Companies Break in the Middle

Companies Break in the Middle

After spending over 1,000 hours per year with CEO’s I have an observation, companies break in the middle.

Hold a stick with both hands at each end. Your right hand is the CEO, your left hand is the front-line employee. Everything in between is the middle. Now bend the stick…until it breaks.

The break will happen somewhere in the middle. No matter the strength of the branch, it will break with the right amount of pressure. This is why it is so important to pay attention to the middle.

Stop Trying to Control People or Make Them Happy

by Yves Morieux and Peter Tollman

Whether you’ve heard of them or not, two gurus from the early 20th century still dominate management thinking and practice — to our detriment.  It has been more than 100 years since Frederick Taylor, an American engineer working in the steel business, published his seminal work on the principles of scientific management.  And it has been more than 80 years ago since Elton Mayo, an Australian-born Harvard academic, produced his pioneering studies on human relations in the workplace.  Yet managers continue to follow Taylor’s “hard” approach — creating new structures, processes, and systems — when they need to address a management challenge.  Hence, the introduction of, say, a risk management team or a compliance unit or an innovation czar. And when managers need to boost morale and get people to work better together, they still follow Mayo’s “soft” approach — launching people initiatives such as off-site retreats, affiliation events or even lunchtime yoga classes.  If these approaches made sense in the first half of the twentieth century (and that’s open to question), they make no sense today. Indeed, if anything, their continued use is making things worse.

We are living in an age of mounting complexity. By our calculation, companies are operating in a competitive environment that is six times more complex than it was in 1955, when the Fortune 500 was launched.  For the best companies, this complex world is an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals. But, for too many companies saddled with approaches to management that are outdated and ineffectual, it presents a seemingly insurmountable challenge.

As they have responded to each new challenge, managers (as Taylor recommended) have introduced new structures, processes and systems. When this happens year after year, there is a damaging accretion of structural fixes — we estimate that the number of these has grown by a factor of thirty-five over the past 55 years. The consequence is what we call “complicatedness,” which spells trouble for a company’s productivity and leads employees to feel frustrated and to disengage. In the most complicated 20% of companies, employees spend large chunks of time on aimless activities that do not add value: For instance, writing reports or participating in internal meetings that have no impact.

There is, however, an alternative, a third way — one we call “Smart Simplicity.” We’ve developed this approach over the past 30 years of working with 500 companies in more than 40 countries around the world, and we introduce it in a new book called Six Simple Rules.  With “Smart Simplicity,” we put the cooperating individual at the heart of the modern organization. Where the Taylor school implicitly distrusts the individual worker and designs structural fixes for controlling their actions in a top-down, rigid, micro-managing way — albeit ameliorated by the softening effects of the people initiatives propounded by the Mayo school — we promote a radically different approach.

Simply put, companies are most productive when they harness — not hobble — the intelligence of their employees.  Six simple rules help managers get beyond the shackles of  the “hard” and “soft” management approaches we’ve inherited from our forefathers:

  1. Understand what your people do:  Start with a true understanding of what your people do and why they do it.
  2. Reinforce integrators: Foster cooperation by giving people the power and interest to do so.
  3. Increase the total quantity of power: Create new power, don’t just shift existing power.
  4. Increase reciprocity: Ensure people use their autonomy.
  5. Extend the shadow of the future: Create direct feedback loops.
  6. Reward those who cooperate:  Make transparency, innovation, and aspiration the best choices for individuals and teams.

No amount of structures, processes, and systems are ever enough to anticipate the kinds of problems employees face everyday on the front line of the business. So, instead, companies need to give their employees more autonomy and, at the same time, encourage them — impel them, even — to cooperate with each other. Only then, when they are liberated in this way, will employees be able to make critical judgments, balance complex trade-offs, and come up with creative solutions to new problems.


Are You in Over Your Head?

