Excellent Integrations Start with EI

Emotional-Intelligence-768x512

Most of us have had the experience of working on some kind of integration – a system integration, a process integration, or a business integration. Usually we are focused on our intelligence pieces – our project plans, our schedule, and our time/cost savings. As a result, we often miss the emotional piece at the heart of this endeavor – the questions, concerns, and experiences of the team receiving our “intelligence.”  A recent Price Waterhouse survey found that gaining people’s confidence and commitment during acquisitions are the biggest challenge to successful integration. Yet only 45% of respondents said they were “completely committed” to integrating staff during the acquisition process. Improving our self awareness, managing emotions, and having empathy are the missing pieces to most integrations- and are needed to complete a project successfully.

Improving Self Awareness. In the Harvard Business Journal article, What Self Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It), self awareness is like a two way mirror: it’s what you see and reflect internally and externally. Self awareness, not surprisingly, starts with self. It is understanding our values, motives, and behaviors, and how they impact others. It also means understanding how others view us.  Before charging in with your “intelligence,” stop and do some self reflection. Add the following to your project plan: How can my strengths help the team during integration? How could my development area impact the team? How am I viewed? How might that impact the project? Taking time to ask – and honestly answer- these question can have a huge impact to your integration.

Managing Emotions. Quick word association: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say Bobby Knight? Guessing chair thrower, yeller, maybe basketball came to mind. Winningest coach of all time (at the time of his retirement -902 NCAA Division I games) sadly is not usually our first association with Coach Knight. We all have emotions, and they are important to acknowledge. Managing emotions isn’t stuffing our emotions. It is creating a space between stimulus and response. We want Bobby Knight to be passionate. We just want him to keep four on the floor. We all have things that trigger us- that elicit a deep emotional reaction in us. The trick is not immediately responding to that stimulus. During an integration there may be a sense that the new team is resistant. That you are behind schedule. That the process/system changed, but you don’t see the expected improvement. Instead of charging forward, pause and practice mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness allows you to recognize what you are feeling – mad, frustrated, upset – which creates the space for you to take a deep breath and reset your approach. Add the following to your project plan: What emotions might I experience during this integration? How would I like to handle them? What will it take for me to do that? Creating awareness of your triggers before the heat of the moment can keep the integration from going up in flames.

Having empathy. Empathy is not sympathy. Empathy is understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings, and condition from their point of view, rather than from your own. So try it. If you were on the other side of the integration, what would you be thinking, feeling, and/or worried about? What might help you move forward? The word might is important — empathy is not based on the golden rule but rather the platinum rule: treat others as they would like to be treated.  How will you know what they want? Ask and listen. Ask the team what is important to team. What is on their mind? How can you be most helpful? You don’t need to agree with what the other person says — this is not about you, it’s about understanding them. Next listen to their verbal and non-verbal cues during the project and adjust your approach. Add the following to your project plan: How can I find out what this team wants and needs? Add a listening session to the project up front, and check-ins along the way, to be sure you continue to look at progress through their eyes, not just your checklist.

Integrations tend to be a GSD exercise. Successful integrations shift their perspective from Getting Shit Done to Solving Goals Together. Adding emotional intelligence to your integration puzzle will improve both your project and people results- and keep those pieces together.

Encourage Courage

Courage Award

I was at the Good Leadership Breakfast this month, and the host was talking about an award that her family created – the Courage Award. It was a travelling trophy awarded to the family member that did something brave that week. I was struck by the power of that idea and started to imagine the impact of encouraging courage at work. Dictionary.com has three definitions of courage: (1) the power or quality of dealing with or facing danger, fear, pain, etc. (2) the courage of one’s convictions, the confidence to act in accordance with one’s beliefs. (3) take one’s courage in both hands, to nerve oneself to perform an action. There are some simple yet powerful things we can do in HR to encourage courage at work that will  help people face their fears, act confidently on their convictions, and take action.

Face Your Fear. Change in our personal and professional lives is a constant. So how can HR help our employees and leaders cope more effectively? It starts by acknowledging this reality. When working through a big change, like a spin off or layoff, or a smaller change, like a new benefit plan or PTO policy, talk about fear. Encourage people to discuss their concerns and worries, and help brainstorm solutions and options. Really listen to what you hear and be brave enough to respond. Be willing to change a plan or policy based on new information. Don’t be afraid of – or limited by – timelines and deadlines. Have the courage to do the right thing so that the project is done right.

