The Communication Problem Solver 7

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The Communication Problem Solver 7

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The Communication Problem Solver 7. Managers need top-flight communication skills to keep their staffs productive and collaborative. But often, those who manage lack the ability to get things back on track once miscommunication occurs. This book helps readers analyze their communication skills and challenges and explains how they can use simple problem-solving techniques to resolve the people issues that derail productivity at work. Easily accessible and filled with real world management examples. This no-nonsense guide is packed with practical tools to help any manager be immediately effective, as well as a handy list of common communication problems and corresponding solutions....

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  1. T HE S ECRETS TO C REATING AND S USTAINING E NERGIZED R ELATIONSHIPS Setting Turbocharged Expectations for Your Staff Once you and your boss finalize the ‘‘Clarifying Expectations Worksheet’’ (or your version of such a worksheet), it is time to trickle the communi- cation over to your staff. You need to clearly set expectations for your staff. They need to be crystal clear on their responsibilities and levels of authority so they can meet your expectations. If they are managers, you might ask them to use the same worksheet that you did. If they are individual contributors, ask each direct report to make a list of what they think their responsibilities and performance expectations are. Ask them to indicate what level of authority they think they have for each of the responsibilities. Then follow the same steps as you did with your boss. Meet with each person and discuss areas of agreement and what must be modified, added, or deleted. Set up a weekly meeting to stay in continual communication about how well the performance expectations are being met. Establishing transparent expectations and using the communication techniques recommended in this chapter will enhance your direct re- ports’ ability to obtain quality results on time. You will also forge and bolster trustworthy working relationships and prevent people problems. How Performance Expectations Link with Delegating, Giving Feedback, and Coaching Since performance expectations are what you are trying to attain, they are the basis for any conversations you have with employees when dele- gating. To perform well, the employee must understand the assignment being delegated. He must know whether he has full authority on all as- pects of the task or project or if he needs approval. He needs to know when you both will meet to discuss the checkpoints. At the checkpoints, or whenever it is appropriate, you give feedback on progress. Feedback should relate back to the performance expecta- tion—what the employee was asked to do. When you coach, again, the topic is optimal performance—so you 42—
  2. S ETTING E XPECTATIONS WITH T URBOCHARGED C LARITY revisit performance expectations. Therefore, the foundation of these vital management functions is to gain turbocharged clarity on perfor- mance expectations so you can get what you want and need to be done. Summary Powerful managers have comprehensive knowledge of their organiza- tions, the goals, and what they need to accomplish. They ally themselves with their managers, upper management, and the results that need to be achieved. They also work with their staff to ensure that the direction and expectations of the organization are understood as they apply to direct reports’ jobs. This chapter has covered how to specify unambiguous expectations. Chapter 3 offers suggestions on how to communicate those expectations to employees and ensure that they are understood as intended. —43
  3. CHAPTER 3 Communicating Your Expectations: What to Say and How to Say It Once you have defined your clear-cut expectations, you need to commu- nicate them in a way that creates and sustains energized relationships. How you introduce your expectations impacts how your staff perceives your credibility—can they trust that you will treat them professionally and give them the support they need to succeed? What you say, how much you say, and how you say it will influence whether they achieve the needed results and whether they take ownership of the task. In this chapter we are going to look at the day-to-day expectations that employees receive on an ongoing, ad hoc basis. This chapter as- sumes knowledge of the basic expectations such as goal setting, job de- scriptions, and performance standards. For a refresher, or if you are not familiar with them, they are covered in Appendix A. Importance of Communicating Expectations You can use the worksheet provided in Chapter 2, your own list, or proj- ect documents specific to your organization to create turbocharged ex- pectations. The more definitive the expectations, the greater the chance of achieving the desired outcome. That is the beginning. 44—
  4. C OMMUNICATING Y OUR E XPECTATIONS : W HAT TO S AY AND H OW TO S AY I T Next comes how you communicate those expectations. The conver- sations when you communicate the expectations will seal the employ- ee’s understanding and commitment. How you communicate—what you say, how you say it, and how much you tell—will impact your work- ing relationship for the imminent task and for future work with this em- ployee. At one end of the spectrum is a manager who relinquishes all responsibility and authority to the employee. At the opposite end is a manager who micromanages. Neither of these approaches is balanced. It is important to energize, empower, and support direct reports, and also to give them just the right amount of guidance and direction that they need to get the task done. Stating Performance Expectations Even unwritten expectations need to be decided upon in a specific way and then communicated, because employees cannot meet vague, un- specified requirements. If a manager instructs employees about the standard after they have erred, it is punishing and damaging to the rela- tionship. It provokes fear in employees of making more mistakes be- cause they don’t know the rules. Every day managers make assumptions that employees are like them or know what to do. When the employee doesn’t deliver on the assump- tion, many managers get upset and/or blame the employee, or label him with a word like ‘‘slacker,’’ or say he has a poor work ethic. Often it is just a misunderstanding that could easily be handled as a one-off instead of lumped under a pile of transgressions and used as an excuse to label someone. Managers make mistakes when they make assumptions. They can fix these mistakes. When managers are surprised by behavior or lack of action, it is an opportunity to acknowledge to themselves that they need to take time to delineate what they expect and communicate it. If we don’t clearly think through our expectations ahead of time, we can end up upset and create communication problems. Before my —45
