Tag Archives: communication

Why Structure?

If you read this blog for more than a few days, you figure out pretty quick that I am a structure guy. Most people can recite the bus analogy, “Get the right people in the right seats on the bus,” but what most miss is the quote that immediately follows. “If you get the right people in the right seats (organizational structure) your issues related to motivation and management largely go away.” Jim Collins said that.

Just finished Creativity, Inc, by Ed Catmull (Pixar). “We made the mistake of confusing the communication structure with the organizational structure.”

In my world, Catmull is confused about organizational structure. Your organizational structure is your communication structure. The purpose of structure is to create those necessary communication channels for feedback loops, data gathering, discussion and decision making.
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Hiring Talent Summer Camp kicks off July 7. More information here.

The Purist Management Tool

“You seem confident in your ability to draw the team member into the conversation?” I asked.

“I feel like it is an important management skill,” said Julia. We had been talking about bringing value to the other members of her team. As a new manager, we anticipated resistance to her leadership.

“Some people call it the art of conversation, but it’s a skill, an essential management skill,” continued Julia. “I think about all the things I can do to make a difference, to influence my team to higher performance, to boost morale. I can’t do it with email, though I have tried. I can’t do it with pep talks, they don’t last very long. I can’t do it by putting teamwork posters on the wall. The strongest tool I have, as a manager, is the skill of conversation.

“It’s the purest of management tools, one person simply talking to another person. If you can’t do that, you can’t be a manager. If you can do that, you can be a great manager.”

“Julia, you talk about it as a skill, as something that can be learned?”

“Yes. Oh, yes,” Julia responded. “I was terrible at it. I mean, I’m not a wallflower, but having purposeful management conversations is something I had to learn. I have discovered some basic elements and patterns. These patterns help me consistently to have conversations about purpose, actions and accountabilities.” I could see through the glass window in the door that two people were standing outside. Team members with questions.

“Let’s pick this up tomorrow. I would like to talk to you more about this conversational structure.”

Working Leadership Course – Fort Lauderdale

Aug 6, 2013 kicks off our next Working Leadership Series in Fort Lauderdale Florida. This program contains twelve modules in six classroom sessions. The program instructor will be Tom Foster (that’s me).

If you would like to pre-register for the program, use the Ask Tom link, tell me a little about yourself and we will add you to the pre-registration list.

Schedule (All sessions – 8:30a-noon)
Session 1 – Tue, Aug 6, 2013 – Orientation, Role of the Manager, Time Management
Session 2 – Mon, Aug 12, 2013 – Working Styles, Communication
Session 3 – Mon, Aug 19, 2013 – Positive Reinforcement, Team Problem Solving
Session 4 – Tue, Aug 27, 2013 – Planning, Delegation
Session 5 – Wed, Sep 4, 2013 – Decision Making, Accountability
Session 6 – Mon, Sep 9, 2013 – Effective Meetings, Coaching

Location – All classes will be held at Banyan Air Services in Fort Lauderdale FL in the Sabal Palm Conference Room.
Banyan Air Services
5360 NW 20th Terrace
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33309

Tuition – $1600 per participant. Vistage member companies receive a $100 discount per participant. This includes all books and participant materials.

Curriculum

Session One
Orientation. During the initial Session, participants will create both a company and a personal framework, setting expectations and direction for this program. Participants, through directed discussion, create the connection between the program course material and their day-to-day management challenges.

Role of the Manager. Introduces the distinction between supervisor and managerial roles. Clarifies the specific goals necessary for effectiveness. This module creates the foundation on which rest of the course material builds. Incorporates source material from Requisite Organization – Elliott Jaques.

Time Management. Introduces the textbook Getting Things Done by David Allen. (Text included as part of the program).

Session Two
Working Styles.
Participants will complete a DISC survey (DISC is an online instrument published by TTI) and report on their own identified strengths and working style.

Communication. The largest challenge, for most managers, centers on issues of communication. This Session will introduce participants to a new level of conversational “reality.” Introduces the text, Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott, as reference material. (Text included as part of this program.)

Session Three
Positive Reinforcement

This segment reviews the management research of Elliott Jaques and Abraham Maslow regarding “why people work.” Explores the role of positive reinforcement outlined in by Aubrey Daniels – Getting the Best Out of People.

Team Problem Solving.
Expands Fierce Conversations to the group setting. Designed to move a group into “real work,” using a team problem solving model. Demonstrates how to build a team through problem solving.

Session Four
Planning.
This segment introduces a results-oriented planning model, based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done, which participants can quickly use in any situation where planning would be of benefit.

Delegation. Participants are introduced to a specific model of effective delegation. Most managers hold certain mental blocks to delegation that prevents them from using this powerful developmental tool. This delegation model challenges these mental blocks so the entire team, manager included, can benefit from delegation.

Session Five
Decision Making
. This segment introduces three decision models that participants can use to make decisions in specific circumstances. All models can be used in a team setting or for an individual decision.

Accountability Conversation. Introduces a results-oriented method to hold individuals and teams accountable for desired results. This combines concepts of Time Span, QQT Goals and Management Relationships.

Session Six
Effective Meetings.
Moves from theory to the practical application of team dynamics. How to run a more effective meeting.

Coaching. This segment takes the communication models we have previously used and integrates them into a conversation specifically designed for coaching subordinates.

If you would like to pre-register for the program, use the Ask Tom link, tell me a little about yourself and we will add you to the pre-registration list.

How to Communicate Company Culture

“I need each of you to become an author,” I said. The management team looked at each other. I saw a set of eyes roll in the corner. I smiled.