Act on your convictions. Being an HR manager is a hard job. You wear a lot of hats ranging from coach, to project manager, to strategist. One of the most important hats you wear is as the conscience of the company. You have the unique position of hearing both what employees think and senior leaders are planning. And both parties are counting on you to serve as a bridge to the other. So listen, learn, and act. If you believe that the new values senior leaders are working on won’t resonate, speak up. If your gut says it’s the wrong time to launch an engagement survey, don’t do it. If you ever see sexist, racist, or otherwise disrespectful behavior or language – call it out. As Gloria Steinem said, “Whenever one person stands up and says this is wrong, it helps others to do the same.” Be the model of acting on your convictions for the organization – and help both employees and leaders learn how to follow your example.

Take Action. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” A powerful way that HR can take courage “in both hands” is to focus less on communication change plans and more on change action plans. Work with teams to understand what is important to them. What actions help them achieve or preserve those things? How will they measure their progress? Celebrate their success? It is easy to have a talking head, senior leader video tell the organization about the benefits of a big change. It is impactful to understand the WIIFM from the employee and managers’ point of view and to help them to take action to achieve what’s in it for them.

The third Tuesday of October is National Face Your Fears Day. Consider making this an event in your workplace. Ask people to share how they overcame a fear or to discuss a fear they are struggling with. Create a Courage Award that you give every October to encourage courage at your workplace. But don’t stop there. Remember that courage is composed of big and small things every day. Most of the time these acts are invisible, but it’s time we shine a light on these examples. There are some simple yet powerful things we can do in HR to encourage courage at work that will  help people face their fears,  act confidently on their convictions, and to take action.

 

SKOL Leadership

 

Vikings win

What. A. Game. I live in Minnesota and while I am a Packer fan, for the last minute and a half of Sunday’s playoff game I was sweating purple. This miracle finish was just the latest chapter in a miraculous season. After losing their starting quarterback and starting running back in the opening weeks, somehow the Vikings, led by their third quarterback, Case Keenum, and their defense pulled the team together. Not only have they stayed together, they ended the regular season with the second-best record in the NFC.  As I watched the game I thought, this is an awesome leadership moment in motion. The Vikings showed how teamwork, strategy, and persistence are what it takes to lead and to win.

Teamwork. Good teams work together and come together, especially under times of stress. Great teams are clear on their goal and commit to their specific role in helping the team achieve it. In the Harvard Business School article The Biggest Mistake You (Probably) Make With Teams, author Tammy Erickson gives the analogy of an emergency room, and writes,  “Before the next ambulance arrives, they have no idea of the nature of the task ahead. Will the patient require surgery, heart resuscitation, medications? The condition of the next patient is unknown; the tasks that will be required of the team, ambiguous. But at no time while the team waits, do they negotiate roles: “Who would like to administer the anesthesia? Who will set out the instruments? Who will make key decisions?” Each role is clear. As a result, when the patient arrives, the team is able to move quickly into action. The Vikings acted surgically – each person focused on exactly what had to happen on that last play so the patient- in this case their playoff dreams- had a chance of surviving. In her research, Erickson found that the most successful leaders ensure roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, everyone understands the project’s importance and ultimate objective, and the team is empowered to determine how to achieve their agreed to “what.” So help your team be great by setting clear goals and roles, and empowering and encouraging them to determine how to win.

Strategy. In football the coach can’t take over the various roles on the team, but off the field ask yourself, am I trying to be the quarterback, running back, and wide receiver or am I the coach? Mike Zimmer’s role was to create a strategy, make sure the team knew how to execute the strategy, and to build their confidence so that they could achieve their goal. Leaders don’t win games- they build teams that win games. In the article Doing Less, Leading More, author Ed Batista writes that many leaders believe if we work longer, harder, and smarter than our team, we’ll inspire by example. But he cautions that if you lead like a “Doer-in-Chief” you can’t pivot your teams from fire fighters to fire marshals. In Sunday’s game, it was evident that Zimmer had instilled a fire marshall mentality in the team – don’t panic when the heat is turned up, focus on execution. We can do the same in our roles with our teams if we do less, lead more, and stay focused on our strategy.

