Inspirational leadership

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm

Speed is critical when bringing a new product or service to market. However, in the race to beat the competition, many business owners and managers overlook a crucial task – to effectively and efficiently communicate the goals, purposes and key functions of the new product or service with their employees.

Employees and other stakeholders need to understand the importance of the new product or service, according to Mickey Connolly, consultant and co-author “The Communication Catalyst: The Fast (But Not Stupid) Track to Value for Customers, Investors and Employees.” Connolly is the founder of Conversant ( and the senior designer of its programs. He has worked with 400 organizations in eight countries with more than 90,000 people on issues of coordination and communication.

Connolly asks: If technology has made us more efficient, why do most people say they are busier today than they have ever been? Given the demands on our time and our attention, the art of efficient, direct and productive conversation is critical for today’s business executive, Connolly says.

Connolly was the keynote speaker at an Inspirational Leadership program presented by The Executive Committee (TEC) and Small Business Times on Oct. 12 at the Milwaukee Marriott West Hotel in Waukesha. Before the event, he discussed key components of executive communication with Small Business Times reporter Eric Decker. The following are excerpts of that conversation.

SBT: What inspired you to write this book?

Connolly: “Richard (Rianoshek, his co-author) and I had a mutual shock at the kind of things people were doing to try to accelerate business performance that we know were actually going to damage business performance. That’s why the subtitle of the book is ‘Fast But Not Stupid,’ because we saw lots of stupid.

“For instance, well-intended, stupid things include managers in a hurry who say, ‘I don’t have time to include _(fill in the name)___ .’ People do it under the banner of ‘I don’t have time to include all of these people.’ However, they will have the time to deal with the lack of execution. If you don’t include people who are truly relevant to the execution of a strategy, you will come up with an execution plan that’s irrelevant, because the people that are closest to the work and understand how it actually works weren’t included.

“Another of the classic fast but stupid moves is to forget that authority in any business system tends to be furthest from the customer. If you don’t include people who really have the best, most current information about customer purposes and worries and circumstances, you are going to make a less-wise strategic choice. But we see people, because they’re in charge, use their authority to cause people to agree to things. And then they’re managing an environment of compliance, not commitment.”

SBT: Your book says that more output could be produced faster by managing the social issues that most owners and managers ignore. What are those? Is there something obvious that most business owners and managers are missing?

Connolly: “For instance, disagreement. In most business systems, people do everything they can to avoid getting into conflicts. They are afraid that it’s going to destroy the social fabric, it’s going to slow them down. Managers I really respect keep coming to us saying, ‘Can you help us have the people in here have the healthy conflicts that make us smarter?’ That tells me that one of the most prevalent business dysfunctions is avoiding conflict.

“Usually people either avoid the disagreements or they attack the disagreements. We say there’s a whole other move, which is fully comprehend how someone came to such a contrasting conclusion before you try to convince them that yours is right. One of the worst diseases I see in businesses is when people disagree, they’re criticized for not being team players. We say the way you make any group stupid is force it into a single point of view. And everybody learns, ‘Oh, this is how we’re supposed to think.’ We think that there are damaging conflicts and there are creative conflicts. We think that conflicts can enrich relationships and provoke creativity. But most managers relate to conflict like something that we shouldn’t be having and will try to avoid it by not having it or smashing it when it comes up.”

SBT: How can busy business owners and CEOs find the time to effectively communicate with their employees?

Connolly: “This is really a crucial thing. The difference has to do with anticipation. People talk a lot about being proactive or reactive. Most managers don’t sit down and anticipate, ‘What would be smart forums for me to host and make sure I stay in communication with all of the significant elements of the system I lead?’

“Most managers tend to just have ad-hoc forums. You know, there’s an emergency, (so they) get people together, instead of saying, ‘What are the crucial elements of the system and how can I make sure I’m in contact with representatives of those elements on a frequent basis? And where are the natural times that I can do that?’