  5. T HE S ECRETS TO C REATING AND S USTAINING E NERGIZED R ELATIONSHIPS husband and I had children, we planned for our thirteen-year-old niece to come spend five summertime weeks with us. We were excited. We were the cool aunt and uncle in the family. Kids loved us because we were so hip. ‘‘What are your expectations?’’ a friend, who was a family counselor, asked us. ‘‘We don’t have any,’’ I replied. ‘‘Yes you do,’’ she persevered. ‘‘You have rules.’’ ‘‘We don’t have rules,’’ I said. ‘‘We are supportive.’’ When our niece arrived, we were surprised by her actions. One night she went out in the dark to skateboard down the hill of a nearby mildly busy street. We realized we had expectations. When she visited a twenty- something bachelor neighbor friend’s home by herself, we were startled. We had rules after all—we just hadn’t thought about them in advance. One day we three sat calmly in our car in our driveway for fifteen min- utes until she finally complied and put her seatbelt on for our road trip. Again we discovered we had expectations. Over a decade later, our niece called us up to thank us for the seatbelt rule. She had been run off the road by an eighteen-wheeler and the police told her the seatbelt saved her life. Guidelines and expectations are beneficial to people. Being support- ive actually means letting people know the boundaries and expectations ahead of time. It is not supportive to avoid defining expectations and then watch people make unnecessary mistakes. When you tell them your expectations after they have erred, it comes across negatively and can create tension and defensiveness. We do not do anyone any favors by not getting clear on our daily expectations. If managers don’t spend the time to think about expecta- tions ahead of time and ensure they are stated and clearly understood, performance cannot soar. Relationships get injured. Trust declines. Re- sentment and tension escalate. Work suffers. 46—
  6. C OMMUNICATING Y OUR E XPECTATIONS : W HAT TO S AY AND H OW TO S AY I T Impact of Unclear Expectations When a manager either doesn’t state any expectations or discusses them in an ambiguous way, the direct report does not know either the expec- tation or what to do to achieve it. If the expectation is a change in behav- ior, the employee does not know what to change or how to do it. Recently, Lindsey, a manager with over ten years of experience, but no management training, told me her boss had given her a management book to read on dealing with people. She didn’t like the book, even though she knew that all the senior executives were reading it as a group. ‘‘You’re supposed to sugarcoat everything these days,’’ she said to me. ‘‘You can’t just tell them what to do. I don’t get it,’’ she continued, ‘‘it’s their job. My boss told me that my problem is that I have such high expectations of myself that I then have those high expectations of my staff. Doesn’t he want them to meet high standards? I don’t understand why that is a problem.’’ Can you see the big question mark that lurked over Lindsey’s head as she walked away from her boss, book in hand? She felt confused and wasn’t sure what message the boss was conveying. She did not really know why he wanted her to read the book. The message that Lindsey has high standards sounds like a compli- ment. But what was the boss really saying? That she doesn’t know how to deal with people? That she should cut back on her standards? The problem was not identified, so how is she to fix it? The real point was not about how high the expectations were. It was about being clear about what those expectations actually were and de- termining whether they were appropriate. For example, did Lindsey ex- pect her staff to stay until 8:00 p.m., like she was doing every night for weeks? One of her staff was out on extended medical leave. Did she ex- pect the other staff to do all of that person’s work? Did they sit down as a team and discuss what they could and could not accomplish as a group? Were specific tasks assigned and agreed to, or was it assumed staff would know what to do? —47
  7. T HE S ECRETS TO C REATING AND S USTAINING E NERGIZED R ELATIONSHIPS What were the high expectations Lindsey’s boss referred to? Did he take the time to specify them and help her set up a realistic plan? Did he simply tell her his expectations? No, he gave her a book in the hopes she would figure out what he was unable or unwilling to specify. The boss made common errors. He missed an occasion to coach Lindsey and make a strategic plan for her development. He made ambig- uous statements instead of giving specific feedback about a particular issue. He dodged an uncomfortable conversation instead of being hon- est and telling Lindsey exactly what was not working and what he ex- pected her to do. Part of the plan should be management training for Lindsey. How can she perform well as a manager when she has to learn on her own without benefit of training? Another section of the develop- ment plan should be regular coaching meetings, with specific feedback, support, and comments on progress. Communication and managerial goals could be set up, with checkpoints to determine how well the goals are being met. Listening to Lindsey’s challenges, point of view, and sug- gested solutions for next steps at each coaching session is essential. But the first step is for Lindsey’s manager to nail down his specific expecta- tions. He intended to help Lindsey better communicate with her staff. His intentions were admirable, just not effective. Communicating Expectations Is an Opportunity to Get Buy-In After managers recognize their precise expectations or standards, these are set in motion by how the managers state the expectations. A manag- er’s success depends on how advanced his influence and persuasion skills are. Employees in today’s workforce expect to have a say and to be heard. Most want to be told why the work is important and why it has to be done certain ways. They want to see the benefits to themselves as well as to the organization. Recognizing such benefits focuses the work and enlivens it with meaning. Today’s employees expect to be treated as colleagues and want to work shoulder to shoulder with their manager. 48—