Persistence. Let’s not forget, the Vikings were not only down by 1 with 23 seconds on the clock. They have been down similar roads before. The Vikings have lost their last five NFC Championship games and lost four Super bowls. None of this is lost on the Vikings or their fans, nor is the fact that Minnesota is hosting the Super bowl in just 4 weeks. In the article Never Quit: Strategies on Perseverance From 6 Seasoned Entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs share what it takes to be persistent. The willingness to “take the hit.” Lead confidently, think big, and influence your outcome. As entrepreneur Roy McDonald says, “You can influence the outcome with the power of thought and intention. It’s important to focus on what you do want, instead of what you don’t want.” That mental toughness, or Grit as Angela Duckworth would say, is all about what goes through your head when you fall down, and how that—not talent or luck—makes all the difference in a person’s success.

In football and as a leader you want a team with strong teamwork, strategy, and persistence. Even before Diggs’ touchdown, the Vikings had to stretch their bench to get the right people on the field. They had to ensure everyone understood the playbook. They had to make big plays to be up 17-0, they had to have grit after the Saints came out with 17 unanswered points and they really had to dig deep when they were down in the last 23 seconds of the game. Their success- and the success of strong business teams– comes from knowing the plan, and committing to execute the plan. It means having a leader who clears the path and empowers the team. It also means having an unwavering belief that you will achieve your goal. I encourage you to think with SKOL leadership so you can see and celebrate your  team’s success.

Tweet Your Vibe

Tweet

“Tis the time of year to be thankful. To be generous. It is also a good time of year to think about the vibe we put out into the universe – both the physical and online space we occupy. Thanks to Catherine Byers Breet for sharing this photo and this article. It got me thinking that we all should be thinking, what’s my Tweet, how do I Tweet others, and why we should Tweet each other better.

What’s My Tweet? In the 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey’s second habit is to begin with the end in mind. In this chapter he asks the reader to imagine their literal end. Picture yourself at your funeral. What are people saying about you? What impression did you leave? A slightly more updated question is, if your family, friends, and coworkers were to describe you in 160 characters, what would they say? You may also want to check what have they said about you on social media. We all create a vibe- all we can control is if it is intentional or unintentional. What would you like your headline to be? With that end in mind, think about how you treat others, and make an intentional effort to live up to your ideal self.

How do I Tweet Others? The 7 Habits also encourage us to synergize. This means to believe that 1+1 is 3 and that by treating each other with respect and listening to different opinions we can come up with the best solutions. In today’s digital world it is easy with the quick stroke of the keyboard to criticize those we don’t agree with. The golden rule should apply both our physical and online communities – and is part of keeping a positive vibe. Being mindful is also key when interacting with our teams. We are so busy doing that we leave little time for connecting, engaging, and encouraging our employees. How we “tweet” them comes out in all the micro decisions we make -to say hi, to be present, to show genuine interest. These micro decisions can have a macro ripple.  Your words and your impact will be how your team “tweets” about you as they talk about their day with friends and family.

Why we should Tweet each other better.  In an earlier post, Connecting vs. Networking, I talked about the the power of connection, collaboration, and conscientiousness. In this day and age it is only a matter of when- not if- we lose our job, are acquired, or experience a major reorganization. When you need help guiding new terrain, who will be there for you? Who were you there for when they asked you for help? We live in a big small world. Put your positive vibe out there and help to Tweet someone’s story and skills. Create the positive energy needed to propel each other forward.

What we say and do – in person and online- matters. It creates a vibe that either fuels or flushes their energy. There are over a 160 ways a day we can be intentional about showing up as our best self. The best gift we can give ourselves and others is to be mindful about what’s our Tweet, how we Tweet others, and Tweeting each other better.

 

Let’s Talk About Sex

Sexual harassment

Back in the 80s we wanted to talk about sex. Then we saw the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas case, and then we wanted to talk about sexual harassment. While the 80s big hair is gone, the big issues of gender equity persist. Why, despite the passage of many new laws and required sexual harassment training, do we still have work cultures that range from unwelcoming to unsafe? According to a recent Washington Post/ABC news poll , 54% of women have experienced “unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances.” Thirty percent of these advances have been from male colleagues, 25% of those were from men who could impact the woman’s career. This is not a women’s issue, and this can’t be solved by blaming and shaming men. What we need is a new conversation about sexual harassment and what we will –and will not -tolerate in our workplace. Let’s talk about what we value. Let’s talk about what to do. And most importantly, let’s keep talking.