By Doug Dickerson via Leader's Beacon

If you’re going through hell, keep going. – 
Winston Churchill

A story is told of a group of friends who went deer hunting and paired off in twos for the day. That night one of the hunters returned alone, staggering under the weight of an eight-point buck.

“Where’s Harry?” he was asked. “Harry had a stroke of some kind. He’s a couple miles back up the trail,” In disbelief the others replied, “You left Harry laying there and carried back the deer?” “Well,” said the hunter, “I figured no one was going to steal Harry.”

That humorous story sets up a not so funny real life scenario involving the state of mind of many of corporate leaders in today’s workplace. Writing in Forbes (, Susan Adams opined about a recent Booz &Co. survey that revealed that “many corporate leaders are not able to keep their priorities straight. They are also pursuing strategies they don’t believe in, and many of their strategies fail to build on the things their companies are especially good at, compared with competitors. It’s like everything that can go wrong already has gone wrong for them.”

More than 3,500 managers from around the world took part on the Booz survey. Here is a sampling of the results:

·         A majority, 64%, said their biggest frustration was having too many conflicting priorities.

·         54% said they don’t believe that both employees and customers understand their strategy.

·         Only 33% said they thought the company’s “core capabilities” support their company’s strategy.

·         Just 21% said all their businesses “leverage their core capabilities.’

·         Only 20% said they think their company has a “right to win” in all markets where it competes.

From these findings we get an idea as to why so many corporate leaders feel the way they do and the need for strong leadership to correct it. The issues are complex and the solutions are varied. If you feel like you are in over your head then here are three solutions worth considering.

Organizational values should be shared not sacrificed. At the heart of your business is a set of values that define who you are, the product you deliver, the customers you serve, and how your will conduct your affairs. It’s the creed of your business that transcends ‘what’ you do and answers the question of ‘why’.

Until everyone is on the same page as it relates to your values you will never carry out your priorities. If managers and leaders are feeling the tension of competing priorities then it’s time revisit your values in order to get to the root of the problem. Values are the glue that binds you together and without them you will always have tension.

Organizational priorities should complement not be in conflict. Not even the best corporate leaders will be able to execute their plans successfully if the company’s priorities are not in harmony with its values and embraced by everyone. When competing agenda’s and ego’s interfere with what’s best of the company then there will be problems.

Everyone has priorities as it relates to individual performance. That being said, those priorities should not run contrary to the overall values and priorities of the organization. They should complement it. If you don’t fully embrace your core values then you will never fully execute your priorities. Why? Priorities flow out of values.

Organizational communication should give clarity not lend to confusion. The lifeblood of your organization is clear communication –on all levels. Many of the concerns expressed by the survey respondents can be traced back, and in part attributed to, poor communication. If the lines of communication are not open and clear it makes keeping priorities straight much more difficult.

Tony Robbins said, “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” This is a great point to consider going forward. Wise leaders will make every effort possible to communicate core values clearly so that they are known and embraced internally, and as a result known and appreciated by your customers.

The challenges of corporate leadership are as complex as they’ve ever been. But in the search for solutions we must not be our own worst enemy by engaging in approaches that are self-defeating. Values should be clear. Priorities should be mutual. Communication must be clear.

What do you say?

© 2013 Doug Dickerson

- See more at:

Are You Making This Mistake at the End of Your Meetings?

By Fred Kofman

"Five frogs are sitting on a log. Four decide to jump off. How many are left? 
Five, because deciding is different than doing.

Decisions are worthless … unless you turn them into commitments.

In a business conversation, your counterpart's decision states his intention, but a commitment holds him accountable. Although a commitment does not guarantee delivery, it’s far more reliable than a decision. More importantly, when managed properly, it allows you to handle breakdowns with effectiveness, trust and integrity.

Have you been in meetings where lots of decisions are made but nothing gets done andnobody is held accountable? Unless you finish the meeting with commitments about “who will do what by when,” you’ve just built 90% of a bridge.

