Slack Me Your Brand

As a new way of working has settled in for companies, Slack, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp, Viber, Lark and dozens of instant messaging (IM) channels have taken hold as an easy and efficient way of communicating with each other throughout the day. And that’s why we’re often asked:

Can your personal brand take shape on an IM channel?

The simple answer is yes, and I think it’s happened over and over again as managers have become more dependent on the channels.

  • Similar to meetings, people who monopolize a channel can seem like “know it all’s” and come across as arrogant.
  • Similar to meetings, people who don’t contribute and remain silent can come across as uninvolved or unsure.

People who offer guidance seem helpful. People who are long-winded seem scattered. There’s a lot of similarity between in-person impressions and IM impressions.

If you’ve doubled your use of it, then you’ve probably also raised your awareness of what people like in this format and what they don’t. Cut and pasting information vs a link is frowned upon because it takes up a lot of space. Short sound bites are valued, keeping the chat informal and to the point.

But the flow of communication is more transactional. It’s tied to task and inputs and less to connection and touch points. As we’ve asked people about their experiences with IM channels, some say that they notice wit and humor in co-workers’ personalities as they add a little levity to a stream of inputs. And in many cases, it‘s a few personalities that come through an uneven representation of all personalities in the chat.

And that’s when the question should really become: Are IM channels enough of an impression? And that answer is probably not. Chat and short form conversations are best used as a supplement to live conversations, not a replacement for them.

Here’s why.

True connection requires a response from someone. People have found some connections with each other on IM channels, but they tend to align with people who think just like them or agree with them, rather than a different perspective or different approach.

It’s harder to work through differences without true connection and non-verbal signals from each other. Engagement is still about give and take and that means a live conversation with a view of the other person.

And when engagement hasn’t really occurred, we don’t get as vested in each other. And that may mean we don’t promote each other as much as we could. We’re not as likely to call out someone’s effort or even fully notice it. And we’re already seeing some consequences from the limited communication channel.

The biggest consequence is employees and managers don’t know each other very well. Future opportunities come from expanded conversations and a more relaxed connection with a manager.

An employee can become somewhat invisible if they don’t have a regular cadence of face-to-face connections. When relationships are limited, trust can’t develop as it has in the past.

So, what do you do to strengthen your brand in this new way of working?

If you’re trying to establish your brand in a company, make sure that you encourage face-to-face communication at least once a week. It doesn’t have to be in-person; it can be over a virtual network. But make sure that you become a visible presence with your manager. To succeed in a company, you’re going to need a champion. Opportunities are created by people, and managers recommend people that they know and trust. You need to make sure you’re building a relationship with a manager, more than one is even better, and not just a transactional conversation.

If you’re managing people in a virtual setting, remember that people tend to stay at organizations because of their connection to other people. If you allow a team to work too independently, they never truly engage with co-workers and they seek connection somewhere else. Impose the face-to-face interaction among the team. If they never get together in the same location, you’ll have to work harder to initiate relationships across the group. You can do this with small group projects, pairing team members together for new ideas or solutions, and adding intention to discussions and virtual meetings so that everyone gets heard across your team.

Impressions take shape in all formats, so your brand does take shape across IM channels. But it’s not enough to build relationships that will lead to opportunities.

There’s a reason that leaders at most companies are saying “come back in the office” and “we miss seeing you around here.” They know that those virtual impressions only take connection so far. And as we’re all working to find the right balance of virtual, in-person and hybrid working, it will take a little more intention on the connection side to make sure that trust continues to grow with managers and teams.

If you’re trying to strengthen the connection and value within your team, we can help. Through team building experiences or work on personal brands, we’ve helped many groups reset and rethink how they work together. And we’d welcome the opportunity to explore what your team might need.

As always, call us when you need us.

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

Are You Being Cautious with Feedback?

If your answer is yes, you’re in line with many managers who say they’re trying to avoid conflict and more disruption on their teams. And it’s no wonder. Last week’s US Chamber of Commerce reported 10 million job openings in the US. On many teams, managers are missing resources, and they worry that giving direct and honest feedback may make an employee want to quit.

They’ve decided that an average or a below-average employee is better than another unfilled position. Some say the bar is lower on expectations to keep people in roles. And they’ve made a lot of concessions to keep employees happy. So, they’re cautious with feedback and they allow missed deadlines, missed meetings and a host of other behaviors to take place.