What we value. Fran Sepler recently gave a fantastic talk entitled “Why Everything We Are Doing Around Sexual Harassment is Wrong” at the Minneapolis Disrupt HR event. Her salient point is that we need to change our discussion from scaring people with the law to inspiring people with our company’s values. When your employees model your values how do they treat each other? How would they react if someone is mistreated? Talk about what you expect in your workplace, and show them that those values are valued – that they are more than words on a wall, but truly your guiding principles, by highlighting the values of the people you promote, reward, and hire.

What to do. The media has exploded with stories about sexual harassment. It hasn’t been easy for people to bring forward their experiences. It isn’t comfortable to read. But it is happening so as leaders this is the time to lean in. Let people know you don’t expect harassment to happen in your workplace, but if it happens you want to know. And you want to make it right. Move out of legalese and speak from the heart. Make it clear you have an open door and an open mind to encourage people to come forward with their concerns. Creating a safe place for conversations is the only way to get to the truth. Leondra Hanson is a professor at Hamline University and speaker who recently posted an article about how to talk about sexual harassment. In it Hanson reminds us we need to talk about harassment before it occurs and create a workplace that won’t tolerate it.

Keep Talking. A recent New York Times article, Men at Work Wonder if they Overstepped With Women Too, starts out, “It has been a confusing season for America’s working men.” My first reaction was, Really? How can harassment be confusing? But that’s not helpful. Instead I hope if I am approached by someone who is confused or anxious about this topic that I will listen, ask questions, and offer guidance, not judgement. Let’s encourage men to talk to men and brainstorm ideas. Let’s expand this issue from sexual harassment to all kinds of harassment that happen at work. Let’s ask the women we work closely with what is and what is not comfortable to them. Yes, the answers – and the questions– will vary. Yes it might be uncomfortable. But by bringing harassment out of the shadows we can move from shame to solutions.

In the movie 9 to 5, Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin have the most “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss on the planet. I do not recommend or endorse their solution of kidnapping him to teach him a lesson. But I do appreciate that this movie created conversation about harassment in the workplace.  That movie is 37 years old but the topic of sexual harassment is still topical. I’m asking all of you to lean in and help shape the conversation about harassment at your workplace. Let’s talk about what we value. Let’s talk about what to do. And most importantly, let’s keep talking.

 

What Great Coaches Do

 

Landry quote

Last week I attended the Inside Out Development coaching workshop. It was a great opportunity to reground myself, an experienced coach, in the core principles of coaching and to think about how to make the idea of coaching accessible and relevant to leaders at all levels of my current organization. We all can think of great coaches in our lives (yes Janice Payton I am thinking of you!). When you ask yourself what impact they had on you, you will likely think of things like, he/she pushed me harder than I thought I could go. He/she believed in me. He/she gave me confidence and recognition. I don’t think anyone looks back and says my best coach pushed me to work every night and weekend. Believed PowerPoint was an art form. Gave me the confidence that I could be triple booked most of the time. Yet all of us, even with the best of intentions, can fall prey to the reality of workplace pressures and timelines. So what can we do to make sure we stay focused on coaching vs. tasks? After my coaching workshop I am recommitting to (1) asking vs. telling  (2) staying curious and (3) business KPIs for coaching.

Asking vs. Telling.  Think about how many questions you are asked in the course of a day. From “Mom, what’s for breakfast?” to “Can you help me with this report?” to “How should we plan our (volunteer) fundraiser this year?” And like the answer ninjas we are, we usually whip out solutions as fast as the questions are coming. It may feel efficient, but as Ken Blanchard points out in the One Minute Manager, what you are actually doing is positioning yourself as a professional “monkey collector.” All those monkeys– questions/problems others have–get lobbed your way, and you now have a new collection of monkeys to solve for- in addition to your original to do list.  So what if instead of telling, we focused on asking? In this video, Alan Fine, the founder of Inside Out Development, discusses shifting from fixing the gap we see in others, to focusing on closing the gap between our telling and asking. Fine encourages leaders to build this practice by using three simple questions: What’s working? Where are you getting stuck? What could you do differently? By starting with these questions before jumping to telling, you teach your team to reflect, empower them to solve their own problems, and free yourself from the monkeys.

Staying curious. We all have reactions to situations and people. Just saying certain names or topics, particularly in our current political times, can evoke a strong reaction and facial expression. But what if we could stay curious instead of jumping to conclusions? When you are at work, and a certain name pops up on your phone, you could roll your eyes and think,”Oh great, what could Joe want now? I’m sure he’s going to blame me that we missed our milestone.” Or, you could say, “Joe and I both know we missed that milestone. I wonder what we could do to move forward? I wonder what perspective he has on what we could have done differently?” Setting your mindset to a curious state opens you up to possibility and changes the tone of your interaction before it even begins. It takes a second to make this change, but pays off in spades.

