Don’t Nickel and Dime the Quarter

As we’ve continued our work on connecting stories to storylines, we’re often asked to show how some of the driest content in companies can be more relatable and compelling to listeners.

The quarterly review always ranks high on the list of boring presentations. It’s a mainstay in companies and a common way of sharing information. But, listeners say that the reviews aren’t insightful and they don’t get anything out of them.

That’s because in these report outs, people usually “nickel and dime” the quarter by sharing details that listeners already know.  These reviews become a run-through of data that has already been released or is easy for the listener to analyze themselves.   Listeners say: “You’re saying a lot without telling me much of anything.”

Most quarterly reviews are presented to higher levels in an organization, and sometimes the audience expands to senior leaders.  It’s a guaranteed moment of visibility for managers, and it rarely delivers an impactful impression.  Both the senior managers who ask for reviews and the managers who deliver them own responsibility for the lack of impact.

Why?

Senior Manager/Leader Perspective

Senior managers and leaders don’t really want what the description of this meeting implies.  They aren’t looking for a review or play by play of the quarter as it occurred.  They’re really looking for insights on what data doesn’t tell them.  They want to know why you got great results or why you didn’t.  They want to know the gaps or discrepancies that the numbers don’t show and what you can do to improve them.

They are more interested in the kind of information you can share versus the amount of information you bring.  And, they get frustrated trying to uncover it.  Senior managers and leaders share this frustration with us, but they don’t always coach their teams on how to do it well.  Instead, they share frameworks and outlines to standardize these report outs.  And, there is very little coaching on how to work beyond the framework to deliver insights.

Manager Perspective

Managers approach report outs and reviews as an exercise in gathering information.  They invest a lot of time collecting data and filling out the frameworks provided.  They focus on recreating those moments in time and the culmination of the quarter’s activity.  And, they often run out of time or stop short of thinking about what the data really tells them.  They worked so hard to be consistent with the framework and specifics in the data that they missed the opportunity to be differentiated in the report out.

We’ve been successful in improving the quality and impact of quarterly reviews by working with senior leaders and managers to bring three things into these discussions.

THREE KEY ELEMENTS OF THE QUARTERLY REVIEW:

A Definitive Message – We teach messaging across every program we deliver.  And, the quarterly review is no exception.  In fact, it may be the most likely situation where the message gets repeated verbatim by a senior leader.

And, that’s because the listeners in this meeting are listening for clear takeaways or outcomes.  Many senior leaders will actually ask in these meetings: “So, what’s the bottom line of last quarter?”  And, most managers can’t reply to that in a single sentence.

Senior leaders run these meetings in multiples, rarely one in a day or week.  So, they want this bottom-line takeaway as a snapshot of each manager’s success or challenge.  Otherwise, they have a lot of information to sift through.

When we teach messaging, we use a simple cause and effect statement:

By (doing this), we accomplished (this).

Messaging in a quarterly review can be a look back at the biggest impact or a look ahead at what you plan to do in the quarter ahead.  Here are some examples:

By leveraging our new marketing tools, we increased prospect meetings by 20% and closed ten new accounts.

By adjusting the rollout of Project X by thirty days, we resolved two bugs and will deliver zero defects for the June rollout.

If we shift our focus to bundled products next quarter, we can make up our revenue gap and capture an additional $2Million for our xyz product.

A Connected Storyline – Quarterly reviews are heavy on data but light on storylines.  This means that the points are standalone elements and don’t always seem relevant to each other.  That makes it difficult for the senior manager or leader to connect the dots on what the data really says.  It’s important to weave a storyline across the data so that the listener feels as if the metrics back up the message and ultimately lead to some conclusions and takeaways.

When we work with managers on specific report outs, we usually see a PPT document.  And, the manager can explain each slide, but they can’t always connect the thought across the slides.  Our coaching technique is to spread out the slides on a table and ask the manager to give us the talk track.  We also can help organize thoughts into our framework which makes it easier for the listener to digest the points and feel that the storyline is proving out a takeaway.

A Memorable Story – I always tell managers to remember that information rolls up.  The quarterly review is a great example of this.  When managers add a story or example that illustrates their points, it makes a point much more impactful and memorable to the leader.

And if it’s memorable, it increases the chance that the senior leader will repeat the concept in their own report outs.