Broken commitments damage tasks, relationships, and culture. They bring about inefficiencies, mistrust, and corruption. Coordination suffers, collaboration suffers, and cohesion suffers. You can avoid this suffering – if you finish every conversation with clear commitments.

Ask and You Shall Receive

Commitment conversations begin with a request: “Can you bring the financials to the meeting?” “Please ship the order to my new address.” Things can go off track at this early point, especially if you ask without really asking.

I once coached a production manager who was put on a performance-improvement plan for failing to meet a crucial deadline. Weeks before the date, my client figured he had to add a shift to finish the job on time. He needed approval from his boss for the overtime, but he didn’t want to ask. He had heard the plant manager complain that corporate was breathing down his neck about costs.

He decided to use a soft approach. During a staff meeting he mentioned that his project could really use a second shift. The plant manager acknowledged it was a tough deadline; he said he would see what he could do. The production manager believed he had gotten the much-needed help. He waited for his boss to call him after the meeting to implement the second shift, but to no avail. Disappointed, he assumed that a delay was better than a cost overrun. He finished the job late. Imagine his outrage when he got chewed out!

Like many of us, the production manager tried to ask without asking. His indirect approach avoided a confrontation, but it also prevented a frank discussion of the tradeoff between additional labor costs and the delay. As I described in my previous posts onschizorganization and discussing the un-discussable, it is impossible to preserve sanity at work without open communication.

The typical way to avoid making a clear request is to make a muddled one. Do you recognize any of these examples?

  • It would be great if…
  • Someone should…
  • Do we all agree to…?
  • Can you try to…?
  • The boss wants...

To make a clear request you must utter it in the first person, using direct language and addressing it to a specific person. You must specify observable conditions of satisfaction, including time. It helps if you explain your purpose for asking, and, if and when you arrive at an oral contract, always ask the other sign it.

Although there are many ways to ask, the most effective ones follow a common pattern:

  1. In order to get A (a want or need),
  2. I ask that you deliver B by C.
  3. Can you commit to that?

It may sound odd to ask like this; you can adjust your language to suit your culture. For example, the production manager might have addressed the plant manager as follows: “I am running behind schedule. I don’t see how to catch up without some extra help. In order to finish the job I need some overtime. Can you authorize a second shift for the next three weeks?”

Time to Commit

A well-formed request demands a clear response. There are only three possible answers:

  1. Yes, I commit.
  2. No, I decline.
  3. I can’t commit yet because,
    a. I need clarification.
    b. I need to check; I promise to respond by X.
    c. I want to propose an alternative.
    d. I can make it only if I get Y by Z.

Anything else is a weasel promise. Here are some interesting ways by which people often say, “No, I don’t commit.”

  • Yes, I’ll try.
  • OK, let me see what I can do.
  • Seems doable.
  • Let me check into it.
  • Someone will take care of it.

When you declare, “I commit,” you assume the responsibility to honor your wordunconditionally. You take on an obligation to deliver on your promise; or if you can’t, to do your best to take care of the requestor.

When you declare, “I decline,” you might still try to do what you were asked, but you don’t commit. You do not give the requestor the right to hold you accountable. It is much better to have a clear “no” than to get bogged down in a wishy-washy “I’ll do my best.”

There are many good reasons to decline. You may not have the resources; you may not have the skills; you may have a conflict with a previous commitment; you may anticipate problems; or you may just not want to do it.

When you are not ready to say “yes” or “no” right away, you may:

  • Ask for clarification if the request is unclear to you. For example, if I ask you to help me with a project, you might ask, “What kind of help do you need?” or, “When do you need my help?”
  • Promise to respond by a certain time if you need to check your resources, obtain commitments from others, or assess whether you can deliver to specifications. For example, if I ask you to prepare a report, you might answer, “Let me check if I have the information available. I’ll get back to you in an hour.”
  • Counteroffer with alternative proposal to satisfy the need behind the request. For example, if I ask you to meet today, you might respond: “I am not available today. Could we meet tomorrow? Or if it’s urgent, we could speak by phone.”
  • Commit conditionally if your commitment depends on factors outside of your control. For example, if I ask you deliver a rush order, you can commit to do it only if I authorize overtime.

