“There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?” —Woody Allen
Here’s a typical scenario which winds up producing just the opposite of what the leadership team intends. And the sad part is, everyone starts out with good intentions yet everyone winds up frustrated.
It goes like this . . .
After much study and debate the executive team has decided on a series of new policies and organization changes designed to improve speed of decision making and service levels. The comms team is directed to prepare a professional powerpoint presentation for the execs to deliver in front of assembled groups of staff. The executives take the role seriously, have their practice sessions, get feedback from the presentation coaches, and even have a good opening story or joke to liven things up. The date for the roll-out arrives, staff assemble in large meeting rooms across the globe, the technology works and the speaker does a great job.
Fast forward two months. Executives are complaining that things haven’t improved and middle managers are being grilled. Staff are complaining that they don’t fully understand the reasons for the changes nor how to implement them. The result: unintended negative consequences all around and a definite loss of respect for management, not to mention the inability to positively impact the marketplace and displace growing competition.
Let’s look at a principle of effective leadership that can help such situations turn out differently and more effectively for everyone involved.
Leadership Principle: Telling is not selling.
Every professional salesperson knows the old adage:
He who does the talking is doing the buying!
If the staff are not doing the talking during these presentations then they aren’t buying! And expecting full understanding and compliance just because it comes from a senior executive is equally faulty logic (after all, when the regulator lays down new rules how do most banks react? By figuring out how to work around the regulation! Exactly what employees do.)
So, let’s use this leadership principle to redesign the process of introducing new policies or announcing an organization change. Let me suggest a technique I used over 20 years ago, 1984 to be exact, with the changes taking place when Ma Bell was deregulated and broken up into ATT plus 7 Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) across the US. For over 100 years Ma Bell was a mega-huge regulated monopoly and suddenly the next day there existed 7 large operating companies with their own boards, own P&Ls, own regions, own staff, own competitors, everything. The physical and organizational changes were massive, but think about the cultural change – from monopoly mindset to competition. People had to work in very different ways.
To support the culture change we designed for several of the RBOCs a series of “fireside chats” led by a member of the executive committee. While the previous tradition of presentations had been large meetings with the senior exec standing behind a podium lecturing and with a little time at the end for Q&A, the Fireside Chat was an entirely different process.
We change through conversation!
Small groups of employees from many different departments were assembled in a room with the chairs in a circle. Prior to the event they were given a handout to read and asked to come with questions. The event was a two-way (sometimes multi-way) dialogue, with equal amounts of talking and listening by everyone. The senior executive opened the session with a personal story about how difficult this whole transition had been for him or her, how difficult it was to work differently after years of being in a regulated monopoly, one or two of their personal struggles with the changes and an example of their own learning along the way.
The executives were not presenting, they were sharing. It was scary at first for the senior executives, definitely uncharted ground. But the positive response from the staff and the quality of the dialogue was such that everyone learned and were definitely engaged. And one of the key learnings for the executive was that saying “I don’t know” to a question led to even more positive engagement on the part of the group. They realized this was a new change for everyone and thus didn’t expect all the answers. The journey became a shared journey of learning.
Thinking of implementing new policies or organizational changes? Try the fireside chat approach.
And if your busy senior executives don’t have the time, then you might want to review their job descriptions. It should say something about being accountable for the overall performance of the company and people.
After all, telling is not selling and compliance usually isn’t!
Tight Lines . . .
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