Our initial work on stories began with data stories.  These are the tougher ones because it means a manager has to learn how to put context to numbers and build a story around insights and hypotheses.  It is a story without an ending because it hasn’t been proven out and it hasn’t wrapped up.  But, these can be compelling stories and they get repeated because they bring the quarterly review to life and they help a manager’s insights stand out.

If a senior manager or leader sits through five report outs in a day, they have a lot of information to hold onto.  They are much more likely to remember and repeat the data stories the next week versus the details of data that were provided on a specific slide.

And, that’s when the quarterly review and this moment of visibility for managers becomes an impactful impression.  Managers who deliver definitive messages, connected storylines and memorable stories make an impact in their organizations.  And in short order, they become the senior managers or leaders.

When Times are Tough, the Tough Keep Talking!

The only constant in life is change. But when that change affects your work life, it’s an unsettled time for everyone involved. We see the impact of these indicators as we coach executives and managers who are struggling with what to say, and unsure of how to appear confident when everything around them is uncertain.

We’ve written the “bad” news, the “not so good” news…and the “not sure what comes next” news for many executives. And the truth is that many of those executives have been discouraged by their messages, less sure of their direction and worried that they won’t be effective without an exciting message to lead employees into a new year.

It’s natural to want to retreat from communication at times like this – your instinct may be to say as little as possible to keep from causing fear. But, the reality is there is no such thing as non-communication; it’s really a matter of who’s doing it. Employees gossip more and rumors spread faster when times are tough, and executives fail to talk.

It’s during the worst of times that true leaders shine by rolling up their sleeves and getting in the trenches with their troops to cheer them on and relax their nerves…when times are tough, you need to keep talking.

In times of crisis and uncertainty, companies rely on the trust they’ve built from proactive internal communication to weather the storm. But, if you haven’t built goodwill to date, it’s not too late to develop your personal communication plan and make the commitment to keep your employees informed in the months ahead.

In order for your efforts to be effective, internal communication must deliver on three concepts: Consistency, Honesty & Hope.

CONSISTENCY: Communication is a commitment that you can make and keep in the year ahead by having a communication plan. A structured plan helps to set the frequency and consistency of communication in motion. Define in advance how you will communicate with employees and when they can expect it; then, live up to it. When all else seems in turmoil, it’s comforting to an employee to know that they can count on the boss to keep the commitment that he/she made to keep them informed.
Written communication is easiest…you can write an e-mail or blog after hours and stay true to time commitments even with heavy travel schedules and other priorities. But, remember that spoken communication adds comfort and builds connection that written communication can’t. Regardless of the method, employees should hear from senior leaders twice a month and from direct managers once a week.

HONESTY: We’ve seen quite a few presentations in the last few months that attempted to gloss over the ugly truth. Bad idea! While everyone wants to deliver an exciting message, communicating a lack of challenge or worry is suspect for today’s corporate audiences. It’s a good time to be a little vulnerable and honest about your worries as the leader. You can also help employees see beyond their current view of the situation. For example, looking back within the company or forward within your industry is a great way to provide perspective. Stories and examples help people see things through a different lens.
An important part of honesty is creating two-way communication. Include new ways for employees to react to your ideas in your communication plan and allow opportunities for venting frustrations and emotions.

HOPE: The most powerful emotion you can build with internal communication is hope. Now may not be the quarter that you can promise stellar bottom-line results, but you can show change and movement in a new direction. No one wants to feel that they’re standing still or stuck in a crisis that they don’t know how to get out of. You may rarely have all of the answers, but you can create energy around the goals that you’re trying to accomplish.

A good formula for communication could be: define the challenge, tell employees what you’re doing to address the challenge and then tell them what they can do to help. It’s therapeutic for all of us to feel that we’re a part of solutions.

As a manager or an executive, you may not be able to commit to a new course of action as quickly as you’d like and you may not be able to avoid all of the challenges that change will bring your way. But, you can commit to be a great communicator and boost morale and trust with communications that deliver consistency, honesty and hope.

Call us if you need us.

Are You the Tortoise or the Hare?

Everyone knows the story of the tortoise and the hare. The hare was faster (and he knew it), and when the day of the Big Race came he ran so far out ahead of the tortoise that he decided to stop and take a rest. There was no way the tortoise could catch him. The hare was so confident in himself that he decided to take a nap under an oak tree right in the middle of the race! Then along came the tortoise, whose “slow and steady” approach led him right past the sleeping hare, inching closer and closer to the finish line. By the time the hare finally woke up, he was horrified to see how much further ahead the tortoise was! The hare ran faster than he’d ever run before, but it wasn’t fast enough and he could only watch in shock from afar as the tortoise crossed the finish line and won the race.