Business KPIs for coaching. Coaching has a mixed reputation. Many HR people love it because it is good for retention, engagement, and development. Many business leaders see it is as an expense, time off the job, and squishy. If we are honest, both are true. I am lucky to be tasked with building a coaching and leadership development program from the ground up. As we develop our strategy, we will be talking about increased productivity, improved customer service scores, and higher turns as our measures of success. Of course I hope to see improved retention, engagement and development as well. But those won’t be the focus in our design or metrics.  Vince Lombardi said, “Winning is not a sometimes thing. It’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” Substitute winning and losing with your business’s top initiative, and ask yourself if you are being relentless in getting to that end goal, and how your initiatives help your teams to build the right habits.

Coaching, like so many other elements of leadership, is talked about and trained on, but hard to put into everyday practice. In a busy world that rewards expertise and confidence, telling is a natural reaction. Making judgments helps us take shortcuts. Focusing on our function vs. our organization is efficient. But it can’t build your team’s capabilities or your organization’s long term success. Sloane Stone was ranked 83 before the US Open, and walked away a champion, the third player ranked outside the top 10 to win the U.S. Open since computer rankings started in 1975. Her coach, Kamau Murray, attributes her success to her hard work, her focus, and their honest relationship. “It’s a progression. It’s not like a one-hit wonder where she won a grand slam prior to winning anything else. If you look at her trajectory, it’s been a line of progression, it hasn’t been like a spike. When you have that kind of development, it’s more sustainable than a flash in the pan.” Let’s build sustainable wins for our business by building a coaching practice on asking vs. telling, staying curious, and one that is all about the business.

 

Leadership Lessons from Princess Bride

Pbride2

“Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”- Dread Pirate Roberts.

It is the 30th anniversary of the cinematic classic, The Princess Bride, this year.  This fairy tale adventure centers around Princess Buttercup and the hero, Westley, who is on a quest to find and save her. It is also a story that unfolds as the grandfather reads the Princess Bride book to his grandson, while the boy recovers from his illness. There are so many great quotes and moments in this movie. There are also a lot of good, timeless leadership lessons embedded in this tale, including some gems from Prince Humperdink, Vizzini, Inigo Montoya, Westley, and the Grandfather.

Prince Humperdinck:  Prince Humperdinck has a leadership title but does not focus on or rally supporters. He is totally self-absorbed and pursues Princess Buttercup not for love, but for power. There is a scene where Westley was captured and Humperdinck is asked if he wants to come to the dungeon. The Prince responds, “You know how much I love watching you work, but I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it; I’m swamped.” Ever worked for this guy? The outtake: Titles don’t make leaders, character does.

Vizzini: Vizzini is the movie’s villian, hired to kidnap and kill Princess Buttercup. He plans elaborate schemes to trick others and to try to get his way. He is convinced that he is the smartest person in the room and that no one else can be trusted, so talks down to everyone he encounters. It is “inconceivable” to him that anyone else could outwit him. In an exchange with the Man in Black he states, “I can’t compete with you physically, and you’re no match for my brains…Let me put it this way. Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? (They are) morons.” His ego prevents him from connecting to others and ultimately, in an elaborate game of slight of hand costs him his life. The outtake: Leaders need brains, and they also need humility.

Inigo Montoya: Inigo Montoya joins our hero on his quest, not to save Buttercup, but to avenge his father. His life’s purpose has been to find and kill the man who killed his father. He has unquestionable dedication and drive- but it is this same single-mindedness that narrows his perspective of the world. He laments to the Man in Black that “It’s been twenty years now and I’m starting to lose confidence. I just work for Vizzini to pay the bills. There’s not a lot of money in revenge.” After almost wrongly killing the Man in Black, he does finally get to put his iconic line “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” into action. The outtake: Leaders are motivated by passion and the big picture.

Westley: Westley is our hero. He is a farmhand in love with Princess Buttercup who sets out to earn the money needed to ask for her hand in marriage. Of course like all good movies it is not all smooth sailing for our hero, Westley, who has to use his wits and his sword to fight pirates, to outwit Vizzini, and to find his way back to Buttercup. His simple background and demeanor belie his commitment and passion. This may be best represented by his line “As you wish.” At first Princess Buttercup thinks it is because of her status that he defers to her but as their relationship progresses she comes to see it is because he loves her and wants what is best for her. The outtake: Leaders are found at all levels.