It’s a short-term action…with long-term side effects.

Every manager who has done this knows it isn’t a great solution. But few understand the deeper impact of allowing a team member to “just get by” or to take advantage of a tight job market.

The side effects start with the impact on everyone else. Other team members often pick up the slack when someone isn’t doing their job well. They’re also observing a manager who isn’t willing to have tough conversations. And it’s demotivating to high performers to see that doing well doesn’t really matter since it’s OK not to do well. Unintentionally, managers lower the bar for everyone when they allow even one to slide under the bar.

And there’s a tremendous side effect on the managers themselves. In our feedback workshops, we calculate how much time a manager spends on an underperforming employee. It’s a lot. In some cases, managers are spending twice as much time on these employees as everyone else. In other cases, they’re literally doing the work themselves to avoid conflict. And in both cases, it’s not the best use of the manager’s time if the employee’s work isn’t improving.

The lack of feedback can also have side effects on the employee themselves. When managers don’t give honest feedback, they’re setting a precedent that someone else will have to undo in the employee’s next role.

Here’s the real question: How bad would it be if an underperforming employee decided to quit?

Overnight, managers would go from one unfilled position to two. And depending on the size of the team that may cause projects to be realigned or deadlines to be pushed out. But the side effects also go away. Managers immediately notice the ease of the burden. And other team members feel it as it validates that you do value hard work because you weren’t willing to allow the lack of it.

Feedback is essential. Everyone on a team needs it. But it isn’t always easy. It can be a challenging conversation, and because many managers dread it, they often miss a few steps that would make feedback a better experience from both perspectives.

Here are a few of our coaching steps to manage feedback conversations.

Uncover the WHY – Managers are stretched and rushed. And because they’re rushed trying to fix problems, they jump into these conversations and focus on literally what happened and how to resolve it. They often miss the WHY behind a problem. And when you don’t know why something happened, you can never be sure that you’ve improved on it or solved a challenge.

Assess Skills Vs Behaviors – Managers often approach every challenge as if it’s a skill gap. Someone didn’t understand how to do something or doesn’t feel confident in the way they’re going about it. But that isn’t always the case. Sometimes, employees choose to not do things well or let things drop because they don’t see the value or don’t like the toll of the work. And it’s happening more often because some employees have come back to the workforce simply for a paycheck.

If the conversation begins with discovery behind the why, managers can quickly assess whether the problem occurred because of a skill gap or a behavior choice. It’s an important distinction in order to get to the right actions.

And unfortunately, a virtual work setting makes it easier to disguise some of the behavior choices. So, managers need to invest the time to prepare for these conversations in order to get honest responses and reactions from an employee.

Listen More, Talk Less – Talk less as a manager. The more a manager talks, the more they’re owning the problem. A feedback discussion reveals insights that can help an employee get to better outcomes. But it can’t be prescriptive. If a manager tells an employee how to solve something, the manager is giving direction more than feedback. Allow the employee to participate in the solution and define the action that changes it.

Move Beyond It. The fear of losing employees is real. And it may be less about the conversation itself and more about the impact it has on the emotions of an individual afterward. Everyone on the team observes that. The manager has the power to reset interaction and move an employee and a team beyond it. Don’t allow awkwardness or distance between you and the employee. Show interest in them personally and reset the group to an engaging and warm environment. Every employee watches the manager to gauge temperature. When a manager illustrates that they’re not holding onto emotion or frustration toward an employee, even when there is a gap or challenge with their work, the team exhales and moves beyond it.

 

Feedback is a gift. Assume best intentions from everyone on your team. Listen for the WHY at the start of the conversation and adjust the conversation to involve the employee in working through a solution. Set parameters, timing and a check-in to get to a resolution.

And if you’re a manager who feels a little cautious with feedback, call us and we’ll give you the tools to prepare for the tougher conversations.

We’re here when you need us!

 

Looking for a hands-on approach to learning how to give better feedback? Save your seat in Delivering Effective Feedback!

 

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

Solving the Communication Gap: Supply Chain

The conversations that we’ve had with supply chain leaders this year remind me of conversations we had five years ago with CISOs and last year with CHROs. It’s when communication shifts from updates on major initiatives to being the major initiative that dominates every update. And as the lead communicator, you feel as if you’ve shifted from the expert to the fall guy. Because there are more questions than answers, and more uncertainty than resolution. It feels like you’re always sitting in the hot seat!