Clear commitments don’t mean that everything will work out. Life is unpredictable, so even the most impeccable commitments can break down. In my next post, I will explain how you can preserve effectiveness, trust, and integrity even when you can’t fulfill your promise.

Do or do not ... there is no try.” -- Yoda

By Fred Kofman, PhD. in Economics, is Professor of Leadership and Coaching at the Conscious Business Center of the University Francisco Marroquín anda faculty member of Lean In. He is the author of Conscious Business, How to Build Value Through Values (also available as an audio program).

7 Common Excuses That Prevent an Employee From Being Great

by John Hall

It’s usually easier to come up with an excuse than it is to actually get something done. I’ve learned that many employees have the potential to be great, but they let excuses get in the way of their true potential. As a leader, it’s important to address these excuses and challenge your employees to be better. Here are some excuses that send my “BS meter” off the charts.


You didn’t give me enough direction

This is a common excuse for people that are used to checking the answer in the back of the book. The best employees take initiative and require the least amount of direction. The best leaders don’t hold employees’ hands, and the best employees tend to execute well and ask for direction only when it’s necessary.

It’s another team member’s fault

In school, you didn’t fail to turn in a project just because you had a lazy group member. You picked up the slack. Do what you can to encourage that person to get the work done, and if that’s not possible (there are some really lazy people out there), do it yourself. Bottom line: The best employees simply get the job done.

It’s not possible

Very rarely do I come across something that isn’t possible. It just takes some critical or outside-the-box thinking. Great employees don’t give this excuse because they don’t give up when they hit a barrier. Sometimes the difference between “impossible” and “possible” is just an email, phone call, or Google search away.

It’s a common mistake

Some employees think mistakes like typos, grammatical and logistical errors, and email errors are okay because they’re so common. The best employees aren’t “common,” so don’t make “common” mistakes. It pays to double-check your work and make sure it rarely needs correcting. It will put you a step above the rest in a world full of people who are bad at spelling, forming complete sentences, and responding to emails coherently.

I need your resources

Often, employees rely on their leaders’ resources and network to complete tasks. A standout employee builds off her leader’s connections and establishes her own network. One of the most refreshing feelings for a leader is to see an employee form additional relationships that can help the company. It’s really a feather in the cap to know the employee you trained is successfully branching out and building valuable connections autonomously.

The client is unreasonable

There is no shortage of difficult people out there, so get used to dealing with them. An unreasonable client or partner shouldn’t mean you can’t accomplish your goals. Valuable employees find ways to deal with unreasonable people simply by forming a better relationship or providing value for the client to ease the unreasonableness. That said, sometimes people who are difficult to work with just need a swift kick in the pants (metaphorically speaking) to bring them back to earth.

I need more training

When an employee isn’t trained properly, it can result in disaster. All leaders should make an effort to effectively train their employees and have programs that ensure this. Unfortunately, training isn’t 100 percent perfect and some employees won’t be trained properly. Employees also have an obligation to learn on their own and actively try to make themselves better. If an employee isn’t properly trained, the standout employees will fill in the gaps themselves and reap the rewards associated with being awesome.

Once you hear these common excuses, it’s important to identify them and address them.  Challenging and supporting an employee is one of the best ways to decrease room for these excuses and allow your employees to become great assets for your company. So, even if you don’t have a good “BS meter,” you’ll be able to tell when your employees could be growing instead of consistently falling back when things get tough.

John Hall is the CEO of Digital Talent Agents, an agency that specializes in helping companies, entrepreneurs and business leaders build their brands by getting quality content published from them in reputable online publications that reach their target markets. Connect with him on Twitter or Google+.

