are specifically asked to help. Most people sit on the sidelines — being bystanders — because they don’t know what to do or how to contribute.

When we have participants in training practice the 5Ps with partners, they remark about the change in attitude that occurs when the leader invites the person to participate with a specific request. They comment that it makes them feel needed and a part of the effort.

It’s important to remember that the 5Ps won’t help anything, until the leader makes a decision that communication is critical to the success of an initiative. I believe it was John Kotter, author of Leading Change, who once said, “Communicate, communicate, communicate and then communicate 100 times more when you’re implementing a change.”

Let me know if you’ve used communication techniques — like the 5Ps — to get you started and help frame what you are going to say in order to be a better communicator. 

  • I would add another P, Progress.
    It is so common that we get together to launch something or to communicate a need, but we don’t come back together to review where we stand. In essence that leaves people feeling like it was a fad or an initiative that wasn’t thought through very well.

    People need to know where they stand in these times and especially in company-wide goals, initiatives that require others involvement that they may not see or be aware of.

  • I really like the idea of adding the Progress P. Good idea Jared!

  • Everyone agrees that communication in an organization is critical. Something to keep in mind is that each functional area and each level of the organization has different needs for communication.

    Don’t just communicate more, keep the audience in mind and keep if focused! Have a plan and make sure that those it targets find it meaningful and pertinent.

    The two a day is an excellent idea for more than communication. It builds relationships and credibility. This is a passion of our HR manager who mandated daily rounds of the plant by all of his staff.

    Seeing this in action and participating I can’t say enough about how important this is.

    Another communication tool is the departmental newspaper that is very focused on the audience.
    One that was very successful was a departmental newspaper “The Grapevine” that covered 5 departments and about 340 people in the plant. We revamped department bulletin boards placing them by the breakroom where the greatest traffic flow was. Copies were made available for pick up and they were also posted. (no wasted handouts, pick it up if you want it and we always ran out of copies)

    Topics covered were the department metrics for each area, including the formula’s for how they were calculated and defining each. We covered all the usual topics, safety, quality, cost however targeted specifically on the departments and explaining how each person impacted them.

    The most popular part of the paper was the updates on equipment coming in, moving out, being updated, runrates, and orders. New products or product moves and product component changes.

    The paper also had a section for the announcements, thanks yous and congratulations.

    Judy Calhoun

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