One supply chain leader described it well last week: “I leave one update only to start preparing for the next one. And I never seem to be able to instill confidence about where we are and what we’re doing. It’s more playing defense on why things have occurred and what might happen next. I don’t feel like I’m bringing clarity to communication.”

Another supply chain leader said: “I feel like supply chain has shifted from a playbook to a chess game. We deliver results with a proven playbook. And we have contingency plans for road bumps along the way. But the current environment is like watching a chessboard and wondering what the next move will be.”

And it’s no wonder that they feel like they’re sitting in the hot seat. Last month, McKinsey reported that global container shipping rates have quadrupled in three years, and schedule delays have tripled in the same timeframe. Whether it’s demand or limited capacity, all companies are feeling the slug as they try to keep their own goods and services moving.

The supply chain pressure is felt all through the company as sales leaders want to know what to tell customers, product leaders want to know how to schedule releases and purchasing teams are trying to track materials. And the supply chain leader has been pushed forward to communicate all of it…with very little information to go on.

By instinct, most supply chain leaders are problem solvers. They’re really good at thinking through end-to-end process and keeping many steps moving forward. They can solve bottlenecks and delays with a different route or a different raw material. But they can’t solve a problem that isn’t clear in their view. And they’re finding that they can’t communicate that murkiness effectively to senior teams.

So, if you’re in the hot seat, here are three concepts that we’ve shared with other supply chain leaders to bring clarity to unresolved challenges and consistency to on-going communication.

Establish a plan to communicate up and down the supply chain.

The supply chain leader hasn’t been a constant in senior team meetings until now. They showed up occasionally with updates on transformative initiatives, and they never brought information forward until they were ready to give an update. The shift in when you communicate has blind-sided them.

They can no longer wait until they have the answer. There isn’t an answer for most of the challenges they’re facing. Communication is no longer driven by their timing; it’s set by leadership needs and an urgency to manage risks. And they’re learning to be proactive about a communication plan and process. They’re learning that when they don’t communicate, someone else does. And the biggest problem they’re managing is misinformation. So very quickly, we’ve helped these leaders put process in place for communication itself. It takes a cross-functional team and a process for looping in sales to keep customers informed, purchasing to bring insights from suppliers and logistics to bring insights from carriers and freight.

Define a three-dimensional view.

For problem solvers, the message is always “here’s the problem, and here’s what we’re doing about it.” But that approach to communication can make a supply chain leader seem very reactive. And in today’s environment, it can seem as if you’re only reacting to what’s happening versus trying to anticipate and manage around what’s ahead.

The three-dimensional view helps a leader set a storyline that includes:

• the macro-view of insights in the marketplace…what’s happening around us
• the current view of what we’re dealing with today and the impact we expect from it
• and the future view of what’s ahead and options we’re considering.

In all instances, we’re finding that leadership teams need some help understanding the big elements of supply chain and the levers that a leader can adjust or manage to minimize the impact. Most supply chain leaders didn’t have a strong storyline in place when the crisis hit, so they’re playing catch-up to simplify the supply chain view in conjunction with explaining where the risks are greatest and what they can do about it. And it’s making communication too complex.

Set the broader picture so that you can come back to it consistently. This helps everyone get on the same page and begin to listen for the same components.

Close the loop with follow-up answers.

Back to the hot seat. Most supply chain leaders would like to slide out of it. And we’re pushing them to lean forward in it. Here’s why. Because there’s so much visibility for supply chain, there’s also a lot of internal misinformation. And that can feel like a game of “whack-a-mole” as leaders try to deliver the accurate message and diffuse the wrong ones. It helps to add a follow-up loop to all communication so that the right messages take hold and shut down some of the noise.

Think of it as a press secretary who can capture what was said and asked and keep the right messages in circulation. Some supply chain leaders have designated a person to manage this. Others have done it themselves by sending out a short note after senior meetings to reinforce the information shared. You have to reset the expert seat and keep your perspective and your response front and center.