Grandfather:  The Grandfather brings the book the Princess Bride to read to his sick grandson who initially wants nothing to do with it. Once the Grandfather promises to skip all “the kissing parts” the grandson relents, then is quickly enraptured by the story.  As the grandfather is reading the story to the grandson about the Buttercup’s upcoming marriage, the grandson interrupts, “See, didn’t I tell you she’d never marry that rotten Humperdinck?” to which the Grandfather smirks and replies, “Yes, you’re very smart. Shut up.” The grandfather successfully draws his grandson into the story by inviting him to partake in the adventure and letting his Grandson form his own ideas and draw his own conclusions. The outtake: The best leaders draw the outline and let you color in the details.

The movie Princess Bride has humor, action, and adventure. It also has a lot of good leadership lessons embedded throughout the film. Think about the characters in your office and the parts that they play.  Most importantly, remember that “wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva… So tweasure your wuv. ”

 

Retune Your Approach to Communications

album

I recently read Seth Godin’s blog Greatest Hits Are Exhausting, and it really hit home. We are enamored with what is comfortable and popular. But, as Seth so eloquently says, “Popular isn’t the same as important. Popular isn’t the same as profound. Popular isn’t even the same as useful.” Think about your favorite singer/band growing up. I am guessing after you bought the album you came to like most of the songs, not just those you heard on the radio. In college, I collected B sides from my favorite artists so I could expand my understanding of their music. Yet today we have fallen prey to the Itunes algorithm mentality both in music and at work. We pump out greatest hits stories to our candidates, employees, and customers instead of embracing our full, rich library of experiences. We focus on what we think our audience wants to hear at the expense of trusting them with our full story. And it is not working. According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Index , only 52% of respondents believe that businesses are trustworthy and only 37% believe that CEOs are trustworthy. The CEO rating is an all time low, with 23 of the 28 countries surveyed rating CEO trust below 50%. How can we react to numbers this dismal? Our best play is to tune our communications to be authentic, to share everything you can, and to read between the lines.

Be Authentic: Trust is earned, and broken, by how we engage with our teams. In Stephen M. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust, he talks about the “trust tax” most companies incur because employees don’t think their bosses communicate honestly. The tax is the expense of reduced speed and increased costs that result when people are distrustful. Communicating authentically is the number one action leaders can take to improve trust within their organizations. That means eliminating phrases like “achieving operational excellence” when the truth is “we need to reduce staff because we are eliminating this product.” The same is true with candidates.  Imagine if you skipped over the first date politeness with candidates and let them know that “we are a global company with lots of opportunities and resources. However, we also have a lot of bureaucracy and politics, and you’ll need to be good at navigating that here to be successful.” Employees and candidates have already formed their opinions about whatever you are selling. Focusing on facts and transparency will go a long way in gaining their buy in and their respect.

Share everything you can. Layoffs and acquisitions are part of business. Employees know to expect them.  However they also personally know Mary, who was just laid off after 30 years. They know that in the last acquisition jobs were lost and are worried about their security. Engage employees in dialogue- don’t subject them to a monologue. Share your personal thoughts and feelings about the announcement. Be honest about what is keeping you up at night- and ask for your team’s ideas on how to address your your concerns. The same notion holds true with customers. If industry news breaks about your company, don’t wait for the client to call you. Call them first and confidently share what you can about the news. If you are thinking of restructuring your sales team, share your thoughts and ask them for theirs. This is more than just a communication tactic. It’s how you build a reputation internally and externally.

Read between the lines. Great leaders have the uncanny ability to focus on the unspoken message in the room. Nodding heads don’t necessarily mean agreement or support. These is much to hear in the unsaid words behind an employee’s question. Leaders who focus on their talking points miss the message coming back at them. Invite the elephant into the room and host the conversation that needs to happen. Use questions, humor, stories, analogies, and data to engage the team. You may leave having had a totally different conversation than you planned, but likely it was the one that needed to occur.

Tina Turner once said “Making a greatest hits album is easy because you don’t actually have to do anything.” In today’s fast-paced, results-oriented world, there is comfort in repeating and replaying popular messages. But that approach tunes out new ideas and limits our possibilities. Retune your communications approach to drive engagement and business results. Engaging employees, candidates, and customers by being authentic, sharing everything we can, and reading between the lines will be music to their ears.