I heard this story many times as a kid and before I turned five I could recite its mantra by heart. “Slow and steady wins the race.” It’s a time-honored saying and chances are that each of us has heard some version of it repeated in our adult lives. “Play the long game,” “pace yourself,” or “good things come to those who wait.” But this approach is not a very attractive offer to Gen-Y (and even more so Gen-Z). 

From all the current stereotypes and literature, it should come as no surprise that millennials are, for the most part, the hares of the business world. We have a very high-level of confidence in our abilities, we typically work at a very fast, sometimes dangerous pace, and when it looks like there’s no further challenge or driving need to keep up the pace, we are very much at risk of shutting down and coasting through our day (i.e. taking a nap in the middle of the race).

And if Gen-Yers and Gen-Zers are hares, then Baby-Boomers and Gen-Xers are, for the most part, the tortoises. They’ve progressed through the ranks steadily and have adhered to a tried-and-true formula of methodical input in the pursuit of long-term goals. And while the first thing that comes to many of our minds when we think of tortoises is that they are slow, in reality this approach is still heavily favored by the majority of businesses. A hare is fast-paced and energetic, but a tortoise is reliable and experienced, and in the corporate world the security of the tortoise method is hard to drift away from.

Because of this, most companies want their young employees to become tortoises and as a result managers often see their millennials’ hare characteristics as a knowledge gap. A lot of the feedback I’ve received early in my career was that I appeared disinterested in the projects I was given and that my mind seemed to wander during two-hour meetings. And they were absolutely right! I hated my three-month reviews of earnings spreadsheets and audit reports, and once a meeting went over the hour mark I looked out the window more than I looked at the presenter.

To the leaders of that company I probably looked like a self-entitled, arrogant, impatient millennial. But to me, my managers worked too slow, did not utilize the most efficient business practices, and asked me to deliver projects on time frames and in formats that made no sense to me. The disconnect: I am a full-bloodied hare, but that company wanted me to operate like a tortoise.

In a balanced work environment you need both tortoises and hares, but as you might imagine, the two do not often see eye-to-eye. An entry-level hare might eagerly crank out a report in two or three hours and then balk as their tortoise manager take two days to give them feedback on it. At every learning conference I attend, whenever the topic of millennials arises, there’s always someone who stands up and asks, “How do I deal with these headstrong, ‘all-about-me, millennials?!” (cue an exacerbated eye roll from me).       

Well, the reality is, if you try to force a hare to behave like a tortoise, one of you is going to endlessly frustrate the other. I promise you, try to force a hare to walk instead of run and you will never get the best results out of that employee. Remember in the story that when the hare looked around and couldn’t see the drive in the race anymore, he stopped and took a nap! It’s not that he didn’t want to win the race anymore, but when all of the challenge and purpose of running went out of the race, he just simply stopped. Whenever hares feel like their coasting, their productivity, interest, and work ethic plummet.

“Why should I work on that report right now? It’s not due for two weeks, it’ll take me maybe half a day to finish it, and if I turned it in early, my boss would just ignore it until the deadline anyway. I’ll just stare at the clock, see what stories are interesting on buzzfeed today, and then start looking for at new job postings.”    

Instead, a successful manager of hares will find ways to use their driven mindset instead of trying to restrict it. Gen-Y and Gen-Z have an incredible appetite for diversity, speed, and excitement and that high desire for meaningful motivation results in a highly creative and productive employee when managed the right way. Hares thrive on short-term projects that have an immediate and measurable impact. It would be foolish to insist that you do not give millennials long-term projects, but when assigned without context or clear purpose, drawn-out projects can lead to coasting, particularly if the work is not engaging. Instead managers should use a combination of short-term and long-term goals to keep millennials engrossed not only in outcomes that can be readily measured, but also in more far-reaching developments for the division or company at-large. 

So if you’re a manager tortoise and you see one of your hares napping on the side of the road, try changing the way you structure their development. Hares would much rather be running than coasting! After all, the hare only fell asleep when the challenge fell out of the race! Very likely the hare will zigzag off and on the beaten path, and that’s precisely when the tortoise can pull them back on track.  

Are you more of a tortoise or a hare? Are you having a difficult time adjusting to your manager’s or young employees’ style? Join us back at Base Camp to hear what others are saying.