And if you’re not a supply chain leader? Take note of what they’re dealing with and be proactive in learning how to lead communication of a long-term challenge with a senior team. Because if security leaders have managed it, HR leaders have managed it, and now supply chain leaders are navigating it, it’s only a matter of time before every function area will feel a little heat in the hot seat.

We’re here when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

The Complexity of Hybrid Engagement

The concept of a hybrid work model gained momentum about 18 months ago.

And as companies began to explore it, the buzz from HR teams was this is going to get complicated. And they were right. At this point, very few managers have “mastered” it, and many employees are saying it’s clunky and not resetting the culture the way leaders hoped it would. And it’s still one of the top Google searches this year.

There’s a clear delineation between why one model was easy and the other is more difficult. The virtual model solved for individuals. There wasn’t a choice about the virtual setting as a way of working. Everyone was in it, and everyone adjusted to it. Interestingly, most companies said it worked. They gained efficiencies and felt that they were able to leverage individuals effectively. What most managers now say is that the team aspect suffered in a virtual setting. It was just harder, and in some cases not feasible, to keep employees connected to each other and leveraging the skills of each other. So, high productivity from individuals but much less collaboration across teams.

And that’s the shift with the hybrid model. Companies want to bring back the collaboration that helps processes evolve and improve as they moved forward. The complexity is that when companies opened their doors, few acknowledged the objective and the shift from individual focus to team focus. And companies didn’t give managers a lot of guidance on how to build team contracts. And managers need it. They learned so much in the last two years about managing to individual needs, and now they aren’t sure how to balance individual needs against team priorities. In order for hybrid models to work, the priorities of the team have to come first.

In our workshops, we talk about the difference in engagement of the work and engagement of individuals. Both are a part of setting the hybrid model, but the approach may differ between the work and the people.

To reset the engagement of teamwork, we coach managers to define the work of the team first. Build a visual representation of what the team does and the connection points that the team needs to integrate the work and deliver outcomes. The manager defines the connection points and the vehicle used to collaborate on work. Over the last two years, managers have jumped back into details to keep processes going. While managers had good connection to most employees, the employees didn’t have consistent and essential connection to each other. It’s time to pull out and let team members own the processes.

The manager sets the date, the time, the cadence and the process of teamwork. The employees drive the connection that comes from it. It’s the engagement of teamwork that allows us to learn from each other, build trust with each other and ultimately, leverage each other toward better outcomes.

Managers have to be unapologetic about putting the team first in the hybrid model and having new norms that are requirements for being on a team. If the team needs to meet in person on Mondays, then the team has to meet in person on Mondays. Interestingly, as we’ve worked with managers on defining the “team contract,” they aren’t getting the resistance that they thought they would. That’s because we don’t need to reset to how we worked two years ago, and most people welcome the connection back to the team. Employees are adjusting to new expectations, and many admit that the shift to hybrid wasn’t as dramatic as they feared.

But will the culture reset if different teams have different contracts? How can managers continue to drive personal connection with employees that they don’t see regularly? The connection part is proving to be the toughest part of the hybrid model. It was the toughest part of the virtual model, and it remains amongst groups that don’t get together regularly.

Managers sure tried. From virtual games, to wine tastings, competitions and hobby huddles, they did it all. It’s just hard to accept that looking at a screen can deliver the same energy and engagement as sitting across from someone. It worked for a while when life was virtual, and the screen connection was the only connection we had. But life has reset. People are out in restaurants, seeing friends and family in person. Ironically, for many employees, the work group is the only one they don’t see regularly. Managers who try to set virtual connection points are competing with the in-person connections that have returned to all other parts of life.

To reset engagement with people, we need to acknowledge that virtual connection isn’t as good. We get energy from being with people, and while different people like different doses of that energy, a virtual connection doesn’t deliver the same thing. Managers have to find ways to build connection into a team contract.

In-person connection fits easily in a local teamwork model because people are in the same location and getting meals together or planning events together comes easily. Many companies are returning to in-person meetings which creates an opportunity for those who aren’t in the same location to plan for touchpoints throughout the year. It’s an essential part of strengthening a culture, and if your team doesn’t have the opportunity to get together, you need to create it. Even global teams that are very far apart are finding ways to bring employees who live in the same country together so that everyone has the opportunity to reset, re-energize or begin relationships.