“I need each of you to write a story.” I stopped for dramatic effect. “The story will only be four sentences long.” I could see a silent sigh of relief wave across the room. “In fact, we are going to write that story right now. To make it easier, you will all work with a partner. So, pair up. Let’s get going.”

We had been working on how to communicate our list of values throughout the organization. The idea was to create a story, four sentences long, that captured a positive example of a behavior aligned with one of the values the group had selected. Each manager in the group would be an author. In the room, we had vice-presidents, managers and supervisors. All told, twenty-three members of the management team.

Once each week, a story, written by a member of the management team, would be included in the weekly paycheck of each employee in the company.

In ten minutes, twenty-three stories were created and signed. We had a volunteer from the clerical staff to collect and type them all up. We were covered for the next twenty-three weeks. Better than a teamwork poster on the wall. Meeting adjourned.

Curious Communication

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I have been reading your blog on the recommendation of one of the owners of my company. I am unsure of how to handle this situation. Our company has grown over the past few years and, with that growth, some roles have been re-structured, responsibilities shifted from one person to another. During this time, one of our critical business development processes appears to have shriveled from a lack of attention. It used to be a high priority, driven by the CEO, but now, it is hardly noticed, its momentum slowing to a standstill.

This has caused some concern in middle management, but we are unsure how to approach the CEO without causing controversy. We are not a bunch of whiners, but we think this is important. Somehow, somewhere, the ball got dropped.

Response:
Your question leads me to believe that your company culture doesn’t actively create open dialogue, that sometimes agendas, company and personal are driven with only half the story told. There is likely another side to this story. So, how to find this out “without causing controversy.”

Public or private, this conversation has to be held in a safe environment. In 1-1 conversations, I use the following phrase to set up the environment, “I am curious. -followed by the question-.” Curiosity is safe, keeps my agenda out of the explanation so I can truly hear the other side of the story.

A university chancellor, I work with, conducts frequent “brown bag” lunch sessions with students at his campus. The “brown bag” aspect removes the formality, and creates a more candid dialogue.

You might create a small “brown bag” affair, with an intimate group of “curious” managers and invite the CEO. One of my rules is “no surprises,” so the invitation should be clear to the CEO that you are there to find out the current Vision of the Business Development activities of the company. There is likely a reasonable explanation for this shift in focus.

You might find this “brown bag” affair becomes a regular event, once a month, once a quarter, and quite soon, will impact the culture of the company to promote this kind of curious communication.

The Value in a Manager’s Role

“What do you mean, bring value?” Joan asked. “Sounds easy to say, but I don’t know what you mean. How does a manager bring value to the problem solving and decision making in the team?”

“Do you bring value by telling people what to do?” I asked.

Joan sat back, looking for the odd angle in the question. “No,” she replied.

“You and I are sitting here talking,” I nodded. “And in our conversation, am I directing you, telling you how to be a manager?”

Again, the answer was “No.”

“And would you say that our conversations are valuable, valuable to you, in your role, as a manager?”

Joan followed the nod. “Yes,” she said slowly.

“I am not telling you what to do, yet, am I bringing value to the conversation?” I could see Joan making a leap in her mind to follow. “How am I doing that? If I am not telling you what to do, what kinds of sentences am I using?”

“Questions,” she responded. “You are not telling me what to do. You are asking questions and listening. And your questions are bringing value to the decisions I have to make and the problems I have to solve.”

Lost In Translation

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In your Time Span workshop, you talk about the breakdowns in communication that can occur when a manager skips a layer, for example a Stratum IV manager working with a Stratum II supervisor. How can you tell when you have a lost-in-translation issue?

Response:

Communication breakdowns can occur for many reasons. Elliott Jaques, in his Time Span research often found, that problems we attribute to communication breakdowns or personality issues, turn out to be a misalignment in organizational structure.

A Stratum IV manager and a Stratum II supervisor are typically working on goals with markedly different Time Spans. Even looking at the same problem, their analysis will be different. The Stratum II supervisor may piece some of the elements together while the Stratum IV manager looks to see how this problem impacts other related systems down the road. Indeed, they may describe the problem using different words (terminology).


The S-II supervisor may wonder what the S-IV manager is talking about while the S-IV manager wonders why the S-II supervisor cannot see what is altogether clear. They use different words and see the world in different ways, creating that lost-in-translation syndrome.

But, your question was, how can you tell if this is Lost-in-translation? More importantly, how can we recognize the difficulty and what steps can we take to prevent it or cure it?

Underperformance of any kind indicates a problem. Any time performance does not meet expectation, there are three places to immediately look.

  • Is it a problem with the performance?
  • Is it a defect in the expectation?
  • Is there a problem with the communication of the expectation?

If it’s a problem with the communication, then lost-in-translation could be the culprit. And the accountability lies with the manager. It is (always) the manager who I hold accountable for the output of the team member.

What needs to change? What managerial behavior needs to change? I see two steps.

  1. The manager should recognize the time span framework of the team member. Here is a quick set of diagnostic questions – “What is the task? When should this task be completed?” The response from the team member is a clear indication of the Time Span the team member has in mind. This Time Span is impacting every decision surrounding this project. The adjustment for the manager is to speak in terms of the other person.
  2. The manager should examine the language (words) being used to make sure the meaning of the words is common and clear. During a task assignment, I will often ask the team member to take written notes and feed back to me their understanding of the work instruction. In there is confusion, it can generally identified in this step.

It is the manager I hold accountable. The manager is 100 percent responsible for the communication in this lost-in-translation issue.