Next to people, communication is the most critical element to success whether you are in a growth mode or you are facing difficult economic times. However, when times are tough, failure to communicate has much greater consequences. Failure to communicate could accelerate failure . Communication is essential to developing trust. Trust is necessary to get people to reach down deep inside and give everything they have under the most difficult circumstances.
Colin Powell stated in an interview that as a young twenty-one year old lieutenant he was still trying to figure out the whole concept of mission and people when a crusty old Master Sergeant said to him:
“Let me make it clear for you, Lieutenant, so that you never ever doubt again what leadership is all about. Now, listen carefully. I ain’t gonna repeat it. A good leader is someone whose troops will follow him, if only out of curiosity. "
The reason people follow any leader, especially in the business world, is due to trust. The only way to develop trust is through communication. You have to talk to people with respect to gain their respect. You need their respect if you are going to develop their trust. You gain trust when people think you care as much about their welfare as you do your own. People have to think that you not only care about their problems but that you will make every effort to solve them. This is an especially difficult task when the economy isn’t cooperating and you have eliminated jobs. That is one of the reasons that it is critical to act quickly and swiftly when implementing restructuring plans during tough economic times. It is not only important to create a big enough shock wave to immobilize the old culture, but you have to convince the survivors that they are the keepers and you will all succeed together. Leaders are respected for discipline. Survivors will recognize if you gain their respect, that terminating people is part of the job. They Will view your decision as a sacrifice of part to protect the whole. Choice is critical. Employees that are C players must not make the cut. Removing non-contributors and disruptions due to poor performance is in fact to their benefit.
WARNING-Do not under any circumstances keep an employee that is obviously a non-performer due to politics, tenure or relationship with the owner or anyone on the executive staff. This can countermand every honest effort and sincere communication made. It also sends a message of a lack of honesty.
Employees want to take pride in their leaders. They are eager to give their trust if you demonstrate the kind of character as a leader that deserves that trust. Don’t let the employees down. Character is built around a true concern for the people within the organization. It is based on fairness and consistency.
The effectiveness of a true leader is not measured in terms of the leadership he or she exercises. It is measured in the leadership evoked. It is not measured in terms of power over his subordinates but in terms of the power he releases in his subordinates. Leadership is not measured in terms of goals and objectives but it is measured in terms of the accomplishment of others as a result of that leadership. Leadership is not measured in the decisions made, the costs cut, the plans made. It is measured in terms of the growth in confidence, sense of responsibility and acceptance of accountability of the employees that are a result of that leadership.
“The final test of a true leader is that they leave behind in others the conviction and will to carry on. ”
Leadership and communication are intertwined. They go together. Leadership without communication is like a gun without a bullet. It may look impressive, but it can’t do anything. Leadership and communication help create solidarity. Solidarity implies a unity within a group that enables it to manifest its strength and exert its influence as a group. Unity implies oneness, especially of what is varied or diverse in its direction or clarity. This is particularly true when a business is struggling for survival. Unity describes the inner relationships of individual parts making up the whole. It is an achievement that demands the probability of action and leadership. That action, that leadership, if appropriate and precise, leads to trust.
The very first step required after a restructuring process is mass communication. It may be virtually impossible, as President or CEO or COO to get out in the field and talk to every employee face to face. Although that should be a priority follow up during the coarse of the year. An acceptable alternative to reach every employee is tele-conferenceing. However, most companies are not set up for that process. A second alternative is the production of a video tape presentation to every employee simultaneously. Mandatory viewing of every employee at a preselected time is essential. The video should send a positive message addressing the following issues.
It is a good idea to solicit ahead of time questions to be asked by employees. These questions are the heart of what’s now on the employee’s mind. Do not duck the tough ones. The employees will know and you will lose respect and trust. Face the issues head on with honesty. Supervisors can generate these questions from the employees company wide and submit them for review. Every question does not have to be addressed, but the most relevant to the employees must not be ignored. The answers need to be rehearsed ahead of time. The President facilitates this Q & A session but can direct different members of his executive staff to provide the answers. A hand picked group of line employees should be selected to ask these questions of the executive staff on tape. The tape can be edited to insure a positive message. However, honesty and integrity must be preserved. This is only the first step. Answers must be open, honest, sincere and complete. This is the very first opportunity since the restructuring announcement to demonstrate leadership, respect and trust.
Communication is the breath of life, the first spark in leadership. Communication will hold the company together. Nothing else is so crucial to survival and solidarity. It is especially important that the message is consistent throughout the management team. As important is the demonstration of respect, trust and leadership. However, no one factor plays a more precious role in building and preserving that trust amongst the employees which is a signifying determination of leadership than communication. It is a make or break issue.
