Vital Skills for Leaders, Mentors, and Co-Workers that will drive Productivity and Innovation
Underlying work we do for our clients is our desire to foster blameless workplace cultures that target high performance, acknowledging that conflict and change are constants in the endeavor. Challenging the status quo on organizational performance necessitates appropriate alignment between an organization’s vision and the way that individuals contribute to the realization of that vision. Try putting your children in a car for a 5 hour drive without telling them why you are doing it or where you are going or whether or not there is something for them at the other end of the trip and you will get the idea. Effective communication is key and a skill that can be targeted and developed in your organization.
Then, perhaps it is no wonder that,
“Communication problems between departments and communication between management and the workforce”
were listed as the single biggest impediments to productivity and innovation presented to our facilitators at the outset of a recent series Innovation Workshops that we facilitated with roughly 500 employees and managers from 12 of the region's more successful banks. Likewise, it was little surprise to us that at the conclusion of these workshops that the take-aways included “A deeper appreciation for what my co-workers do” and a “Better understanding of why management makes the decisions it does.”
If indeed, Communication is THE challenge then it can be informative to consider how we communicate and for the purpose of this message, how we communicate at work where we do so with all of our senses:
“The smell of success”
“I see what you are saying”
“I feel your frustration”
“I hear you”
“We are so close to the sale, I can taste it”
These are all senses that are developed in one way or another in all of us and when fully developed can contribute to the way we communicate as managers, mentors, and co-workers. To the degree that we acknowledge that our lives are intertwined at work where meaningful things are done with and through others… suppliers, co-workers, and customers,... we owe it to ourselves to consider how developing communication skills can benefit all of our stakeholders.
Simon Sinek, the Best Selling author of Start With Why in his often referenced piece on Millennials references the way that ‘meaning is found at work’; and that is not through bean bag lounges and beer on tap but instead, he posits, through deep personal relationships, mutual trust, and work that is meaningful and challenging. Another pundit on social and business trends, who we reference, in his blog Civil Horizon has recently expressed concern that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will dampen our decision making and learning instincts the way that my Golden Retriever has forgotten to hunt. This business of Artificial Intelligence, I contend, is a far cry from Emotional Intelligence (EI) and it is that (EI) which effective business communication addresses.
Emotional Intelligence importantly references the way you interact with others around you and both your 5 sense communication skills and communication style are critical enablers. High performance or mission critical activities demand that all of your senses be in tune. Training can strengthen those senses. When it comes to listening which is perhaps the most important of these skills, we listen for sounds, clues, intonation, intent, emotional attitude, and other factors. When our senses are dulled we listen to the wrong thing, we are tone deaf, or we do not listen at all… and that is when problems occur.
Now Listen! Josh McDaniels, the Offensive Coordinator for the Super Bowl winning New England Patriots refers to Head Coach Bill Belichick as “The best listener I’ve ever been around”. Whether it is true or not, consider how that moniker would infuse you and the organization you work for with purpose.
Stephen Covey, the bestselling author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, reminds us to “Seek First to Understand, then be understood” and in order to do that we must listen not with the intent to reply but to understand. This is a vital lesson in business and a skill that we can all improve. The most important thing we can do in our pervasively connected world is to stop and listen. In our business world it requires us to unplug and listen to our co-workers and to take note of what is happening in their lives and around us at work.
A recent engagement we had involved a group of several hundred workers processing financial transactions and doing financial custody work – all positioned in a massive open floor plan – with no walls just individual or shared cubicles. I have never met a group of people so close in proximity who knew so little about one another nor what they each did – how their individual cog fit in the wheel. To add insult to injury, in the equally big and closely quartered lunch room, the employees spent all of their time glued to their phones unaware – not listening -- or working to develop interpersonal relationships.
There has been a lot of study around this phenomenon that is defined by separation from co-workers via technology (computer screens and phones) and progressive industry leaders, organizations like WeWork, WorkBar, and other Co-Working outfits are addressing this with structural changes in the workplace, but what if you are in an organization that hasn’t affectively addressed this? There are simple things you can do.
Put your cell phone down when others are around you. Nothing is as important as the person you are dealing with at the moment.
Endeavor to listen and understand and the most effective way to train yourself to learn is to “play back” what you heard by saying “Let me see if I understand what I heard…”
Do not troll your email. If you can, identify times during the day when you will check and respond. To prove the value of this approach, chronicle the number of mission critical emails you get in any day. Few of us have jobs that demand a response within the hour. Elect to check email when no one is around.
If it is important enough, pick up the phone. A discussion allows for debate and connection.
Be cautious of Social Media. Social Media’s pervasiveness is defined by what other people are doing and not what either you have done or what you need to get done.
Engage yourselves or your employees in challenging improvement initiatives and facilitate in person progress reviews. Important relationships can be built in through this process.
Encourage employee, co-worker, customer, and supplier feedback and endeavor to understand what it means.
Communication is perhaps the most important business skill and if you don’t take the time to learn to listen, you will be unaware when the train pulls out of the station or when opportunity comes knocking!