Handwritten Notes Are a Rare Commodity. They're Also More Important Than Ever.

by John Coleman via @harvardbiz


When I was a college student interning in Washington, D.C., a senior manager, Bridgett, made a habit of treating each intern to lunch over the summer. When my turn rolled around, it was no surprise that Bridgett proved an adept conversationalist and an excellent host.

Several weeks after I'd returned to college, however, I was surprised to find an envelope from Bridgett in my mailbox. It contained a handwritten note and a copy of Flannery O'Connor's Mystery and Manners, a book she'd recommended over lunch. I barely knew Bridgett, but her note said that I'd helped her organization and that she appreciated it and wished me luck. It was a gesture that stayed with me and forever led me to view Bridgett as a thoughtful person.

Personal handwritten notes grow rarer by the day. According to the U.S. Postal Service's annual survey, the average home only received a personal letter once every seven weeks in 2010, down from once every two weeks in 1987. And The Wall Street Journal recently lamented the "lost art of the handwritten note." Some might claim that in a wired world — where emails, tweets, and text messages are more accessible than handwritten notes — this is the natural evolution of communication. Who has time for stamps, stationery, and "manual" spell-check, after all? But I think it's premature to write off the importance of handwritten notes. They remain impactful and unique in several ways.

For one, handwritten notes mean more because they cost more. Emails, tweets, texts, or Facebook messages are essentially costless. They're easy to write and free to send, and you and I produce hundreds of them every day. A recent study indicated the average corporate email account sent orreceived more than 100 emails per day (PDF), and Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 nowsend or receive nearly 100 texts per day.

These electronic communications are rarely notable. But handwritten notes are unusual. They take minutes (or hours) to draft, each word carefully chosen with no "undo" or "autocorrect" to fall back on. Drafting one involves selecting stationery, paying for stamps, and visiting a mailbox. They indicate investment, and that very costliness indicates value. If, as the U.S. Postal Service notes, we only receive a handwritten letter once every two months, each of those letters likely means more to us than the "cheaper" communication we receive each day.

That conveyance of value is amplified by the fact that personal messages are often notes of gratitude, civility, and appreciation that reach beyond the conventional thank-you. Robert Cialdini, in his classic work Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, profiled legendary car salesman Joe Girard. Perhaps the most successful salesman of his generation, Joe would send a handwritten message to all his clients once a month with simple messages printed inside like, "I like you." Joe believed these little notes were one of the reasons his clients stayed so loyal to him. Because handwritten notes are so painstakingly slow — to draft, to send, to assure delivery — they're often a poor way to ask for things. Instead, they're more frequently used to remind others that you value your relationship.

While saying "thank you" is important, the beauty of a well-crafted handwritten note is that it can show deeper investment and appreciation than a simple thank-you can. It can follow up on a conversation, remind someone they're not forgotten, raise new issues, or even include a gift, like Bridgett's, that carries its own meaning. And in a world where so much communication is merely utilitarian, these simple acts of investment, remembrance, gratitude, and appreciation can show the people who matter to your life and business that they are important to you.

As an added bonus, studies show that those who express gratitude also benefit by experiencing better health and sleep, less anxiety, and more life satisfaction. They benefit giver and receiver alike.

Finally, handwritten notes have permanence. How many of us have our old high school yearbooks in a closet somewhere? How many keep shoe boxes with old letters or short notes from former colleagues or friends? The last time I moved, I came across several boxes of correspondence I'd had over the years. Taking the time to read through some of them, I found the memories of my old friends and colleagues, and my gratitude for them was reinvigorated. Email is "permanent" in its own way; our electronic messages are easy to keep and search in huge volumes. But they aren't tangible and enduring in the same way those old notes are. We don't print emails and display them on our desks, refrigerators, and mantles they way we do with letters and notes from friends. The physical notes are more memorable.