It is not only important that the President knows what the CFO and the COO are doing but he must also know what they intend to do under every circumstance. Once those determinations are made, the employees deserve to know what is planned if they are expected to execute with precision. People need a keen sense of trust and a feeling of being part of the plan. The communication network should connect all employees. Everyone needs to be a part of the overall plan. Miscommunication, rumors and garbled messages cause conflict and distrust. Don’t settle for second rate communication, it’s too critical to success. If you avoid informing all your employees, specifically on matters that affect their lives, you are playing with fire. This kind of action breeds resentment, mistrust and paranoia.
“Be aware that the single greatest problem with communication is the illusion that it has been achieved”-unknown.
We all communicate daily. We practice communicating daily, yet experience confirms that most often we fail to communicate effectively. Add to that obstacle the fact that you are facing difficult economic times and the challenge of communicating effectively seems over whelming.
Why do we have problems communicating?
Difficulty in communications is enhanced when you are involved in crisis situations or adversity of some nature. A restructuring certainly qualifies under those guidelines. In normal times communication is difficult in itself due to our individual physic and motivations. In a two-way conversation between you and someone else, there are virtually six people involved.
1. ME- AS I SEE ME
2. ME -AS YOU SEE ME
3. YOU-AS I SEE YOU
4. YOU-AS YOU SEE YOU
5. ME-AS I REALLY AM
6. YOU-AS YOU REALLY ARE
Listening skills are especially important. Proof that you are listening is in your actions. Don’t ask someone if they understand. Ask them what they are going to do. Listening should dominate your interaction with your employees. Distractions need to be removed. Trust must be developed. You must have a sincere desire to understand. You must be aware of individual needs. Be attentive and don’t assume anything. Ask for explanations. Don’t interrupt because you want to talk. Try to keep an open mind. Be compassionate and don’t react too quickly. Avoid talking about yourself. These are the basic rules of communication.
Leading the restructuring process is not a cakewalk. You really need to determine who the real players are. You need to understand what you can really ask of employees during these times. Be careful of misplaced or misdirected loyalty. Be careful of false loyalty. There are limits. You need maximum loyalty from your employees during this restructuring. Make sure you know who you can trust. Besides loyalty and equally important is the need for a high commitment to the job. A willingness to hang tough. Commitment demonstrated by the leader can lead to commitment by the employee. Commitment is self-nourishing and it gives meaning to work. Employees will look to you first to measure your level of commitment. They want to take your pulse. They want to believe in you. They need a leader they can follow. It’s imperative that you show no signs of weakness and you don’t let them down. This goes for the entire executive staff.
Employee commitment will soar if you and your executive staff demonstrate a passion for success. Excitement breeds excitement. Success breeds success, the more consuming your desire to fix things, the more you demonstrate leadership and draw support from your employees. You, as President, CEO, COO and your executive staff set the stage. If your company fails, chances are you did not set the proper environment for success. (Create an attitude, Structure an environment, Develop your team) Your intensity, your focus, your drive and your dedication along with these same attributes from your executive staff are the determinants of the level of commitment and the level of respect you get from your employees. Commitment won’t survive if leadership doesn’t exist and respect disintegrates. You must be proactive and publicly demonstrate leadership, confidence and commitment.
“If you lead through fear and authority you will have little to respect; but if you lead through confidence, commitment and respect you will have little to fear. ”-Roosevelt
It is important to deliver a message of renewed life to your employees. Come up with an acronym that reflects the new strategy. “A new Vehicle for Success. ” “The New XYZ Company Way. ”
A COMMON FALLACY-HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS
A mistake many leaders make during the restructuring process is the self imposed responsibility to have all the answers. This is just not true. It is okay to admit to not having all the answers. Good leaders are willing to show their imperfections. Surround yourself with a solid executive team and you don’t need all the answers. No one expects perfection, just leadership. Being President doesn’t grant you supreme knowledge.
Dr. Rick Johnson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the founder of CEO Strategist LLC. an experienced based firm specializing in leadership. CEO Strategist LLC. works in an advisory capacity with company executives in board representation, executive coaching, team coaching and education and training to make the changes necessary to create or maintain competitive advantage. You can contact them by calling 352-750-0868, or visit http://www.ceostrategist.com for more information.
Rick received an MBA from Keller Graduate School in Chicago, Illinois and a Bachelor's degree in Operations Management from Capital University, Columbus Ohio. Rick recently completed his dissertation on Strategic Leadership and received his Ph. D. He’s also a published book author with four titles to his credit: “The Toolkit for Improved Business Performance, ” the NWFA & NAFCD “Roadmap”, Lone Wolf-Lead Wolf—The Evolution of Sales” and a fiction novel about teenagers called “Shattered Innocence. ” Rick’s next book due to be published in November is titled; Lone Wolf – Lead Wolf, The Evolution of Leadership.