“If people do that proactively, if they anticipate and plan, you now start to be able to anticipate other things. You find that those conversations help you anticipate other things that you would have been blindsided by. So, do you look at being in communication in terms of return on investment? Which would mean you would anticipate and plan for those occasions. Or, do you look at it as a cost, like anytime I do it, it costs me something. We say it’s ROI (return on investment), not a cost. And the wisest leaders communicate as investment, not reaction. You’ve got to break the cycle of ‘I don’t have time’ by getting in communication ahead of the emergency instead of just response to the emergency — to invest in connection and allow it to enrich your judgment.”

SBT: What is the ROI for investing in communication? Why should CEOs and high-level managers care?

Connolly: “For instance, a senior vice president of (Hewlett-Packard Co.’s ink jet business) said the work with Conversant has added hundreds of millions of dollars to the bottom line. And if he was sitting here, he could explain to you exactly how. When you keep the system connected, they see problems sooner and they solve them faster. And yet people say they don’t have time to manage connections.”

SBT: What are some of the consequences of ineffective communication? What price can businesses pay for not taking the time to plan and execute effective communication plans?

Connolly: “Increased supervision costs, higher turnover of the people you wish you could keep, longer cycles of decision making and failures to execute according to plan. Other than that, it’s brilliant.

“What we’ve seen is that if you actually invest in the engagement of all the elements of the system that are crucial to the success of your business, if you invest to keeping those connected, what you get is people making coordinated choices without supervision.

Another way to look at that is if I look at the last 20 to 30 years, one of the most prominent things for me is decreases in layers of supervision because companies have been trying to take out unnecessary salaries. There used to be more classes of supervisory management, people that were paid to watch other people work. There’s a lot fewer of those. It’s created a problem, and it is that people have way more unsupervised moments, in which they’re making choices. And you add to it that there’s more distribution – you have people working in virtual environments in India, Singapore and Puerto Rico, New York and Houston. And so, here we are in conference calls, when people are deciding what to listen to and what not to really listen to, whether they’re returning other e-mails rather than paying attention to what’s going on in the call. So we say that the business systems of today have way more unsupervised discretion for the participants in the system.”

SBT: Should CEOs and managers be aware of what they say in e-mails vs. voice mail or in-person conversations? What is the price for not paying attention to the right venue for specific conversations?

Connolly: “The greater the potential for disagreement, the more human senses you need in the conversation. E-mail is a one-sense venue. E-mail is great for the sharing of information between people who are mutually committed. It is a terrible venue for resolving senses because the fewer senses in the conversation, the easier it is to make up inaccurate things about each other. We say when there’s a small degree of difference, then add a sense, which means this may be a voice mail rather than an e-mail so people can hear me too. If it’s more than that, you may need to add another sense, and now we’re having a Web cast or something.

“There is the highest level of disagreement that involves all the senses. I’ve been involved in some negotiations management where people thought they were negotiating with the devil, where prior to the formal negotiation beginning, we would require all of us to go to dinner together and that nobody can discuss any disagreements over dinner. Everybody engages and nobody can discuss our disagreements. And it’s really interesting because you get all the senses engaged and people start relating to each other as human beings rather than characterizations as jerks and idiots and such.

“You have to take technology into account, and an easy way to think about it is the greater the degree of difference, the more human senses you manage in the conversation. And if you try to deal with big differences in a one-sense venue, they get worse not better.”

SBT: Are people relying too much on electronic communication today? Should more time and effort be invested in in-person interaction?

Connolly: “I would be slow to say (they’re) relying too much, because there’s so much virtual challenge. People are so disconnected geographically. The issue is, are they using the right ones at the right time? To me it’s about timing. So what’s the time for me to use e-mail? What’s the right time for me to host a huge conference call? I know a CEO in one of our client companies who has really developed a great sense of protocols for messages he’ll leave in voice mail for very large groups. He knows that when he gets to certain kinds of subjects, he wants them to hear his mood. There’s certain kinds of things that he’s developed a sense of timing about ‘this is not an e-mail conversation, that’s a voice mail conversation. Or that’s not a voice mail conversation, that’s a Web cast.’ I think the mistake people make is not being intelligent about when to use which communication venue. And if your timing is good in that area, people experience being more related. They’ll actually feel like they’re physically with you more than they are.”

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