It may seem nostalgic, but I still believe there's room for the handwritten note in personal and professional communication. They cost something, mean something, and have permanence in a way emails and text messages don't. They let the people in our lives know we appreciate them enough to do something as archaic as pausing for 15 minutes to put pen to paper in an attempt to connect and sustain a relationship with them. I still remember that note from Bridgett — and many others I've received over the years — and perhaps in writing personal notes to our friends and colleagues, we can reach out to others in a way that creates a lasting, positive connection.

The Delicate Art of Giving Feedback

by Robert C. Pozen
via Harvard Business Review

To be an effective manager, you need to be skilled at giving out both praise and criticism. While praise is easy to give, it is far more challenging and unpleasant to criticize your employees. Yet the practice of management requires you to occasionally show employees where they need to improve. Thus, it is vital for managers to learn how and when to give negative feedback.

The first thing to realize is that people generally respond more strongly to negative events than positive ones. In other words, we are usually more upset about losing $100 than we are happy about winning $100. In fact, in an influential book, John Gottman (now a Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington) suggested that positive interactions must outnumber negative interactions by at least five to one in order for a marriage to succeed.

This observation is also true in the workplace, as Professor Andrew Miner (then of the University of Minnesota) and colleagues discovered in a study published in 2005. They recorded employees' moods several times each day and, each time, asked them if any events (such as a positive interaction with a co-worker) had occurred within the past few hours.

Their results showed that employees reacted to a negative interaction with their boss six times more strongly than they reacted to a positive interaction with their boss. This suggests that negative feedback can have significant adverse effects on an employee's well-being — and, presumably, their productivity.

What does this observation mean for managers? Put simply, managers need to be cautious before criticizing employees.

To start with, you should avoid inadvertently criticizing any of your employees. For instance, if an employee writes a first draft of a written document, some managers might want to suggest some minor revisions even if the draft was generally good. In these situations, managers should clearly communicate that their revisions are merely suggestions coming from a second pair of eyes — and that they aren't criticizing their employee's performance.

More generally, managers need to weigh the tradeoffs involved in making negative feedback. If you criticize your employees, you will likely provide some corrective information, but you will also put your employee in a bad mood. If an error is so inconsequential that the corrective value of criticism is low, it might make sense for you to keep that feedback to yourself.

Of course, there are situations when a manager must provide negative feedback. On these occasions, don't lose sight of your purpose for offering that feedback: to improve the employee's performance going forward. As much as you might want to excoriate your employee for what you believe is a spectacularly awful performance, your business gains nothing from it.

In fact, shaming your employee is likely to have substantial negative effects on your business. Inresearch reported in HBR, Christine Porath and Christine Pearson found that many employees considered themselves to be on the receiving end of workplace incivility, such as overly harsh criticism from their boss. According to their research, nearly half of these employees decide to intentionally decrease their productivity.

Instead, in order to obtain the desired corrective effects of negative feedback, you should take steps to soften the emotional blow. You want your employees to focus on the message that you're trying to convey, rather than any intense negative emotions.

At a bare minimum, make sure to deliver your criticism in private. There's nothing more humiliating than being criticized in front of your co-workers. And it is critical to keep your tone collaborative. Make clear that your employee still has your support and your respect.

One strategy for providing feedback is to start by literally saying, "Let me provide you with some feedback." That statement lets the employee prepare emotionally for what you're about to say; in my experience, it also seems to activate the calm, rational part of the employee's brain rather than the defensive, emotional part.

Negative feedback is a key tool in the effective manager's kit. But you must use it wisely and carefully, or else they will do more harm than good. Focus on potential future improvements, instead of dwelling on past errors. And think twice whether an error truly requires negative feedback: criticism can have an unexpectedly large impact on an employee's happiness and productivity.

And this approach should be generally reversed when it comes to praise. Unlike criticism,managers should bestow their employees with praise generously, publicly, and at every opportunity — especially at the culmination of projects. While most bosses seem to think that they dole out praise by the dozen, I rarely meet an employee who feels that the boss sufficiently values his or her achievements. So, as often as possible, tell your employees how much you appreciate their commitment and hard work.

