Communication – Corporate Bedside Manner

“Tell me the truth, Doc… how long do I have?”

Have you ever been under the knife? Consider your state of mind when you feel especially vulnerable. Not only are you subjected to physical exposure via hospital gown ass-flap, your mental state reminds you that everything can change—you are figuratively and emotionally exposed.

Being at the mercy of others can be debilitating as our present and future become a fog in an instant. When you find yourself in this “place,” there’s really only one thing you want.

“Talk to me.”

Unfortunately, to recognize good bedside manner, sometimes you must be exposed to the poor variety. Sounds like a simple request, but it’s a skill not everyone possesses and even fewer choose to master.

Despite good intentions, business leaders attempt to manage uncertainty as opposed to managing expectations. It’s easy to justify—there’s just too many variables that could change the outcome, so we will default to two poor communication practices:

  1. Silence: Communication vacuums are often mentioned as engagement “killers,” as individuals are left to their own devices to develop meaning to the events surrounding them.
  2. Insincerity: Not necessarily said with malicious intent, but communication without sincerity can be a career killer for an otherwise talented leader.

Why does this happen? Fear.

Fear that we’ll screw up the message. Fear that employees can’t handle the truth. Fear that we don’t have enough information. Fear that we might be wrong after all is said and done. It’s not (99% of the time) a matter of someone wanting to deliberately lie or deceive their employees, but you be the judge of how it’s interpreted. Uncertainty is different than “change;” uncertainty is personal, change is process. Dealing with our own uncertainty is tough enough, attempting to manage the uncertainty of others is fruitless.

What we want as employees (and patients) is for someone to give us the information available. I’d rather know that there’s going to be pain, soreness, discomfort, and even possible outcomes that I might not like.

Give it to me straight, Doc. I can handle it.

Hail To The King!

The Mrs. and I are truly enjoying our latest binge-watching obsession, Game of Thrones. Amidst some of the more ridiculous developments polluting the main story lines of the “rightful” assumption of the throne, is the lecherous (and humorous) switching of alliances that occur on an hour-by-hour basis. You know, I’m beginning to doubt the historical accuracy of this show, but I digress….

The knights, the stewards, the banner-men, the King’s “Hand,” his council ~ all of them bound by loyalty and honor to serve their true king.

Until someone gets whacked, and they all move one seat to the left.

“Loyalty,” in this sense, is worthless.

Don’t get me wrong – I value loyalty. It’s true, just ask my dog.

loyalty-dog-HR
he’s right, I’m a good boy.

But let me put it in another perspective – my wife, my kids, my brother, my friends – are they “loyal?” They are not “loyal” to me; I may have earned it, but I’m also expected (as are they) to continually validate my trustworthiness, respectability, and likability. To me, “loyalty” indicates a much blinder allegiance to person or thing, not always to the benefit of either party.

“Loyalty” has become a catch-all for many things. We confuse “loyalty” with tenure. How many people do you know who are quietly and proudly suffering away the years in a bad relationship in part because of some misguided interpretation of being “loyal?” How many times have you seen individuals either “grand-fathered” or “legacied” into a position within the company because of “loyalty?” During performance reviews, haven’t we all seen “loyalty” (i.e., tenure) confused with actual accomplishments? That kind of loyalty sucks.

You know who else hates that kind of “loyalty?” Your high-performing successors in waiting. They see this kind of loyalty as weak-handed management. The loyalty they are interested in comes as a result of reward via performance. Quid pro quo.

Love ain’t blind, loyalty is blind. Love is a commitment made with eyes wide open, loyalty is a contract often embraced because of guilt.

So, if you want loyalty….buy a dog. You can’t have mine ~ just look at that face!

 

Selfie!

Imagine future generations examining our lifestyles and wondering why we take so many pictures of ourselves.

You know why, right?

We love us.

We are beautiful, unique, and people desire to see our face (or other redeeming quality) as much as possible.

It’s the same mindset we see during organizational shake-ups. Mergers, re-structures, downsizings; whatever rocks the foundation of our pre-conceived notion of what our future will look like.

We take a “selfie.”

Screw the company, what about me???????

Instagram could design an app specifically for employees being acquired. “This is me freaking out.” “This one is me paralyzed with indecision.” “Here’s me trusting NOBODY.” “Here’s one where I’m downplaying the contributions of my colleagues.” “This is a favorite, this is me calling my physician for a stress-related leave of absence.”

These are not the images we want to leave as our legacy, but at some point we’ve all taken an unflattering selfie. The key is to learn the predictable ways that humans react, and decide how you can be the one to break the cycle.

THAT makes for a nice picture.

 

Man Overboard

The strongest swimmers are the first to abandon a sinking ship.

As leaders, we are still humans first. Among other things, that means we are prone to the same emotional response as our employees when unexpected change lands squarely upon us. Going into self-preservation mode, it’s very easy to go into ourselves, leaving all those around us in the dark. Instinctively, we worry about #1, first and foremost.

Now consider those people below us in the reporting chain; another degree of separation away from information can make a tough situation even more difficult. In a communication vacuum, you will have resistance, both passive and active, as people begin to assimilate. The “active” resistance is easily seen, easily heard. You can address the concerns and issues when they are being openly presented to you; that’s what leaders do.

The passive resistors are a trickier bunch. Many are coping in their own silent, invisible manner ~ including those who know they have the skill set to quickly and seamlessly find a newer, less volatile workplace. And remember, it’s the strongest swimmers who are looking to jump.

So how do you keep your best hands on deck?

