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FEBRUARY FEATURED ARTICLE
It’s a Failure to Communicate


Last month I was stuck in my car overnight during SnowJam in Atlanta. I was sitting in my car on I-285 from 6p until 9a the next morning. Fortunately I had a full tank of gas, a warm coat, and limited food and water. It was a frustrating experience that required a great amount of patience. Finally, I arrived home around 10:30a after walking the final 2.5 miles. Many of my neighbors had very similar experiences.

The most frustrating part of this experience was a complete lack of communication from government officials. Was the interstate closed? Would I be moving anytime soon? Was I safe? I listened closely to my radio all night and did not hear a single relevant piece of information from a state, county, or local city official on road status.

Very frustrating.

Upon reflection, I realized how common this is in small companies. A failure to communicate. In the best-selling book “First Break All the Rules”, author Marcus Buckingham surveyed thousands of employees to get feedback on their managers. The number one question employees have of their leaders is “How am I doing?” They want regular feedback (communication).

I like to interview the key executives of many of my CEO clients to get a different perspective on their respective leadership styles. The most common feedback I receive from these employees is that they want more communication. They want to know more about what is going on within the company. There is a communication gap between the CEO and their employees and it is not getting any narrower.

Why is this lack of communication an important issue for employees?

Just as the CEO is making important decisions each day, so are their employees. Decisions about buying houses, sending kids to college, and taking vacations. Often times, those decisions hinge on the decisions the CEO is making within the company.  A decision to expand the company and accelerate earnings will have as much of an impact on the employees as a decision to cut back and possibly eliminate jobs.

It’s a failure to communicate.

How can you address this issue? Here are several common ways to improve executive communication:

  • CEO letter. This idea comes from a very popular Vistage speaker Kraig Kramers. He suggests that every CEO should publish a monthly letter to the employees. The one page letter should include the good news and the bad news. A comprehensive report of company activities from the past month and what to look forward to the next month.  This letter should also reinforce the company’s vision, mission, and core values.
  • Monthly 1-2-1 meetings. This is a great opportunity to give direct feedback to each employee on their  work performance.  It’s also an easy way to find out how the employee is doing and what is going on outside of work. One of my clients does monthly 1-2-1s with each direct report and there is one rule: no discussion of work. He is very interesting in their lives outside of work. 
  • Management by Walking Around (MBWA). I first heard this from management guru Tom Peters. He suggests that each executive get up from their desk at least once a day and walk the four corners of the office taking time to talk to as many people as possible. Casual conversations. Great opportunities to receive informal feedback on everything company related.
  • Daily Huddles. This is one of my favorites. I first read this idea in best-selling author Patrick Lencioni’s book “Death By Meetings”. Lencioni prescribes a very brief daily meeting of a leader and their direct reports. Possibly standing up. 10-15 minutes maximum. It’s strictly an opportunity to update the group. No discussions. Several of my clients have implemented this idea and have found it works beautifully.

I am sure there are a number of other effective ways of addressing the communication gap in small businesses. What’s working for you?  

BOOK OF THE MONTH
The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor

One of my favorite TED talks last year was done by then Harvard Professor Shawn Achor. Achor has been studying “happiness” his entire career and has written this book based on his research at Harvard and an enormous amount of supportive research from experts.

Achor’s core finding is very simple and yet most small business owners don’t get it. He tells us that rather than success driving our happiness; it is actually the exact opposite. Our happiness determines our success. This is true in business and outside of business.

I see examples of the first premise regularly with many of my members and clients. They believe that if they can grow their companies far enough or fast enough, call that success, they will then be able to enjoy enormous amounts of happiness. The problem, according to the author, is that we are always raising the “success” bar. It’s never enough. First, it’s one million dollars in revenue. Once we achieve that level of revenue, we then have to cross the two million dollar mark to be happy. The problem is…we never get there.

Dr Achor tells us that instead we need to first find happiness. In the book, he gives us Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that will help us find varying levels of happiness. Examples of these principles include such simple practices as meditation, random acts of kindness (RAKS), and exercise.

Several of my clients have tried this alternative approach to happiness and the results have been phenomenal. Not only are they happier, but their businesses have taken off. They are working less, making more, and most importantly they are much happier.

I liked the TED talk better than the book. Achor is a great speaker. The book is good and it provides the context and the research to support the talk. I hope you enjoy both.

USEFUL WEB TOOLS
Lifehacker 

http://www.lifehacker.com

This offbeat site has answers to all of your daily dilemmas, and gives you the answers you need.

A LITTLE HUMOR
The Conference Call