7 Keys To Crystal Clear Communication

By Lee J. Colan, Ph.D

Question: What’s the one thing we do more than anything else, but we also do it less effectively than anything else?

Answer: Communicate.

Deloitte & Touche conducted a study that found communication was the best predictor of employee commitment. And commitment results in discretionary effort that drives results. So, to get better results, here are seven keys to crystal clear communication:


1. Relevance

There are lots of things to communicate about. To ensure you are talking about what is most relevant to your team, answer these four questions for them:

  • Where are we going? (Strategy)
  • What are we doing to get there? (Plans)
  • What can I do to contribute? (Roles)
  • What is in it for me? (Rewards)

Ensure that you are answering these questions before communicating about other topics. When these questions are not answered people tend to fill in the blanks with their own assumptions, and their assumptions are typically worse than reality.

2. Consistency

The same messages should come from your various communication channels and from all levels of leaders. Your team will sniff out inconsistency like a cat sniffing out a mouse. Provide your leaders speaking points and visual aids about new projects, organizational changes, company values and strategic direction to ensure consistency. Things will change, and that’s okay. Just ensure that everyone’s messages also change. If not, you will start to violate the third key.

3. Transparency

It can also be challenging to decide what to communicate to our teams and what to withhold. It’s easy to say (usually to ourselves), “They don’t really need to know all that” or “My team won’t really understand” or “I don’t think they can handle that news right now.”

Remember this: Leaders who underestimate the intelligence of their employees generally overestimate their own. To the extent you can responsibly share information about your business (unless SEC regulations restrict you in certain situations) you build leadership credibility and a sense of ownership to make a difference.

4. Multi-Channel

Your communication channels might include: memo/email, video, Twitter, chat groups, newsletter, company Facebook page, town hall chats, training sessions, team celebrations, bulletin boards, running banners on PCs, video conferences, etc.  Don’t go crazy adding channels just to add them. Select those that are perceived as most reliable. Keep it simple and stick with it!

Remember, the message is in the medium. So, if you are announcing an important new business unit, sending an email might be perceived as matter-of-fact and that the new business unit is not critical to the business. Alternatively, company-wide or departmental meetings with a presentation and opportunity for asking questions suggest to employees that the time, effort and preparation to hold these meetings is related to the importance of this new business unit.

5. Real-Time

Speed rules in today’s business. It is often the only competitive advantage that smaller businesses have over the 800-pound gorillas. So real-time updates, feedback and dialog are key. This also applies to the not so fun stuff. Don’t sweep the tough performance discussions under the rug. The issue won’t go away with time; it will only rear its head in uglier ways. Communicate in real-time — in good times and in bad.

6. Multi-Directional

Communicate downward, upward and horizontally. This means that listening is just as important as talking, if not more so. Asking questions is the most underutilized, yet most powerful, leadership tool. Excellent leaders listen at least 50 percent of the time. After we listen to peers and employees,  we can more effectively communicate a message or idea that is more likely to be well-received.

7. Informality

In addition to scheduling formal meetings and communiques, budget five or ten extra minutes before a meeting to zig-zag your way to meetings, the restroom or lunch. Pop in on your team and ask them how you can help them, what their biggest frustrations are, what big idea they would like to work on, etc. These informal dialogs often yield rich insights.

Joseph Pulitzer (you know, the Pulitzer Prize guy) knew a few things about effective communication, and he reflected several of the seven keys when he said, “Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearlyso they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and above all, accurately so they will be guided by it.”

Apply the seven keys and you will not only communicate with crystal clarity, you will also more fully engage your team and drive better performance.

Bio: Lee J. Colan, Ph.D. is a leadership advisor. He co-founded The L Group, Inc. in 1999 to equip leaders to execute their plans and engage their teams. Colan has authored 12 books. His soon-to-be-released book, 
Stick with It: Mastering the Art of Adherence 

10 Reasons to Pick Up the Phone Now

By Kevin Daum via @inc

Today fewer people get on the phone, preferring to text, chat, and e-mail. Here are 10 scenarios where a live voice is still the best option.