  1. Let Them Know ~ Do your key people know they are key people? Recognition and appreciation are rarely used too much in situations of uncertainty. If I’m someone you truly value, tell me so.
  2. Be Available ~ Closed office doors breed mistrust. Once, during a particularly volatile situation a few of us actually removed our doors from the hinges to make the message visible – “I’m here if you need me.
  3. Seek Resistance ~ When you’re not hearing angst or concern, you need to actively seek it out. Be a walk-around manager, be visible, be communicative, and be a safe harbor for your people when the opportunity to vent presents itself.
  4. Be The Mirror ~ Realize that eyes of your team are upon you; your role changes from barometer to thermostat during times of uncertainty. Your actions and words will set the tone, especially to those who are wavering in their commitment level. The power of “Mirroring” (Pritchett) cannot be underestimated.
  5. Keep Managing ~ Lack of leadership is kryptonite to a high-performing employee. If you relinquish control or relax expectations, you risk the dreaded double-whammy, i.e. you’ll lose the good people, but you’ll keep those who are happy to be disguised with inactivity.

It’s not easy to rise above your own emotional response when faced with significant change. You can’t avoid or ignore your own coping process, but make haste, Captain – lest you hear the distant sound of a splash.

Let’s Talk About Me…

Self-preservation is a powerful instinct. In the back of our minds, we’re always counting the seats available on the lifeboat.

It’s a primal reaction you’ll witness whenever an acquisition is announced. The scrambling begins, and it’s downright embarrassing at times… but it’s also distinctly human. Politicking, rumor-mongering, turf wars, alliances—we can mask our emotions pretty well, but it’s our actions that tell the story. In Human Resources, your role can quickly change to one of advisor, counselor, and psychiatrist. People are scrambling for seats, and they are hoping you can punch their ticket to ride.

We want to surviveIn our efforts to do so, we expend quite a bit of energy in non-productive and unhealthy activities with worry and anxiety taking over larger chunks of our day.

It’s estimated that employees will “waste” up to 3 hours per day worrying about major organizational changes (Business as Unusual, Pritchett.) It’s natural and forgivable for us to worry about something as traumatic as being acquired; the sin is letting the feeling perpetuate as productivity continues to suffer.

These are not novel, unexpected emotions from employees. We can predict and even identify these behaviors but are often remiss in preparing our leaders to address them. The catch, of course, is that leaders are often in the same boat, wondering about “The Essential Me.” How close are you to your business group leaders? Are they prepared for the psychological change (tip: 90% are not) they will encounter individually, and (some would say more importantly) the impact on the people they manage?

Want a quick way to find out? Quiz them on the “Essential Me” questions; if an employee asks these questions, what is your response?

ESSENTIAL ME LIST:

  1. “Do I still have a job?” – sometimes cleverly disguised as “Should I get my resume ready?”
  2. “When will the merger be finished?” – i.e., “When can I stop worrying?”
  3. “Will my job/compensation/reporting structure change?” – Valid questions, but these are still end-around attempts at gaining more clarity about “me.”
  4. “What have you heard?” – maybe the most frequently asked question; generally signals that you have a communication gap, time to fill it up.

Until you can answer these questions with a level of sincerity and legitimacy, you have work to do on “Me.”

I Can’t Get No Satisificing

“Satisficing”… familiar with the term? I wasn’t, but then there’s Google. The term came up this week while discussing human behavior with a colleague. It’s a funny word that spell-check detests, but what does it mean, and why should you care?

The definition is plainly descriptive: A decision-making strategy that aims for a satisfactory or adequate result, rather than the optimal solution.

Why should we care? Well, even if the word is unfamiliar, we’re all guilty of satisficing at various points in our lives.

We settle. And it costs us.

It’s hardly a negative term, but it’s that neutrality that silently damages us as people, families, and companies. It’s “good enough,” but it deprives us of greatness.

The term was introduced by Herbert A. Simon in 1956 to explain why, in situations where an optimal solution cannot be conceived, humans will default to the first satisfactory solution offered. It’s easier, quicker, and brings us to resolution faster, even if the “solution” is inherently flawed. We do it all the time, accepting “solutions” in the sake of moving on to the next topic at hand. It could be laziness, fear, surrender, boredom, or even lack of brain power. Whatevs…

Next.

And, unbeknownst to me, I’ve used a story for years to describe this same behavior. Conducting training sessions for pharma salespeople, we discussed the concept of “exiting” too early when seeking the opportunity for a sale. Our tendency is to immediately react to a customer’s needs, addressing the symptoms instead of the true source of pain. So, back to said metaphor:

You’re on a road trip with your family… you’ve been in the car for several hours and hundreds of  miles. The first cries of “We’re hungry!” are being lobbed into the front seat. Blood sugar is low, temperaments are chippy, tension is high. The next “real” town is 40 miles away. As the miles go by, you see blue road signs with “Food” and “Gas” advertised, and even your co-pilot is beginning to bi-… er, gripe at you. You can see the glorified gas stations posing as restaurants, and they hold no appeal to you, but you are slowly being worn down by the savages in the back seat. Only 20 minutes away, a host of restaurants await if you can just hold on, but…  you’re done. To hell with it, we’ll take this exit.

Later that evening, as the family battles explosive diarrhea, you cringe looking back at the fatal decision to settle on Texaco’s finest. What if we could have waited 20 more minutes? 

How many times have you capitulated, given-in, or settled in a situation like this? Especially in a Human Resources role, it’s incumbent upon you to be the dissenting voice when needed. The first solution to a problem is not always the optimal solution; surely the extra effort is worth avoiding a night with the trots.

*I don’t want to trivialize Mr. Simon’s genius by trying to summarize his research in a blog post, please reference his work for more detailed explanation of decision-making processes and human behavior—it’s a scene man.