As managers and leaders ask for guidance on retaining employees, I often say that people leave companies as individuals. If their work environment and setting is always individual, the culture doesn’t have much of an impact on them. But they tend to stay with companies when they belong to a team or have friendships where they work. The company culture comes through in the people they know and the leaders they like to work with. We talked about this on a recent podcast, Resetting & Reducing Social Distance.

The hybrid model has more complexity, and to work well, it has to focus on the work of the team and the connection of individuals to each other.

If you’re interested in improving your team’s model, we can help through our group workshops or 1:1 coaching to build a tailored plan for your team.

We’re here when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

Helping Tech to Talk Exec

You’ve seen this challenge. It’s in every meeting where strategy connects to implementation. It’s where vision meets tactics. And it’s one of the biggest communication challenges in most companies.

Here’s how it happens:

The leadership team wants to expand a product into a new vertical. They’ve seen the numbers to support market size and they know there’s a window of opportunity. They’ve also been told there’s a “little tweaking” that will need to be done in the product’s application to make it viable in the new vertical. So, the next meeting calls for the engineers to come in and explain what’s involved in “tweaking” or converting the product.

The leadership team is looking for a 15-minute explanation to quantify what needs to be done and how long it will take. Instead, they get the step-by-step details of how it will be done.

In an effort to get out of the details and move toward answers, the leaders jump in with questions and assumptions. It was meant to speed up the discussion, but instead it signals to an engineer that the leaders didn’t understand the information. So, the engineer provides more explanation.

The leaders want the bottom-line. The engineers communicate in process and details. And whether the disconnect goes on for several minutes or more than an hour, it’s frustrating to both the executive listeners and the technical communicator.

As a coach I’ve been asked many times: “Why is communicating to the executive level so hard for engineers and technical teams? After all, they are arguably the smartest people in the company!”

Both points are true. Engineers are some of the smartest people in a company, and communicating with executives is a common challenge. It always has been. But companies are noticing it more because technical input has become more critical as a point of influence and essential to making smart decisions.

So, why is “executive talk” hard?

I’ve coached on both of sides of the table for decades and solved for the challenge when I wrote Leading Executive Conversations. But I wrote the book for all audiences who want to solve for the executives’ perspective…and the tech group is a little unique.

Through the years, I’ve learned that it really comes down to how people think, because how they think impacts how they speak. And engineers think in details, steps and precision. And thank goodness they do! Would you want to drive an automobile that was built from a sketch instead of a blueprint? Can you imagine working on a computer that can do 20 things but can’t connect those things to each other?

Whether process-thinking is innate or developed over time, engineers add the greatest value by bringing precision and detail to vague concepts. It’s no wonder that they communicate in details. To tell a leader that they can build a new capability in eight weeks isn’t how they think. And in fact, they wouldn’t be comfortable with that answer unless someone took them through details of what was planned over those eight weeks. It’s how they think, it’s how they work, and that’s why it’s how they communicate. I describe it as communicating from the bottom up.

Yet most leaders think in the opposite manner. They let go of thinking through details of HOW some time ago. They need the What, and the Why. They start with the big concept and challenge whether the WHY has enough value to pursue. They listen to implementation just enough to buy-in. Most leaders think and communicate from the top-down.

And the disconnect comes when the leader feels impatient working through the HOW to get to WHY and the engineer feels the value isn’t justified unless you communicate detailed steps to prove out the HOW.

But it’s a disconnect that’s solvable because you’re dealing with some of the smartest people in the room! And once we figured out why the challenge exists, we developed a process for solving it. And we’ve found that technical teams can be some of the best students of communication.

To help Tech to talk Exec, we developed a process that is based on key insights and a formulaic outline. We’re prescriptive in defining the executive perspective and building specific examples that illustrate how the outline works against common technical topics.

It’s our storyline formula with two key components: a Message and a Framework. This gives an engineer a blueprint to follow that lifts the altitude of their conversation. The details don’t disappear entirely. But the flow of communication is organized with a top-down approach that starts with what executives value and then leads to the technical steps that can be reduced or expanded based on an executive’s interest.

It’s solving for one of the biggest communication challenges in companies today. And it’s helping technical teams become key influencers at a time when their expertise is essential to smart business decisions.

Do you need help coaching tech to talk exec?  We’d love to share our insights and some great success stories about strengthening the voice and the impact of technical teams.

We’re here when you need us!

Sally Williamson

X