I've noticed recently that the Millennial generation's trend of phone avoidance is quickly spreading to people of all ages. It started with smartphones. Texting replaced leaving voicemails and whole conversations now take place with our thumbs. Calling someone has now become low on the communication priority list and even frequently disparaged.

Certainly written communication has its advantages.

  • You can get your message out whether or not the other person is available.
  • You can respond without concern for time zones or sleep patterns.
  • You don't have to waste time with unwanted chatty gossip.

But the phone has benefits that text and e-mail will never overcome. It's still an important tool for business etiquette and should be considered equally in today's communication environment. Here are 10 scenarios where a phone call does the job best.

1. When You Need Immediate Response

The problem with text or e-mail is you never know when someone will get back to you. You like to think the other person is sitting there waiting for your message, but it's not always true. These days when someone sees your name on the ringing phone, they know you are making an extra effort to speak to them. Of course if they are truly busy, in a meeting, sleeping, or hiding from you, the caller ID will tip them off and you go to voicemail, which they rarely check anyway. At least now you can express yourself with heartfelt emotion.

2. When You Have Complexity with Multiple People

My wife Van was recently coordinating an overseas engagement for me and there were six different people in multiple time zones involved in the logistics. After five cryptic e-mail conversations that created more confusion, she was literally screaming at the computer. Finally I suggested a conference call. In 30 minutes, all questions were answered, everyone was aligned, and Van went from frustrated to relieved. She is now a newly recruited phone advocate.

3. When You Don't Want a Written Record Due to Sensitivity

You never know who will see an e-mail or a text. True, phone calls can be recorded...but not legally in most states without prior notification or a judge's order. Unless you are absolutely comfortable with your message getting into anyone's hands, best to use the phone for conversations that require discretion.

4. When the Emotional Tone is Ambiguous, But Shouldn't Be

Sometimes a smiley face is not enough to convey real emotion. Emoticons help broadly frame emotional context, but when people's feelings are at stake it's best to let them hear exactly where you are coming from. Otherwise they will naturally assume the worst.

5. When There is Consistent Confusion

Most people don't like to write long e-mails and most don't like to read them. So when there are lots of details that create confusion, phone calls work efficiently to bring clarity. First of all, you can speak about 150 words per minute, and most people don't type that fast. Second, questions can be answered in context so you don't end up with an endless trail of back and forth question and answers.

6. When There is Bad News

This should be obvious, but sadly many people will take a cowardly approach to sharing difficult news. Don't be one of those callous people. Make it about the other person and not you. Humanize the situation with empathy they can hear.

7. When There is Very Important News

Good or bad, if there is significance to information, the receiver needs to understand the importance beyond a double exclamation point. Most likely they will have immediate questions and you should be ready to provide context to prevent unwanted conclusions.

8. When Scheduling is Difficult

After going back and forth multiple times with a colleague's assistant trying to find an available date and time, I finally just called her. Now I didn't have to worry that the time slot would be filled by the time she read my e-mail. We just spoke with calendars in hand and completed in five minutes what had exasperated us over three days. Later that day I watched one of my foodie friends spend 20 frustrated minutes using Open Table and finally suggested he simply call the restaurant. In three minutes he had a reservation and a slightly embarrassed smile.

9. When There is a Hint of Anger, Offense, or Conflict in the Exchange

Written messages can often be taken the wrong way. If you see a message that suggests any kind of problem, don't let it fester--or worse try and repair it--with more unemotional communication. Pick up the phone and resolve the issue before it spirals out of control.

10.  When a Personal Touch Will Benefit

Anytime you want to connect emotionally with someone and face-to-face is not possible, use the phone. Let them hear the care in your voice and the appreciation in your heart.