  8. C OMMUNICATING Y OUR E XPECTATIONS : W HAT TO S AY AND H OW TO S AY I T The belief that ‘‘it’s their job, they don’t need to know why’’ is not practical thinking. Management responsibility is about communication, which is how we say things. If people feel they are choosing, they feel more in control of the work. Even if there is a nonnegotiable way that a project is expected to be done, managers can explain the benefits to the employees of doing it that way. Explain how it helps them successfully reach the goals so the conversation can be viewed as supportive and collegial rather than as ‘‘bossy.’’ Use your intuition about tone of voice and word choice. How would you like to be treated? Managers know they are supposed to motivate direct reports or at least provide a motivational environment. That’s what influence and persuasion is about—providing motivation. Strong managers persuade people to be committed to deadlines and a high level of quality. Telling people why their participation is important is an essential part of main- taining relationships and getting quality work done. Managers can get compliance in the short run with or without a good relationship, but they might get sabotaged in the long run. If people are not allowed to express their opinions or if a relationship is not valued, a manager may get what he wants done right now but lose collaboration in the future. Collaboration occurs when people work together to try to meet the needs and best possible outcomes for all parties. This benefits quality and pro- ductivity. The way managers communicate expectations can motivate or de- motivate as an unintended consequence. Management communication skills are key to stimulating top performance. How well the work gets done is dependent on the staff. How well they work together to align personal interests with corporate interests is dependent on the manager. How to State Performance Expectations What are your expectations? If you were to ask your direct reports to tell you their understanding of your expectations, what would they say? Would their understanding be the same as what you think the expecta- —49
  9. T HE S ECRETS TO C REATING AND S USTAINING E NERGIZED R ELATIONSHIPS tions are? What are the unwritten expectations many employees have to discover and wrestle with by themselves? Typically, a manager is keenly aware and careful when discussing performance essentials during hiring interviews, new employee orien- tation, role and responsibility clarification, job description review and revision, and goal setting. But, more often, expectations are mentioned in passing. Managers may not even realize that they are setting expec- tations. As a result they don’t take the time to be deliberate and think carefully about the best way to set and communicate everyday job needs. Management activities such as work assignments and follow-up, del- egation, process and project management discussions, weekly progress meetings, giving feedback, and coaching demand thoughtful consider- ation and consistency in message. It is also important to use paraphras- ing and to ask employees to explain their perception of the expectation so you can be sure you have the same understanding. Use your intuition about how to state expectations based on your knowledge of the work, the relationship you share with the direct report, and what the situation requires. Trust yourself. If you are prepared from the business side and you have a good working relationship with the direct report, you will know how to phrase the expectations. When stating expectations, it is essential to tell the individual whether or not she has discretion in how to do the task. Whenever the how can be delegated, greater ownership of the task ensues. But sometimes, there is only one way to do the task because of policy, pro- cedure, regulation, or communication needs of groups. It there is only one way to do the task, be clear about it. Following are two scenarios with suggested steps to follow and an example of each. The first sce- nario applies when there is a required way to do the task and the sec- ond scenario is for when the employee can decide how to do the task. When there is only one way, you tell the employee both what you ex- pect her to do and how. 50—
  10. C OMMUNICATING Y OUR E XPECTATIONS : W HAT TO S AY AND H OW TO S AY I T When There Is Only One Way to Do the Task Task: Organize the Work 1. Describe specifically what kind of organization is required and why. For example, let’s say customer information needs to be organized a particular way so that several people can access and use it. 2. Explain the importance and implications of organizing the work the required way. 3. Check the employee’s understanding of how to do the task to be sure that she understands what needs to be done. Ask her to explain the key points: ‘‘So just to be sure we have the same understanding, what is it you think I’m asking you to do?’’ 4. Ask what support the employee needs from you or others to meet the ex- pectation. 5. Get agreement that she will organize the required way. 6. Set up a supportive check-in date so you can give feedback on the employ- ee’s progress. That’s fine when setting up expectations that need to be done one way. What about when there are options as to how the work gets done? When reflecting on how to set performance criteria, it is important to think of the level of expertise a direct report has developed as well as the processes that are in place to guide the work. Maybe he will do the work a different way than the manager would, but the employee’s way will get the end result. If he has the experience and ability, tell the employee what you expect and let him decide the how. When the Employee Decides How to Do the Task Task: Create a Newsletter 1. Describe the end result and the performance standards or parameters. For example, ‘‘We need to create a newsletter to inform customers about our services. What I need from you is your recommendation on how to do that. —51
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