Certain cycles repeat themselves, both in our personal and professional worlds. From a personal standpoint, January always brings with it a bunch of resolutions, most of which have already been broken. From a business perspective, while short-term and long-term planning happens at different times of the year depending on when the fiscal calendar starts, one thing is clear: a lack of clarity (i.e., conversations) continues to cause confusion, which can result in a new strategy being a lot less effective than planned. Much like that now forgotten resolution. Many fail to realize that this lack of connection – again, conversations – is costing you a ton. And we’re not just talking financially!
In our development sessions, we speak to a Papua New Guinean word, “Mokita.” It stands for “that which everyone knows but doesn’t speak of.” We call it the elephant in the room. This represents the conversations that we know we should be having but we are not for any number of reasons. Again, insert personal or professional here. It impacts all areas of our lives. That said, this is supposed to be a business blog, so I’ll focus on the professional side of things.
How well are you communicating this to your people as you plan and prepare to launch your new strategic vision for the year? Is it a memo detailing all the finer points of the plan? Is it a town hall where literally no one is brave enough to speak up to ask questions about it? Is it a memo passed down to all the lower-level leaders, “hoping” they understand it well enough not to confuse everyone? Whatever method you are using, there is one thing to remember. This is only the start; anything new needs constant support, constant evaluation, and, yes, constant conversation.
This is where things get messy. Strategies can look great on paper, but we need to remember that they mean and do nothing without the people doing the work to turn them into reality. This is where the conversations are essential. Unfortunately, with people being involved, we open ourselves up to varying contexts, assumptions, opinions, all of which lead us to do everything EXCEPT have the conversations that want and need to happen. We play out the conversations in our heads. We fear the failed conversation and then never have them. Then we are amazed that things didn’t turn out the way the piece of paper told us they would. All of which create a vicious cycle of confusion, poor performance, and stress. None of which is good. Remember, when there is a lack of information, the natural tendency is to fill in the gaps with the worst-case scenario.
In a white paper just released introducing our new Chief Behavioral Science Officer, Gabe De La Rosa, it is noted that occupational stress costs businesses $187 billion annually! This number jumps up to $300 billion when you include factors such as absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, increased medical costs, and increased legal fees. In the end, there is a solution, and it isn’t very complicated. Start having (and continue to have) conversations!
Here are some common steps you can take:
- Define Goals and Purpose
Your daily actions will have little context if you don’t know what you’re working towards.
If employees and leadership have different goals, or if anyone is unclear about their intended outcomes, engagement suffers. Have conversations around expectations with everyone involved. Write a “Stump Speech,” as individuals and as a team, answering these questions:
- Where are you going?
- Why are you going there?
- Who is going with you?
- How are you going to get there?
- Understand Roles and Responsibilities
A formal job description gives employees a general understanding of their role within an organization, but that clarity may disappear when it comes to day-to-day tasks. This is where delegation conversations are essential.
Delegating effectively can create clarity around, for example, whether an individual owns a certain task item or whether they merely need to weigh in on the task.
Employees need to know where the responsibilities of their role begin and end if those responsibilities might overlap with their coworkers, and how.
- Have the Necessary Conversations
As we’ve discussed, effective conversations are the solution for gaining clarity, and for conversations to be effective, they need to occur frequently and include clarifying questions. No more avoiding!
We have to be willing to communicate what we’re really thinking and feeling. Frequency is especially important when it comes to giving and requesting feedback.
Taking a “when you see it, say it” approach is best, as engagement improves when appreciation is out in the open and employees are clear on potential areas they can improve.
In combination with asking clarifying questions whenever anything is unclear, feedback conversations are the two conversational skills that can significantly reduce miscommunication.
So stop the cycle of blown resolutions; I mean ineffective strategy. Start having the conversations!