Executive Presence Is a Top Priority for Leadership

High-potential and leadership programs are a top priority as companies focus on succession planning and the development of future leaders. And, as companies define skill gaps, Executive Presence has become a hot topic and an urgent priority.

While it is a part of every assessment and curriculum, many development managers struggle with what it is and how to build it into a leadership program. The concept of Executive Presence is not a new one. People have talked about the aura of leaders and the need for leaders to have presence for some time. But the gap is wider because future leaders just haven’t followed the same development paths or had the same mentoring opportunities their predecessors had.

Presence isn’t something you give yourself. It’s something you earn from those around you who respect your right to speak and your ability to lead. Some have called it an “earned authority.” It is a combination of behaviors and attitudes that present a sense of confidence, competence, commitment, and authenticity.

Although we’ve coached presence for thirty years, we were intrigued to understand the impact of presence within an organization and to gather perspective through a lens other than our own. So we commissioned a survey on Executive Presence with nearly 400 CEOs, C-level executives, corporate communications executives, and professional development managers. The results were confirming and surprising.

We found them confirming in that senior executives see presence as an essential part of their job. In fact, 89 percent of survey respondents believe that presence helps you get ahead. All of the executives interviewed believe presence can be a differentiator. And 78 percent say a lack of presence will hold you back.

Why? Because while many struggle to define it, everyone agrees presence is easy to spot. Presence fits a person like a well-cut suit. People who have presence fill a room and command attention as if they simply have a right to be there.

Surprisingly, 98 percent of the executives also admitted that their skills were not innate. That’s surprising because most development managers are quick to say that future leaders either have this trait or they don’t. While they definitely value the impact of presence, development managers are skeptical about whether or not it can really be developed.

In fact, the gaps in perspective were highlighted when we asked senior executives and development managers for the most effective ways to develop presence. Executives leaned heavily on three concepts:

1. Observation: 70 percent of the executives observed presence early in their careers.
2. Coaching: 65 percent of executives say executive coaching can help a leader develop presence. Only 20
percent of the development managers believe this.
3. Training: 55 percent of executives say that leadership programs are a great way to develop presence; only 33
percent of those who run these programs believe this.

All of the executives we interviewed said they were aware of the impact of different leaders in their organizations and they made note of what set them apart. All of the survey participants felt they had worked on their own presence, and approximately 35 percent thought they could benefit from more work. Most said they think intentionally about how they need to come across, and they work hard to deliver an authentic, succinct, and relevant message. In fact, they believe their ability to do so can calm unsettled issues, inspire unfocused employees,
and convince skeptical audiences.

This strong buy-in to presence by the C-suite explains why senior executives need to be involved in developing presence in others. Some companies do this by rotating a portion of the curriculum among senior leaders; others use executives to set the tone for a program and to offer feedback at the completion of it. Executive participation also speaks to what future leaders really want out of leadership programs, and that’s exposure. Many rising stars believe that if they get exposure to the senior management team, they can create their own fast track and their own potential. The personal stories we heard through our research suggest this may well be true.

We recommend three key elements for a program or curriculum on Executive Presence:

Assessment: Presence is about perception, and the critical starting point for any future leader is to have a clear understanding of how he/she is perceived. Feedback and evaluation set the stage for where you are today and where you need to be in the future. It’s also the acid test for feedback. The executives we interviewed said feedback was an important part of their own development. They were open to it and sought it frequently.

Core Skills: There are fundamental skills of presence tied to how you use your body and voice. Every future leader needs to know how to develop and deliver thoughts with confidence and conviction. Our research defined key attributes of presence and revealed that these skills can be developed and fine-tuned in any individual.

Coaching and Practice: Ultimately, it takes practice to turn initial impressions into lasting ones. Many structured programs use a case study or simulation to give future leaders an opportunity to apply skills to a business situation. This is the point at which existing leaders are willing to engage and support the program with feedback. Coaching
ensures that this high-profile exercise is a high exposure and high payoff for future leaders.

Ultimately, these three ingredients help future leaders develop skills for immediate success and long-term results.

According to senior executives, Executive Presence is a priority because it’s one of the leadership traits that can’t be supported by anyone else. When you step into the C-suite of an organization, you go from being a specialist in an area to being a generalist. Your messages broaden, your audiences expand, and you have to engage and influence every one of them.

We’re here when you need us!

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