This focused on the power of branding as a tool to make your communications immediately identifiable and reduce the mental load required to process them. An equally powerful tool is embedding powerful insights into your brand design to drive the behaviors of your audience.
One of the benefits of blogging is getting into a conversation with readers via the comment area. However, most blogs (at least mine) gain very little traction and don’t spur much discussion. That’s a shame.
Real learning and insight come from the interaction between people. It is in these moments that brilliance is usually found. That insight and learning goes both ways – author to reader AND reader to author.
Communication, at its best, is a two-way street. It involves people. It engages them. It moves from a lecture to a conversation.
So tell me…what can I do to increase the likelihood of you leaving a comment here? Please respond by leaving a comment…
My 5-year old son is starting to become afraid of “monsters” in our house. This has not been a problem until just a few days ago – but now he is reluctant to go anywhere in the house alone. It culminated last night, when he wanted a specific book read to him before going to bed. That book was located in our 3rd floor attic bedroom. We were on the 2nd floor when the 5-year old requested this book.
“Ok. Go get it and I’ll read it to you” I said.
“I can’t” he said very quickly.
“Why not? Do your legs not work?” I asked teasingly.
“I’m scared – I don’t like being alone” he replied seriously.
“But I’m right here and you just have to go up the stairs that are right over there” I said pointing to the stairs just 20 feet away.
“Can you come with me?”
“No – I’m right here and you’ll be fine.”
“But I need you to come with me.”
After 10-minutes of this back and forth conversation that included discussions on what type of monster it was, the fact that monsters were imaginary, and the fact that he would be no more than 50 feet away from me at any point in his under 60-second journey and within easy calling distance, he was still firmly planted on the couch not willing to go get the book by himself. I even tried my best motivation and psychology tactics to get him to go up by himself (incentives, peer pressure, challenge, etc..) – to no avail. Then he said this most insightful statement:
“Just because its imaginary doesn’t mean that I’m still not scared.”
Wow…that’s when it hit me, I wouldn’t be able to rationally talk him into going upstairs to get the book. No matter how many facts we agreed on. No matter how well reasoned my arguments were. No matter how simple the solution was. He was going to still be scared.
I needed to respond to him on an emotional level. I needed to make him “feel” safe. I needed to hold his hand or walk halfway up the attic stairs or go up first and clear the attic of any monsters before he was ever going to go up in the attic alone.
And sometimes we and our employees are the same way. We make up monsters.
We extrapolate all the bad things that could happen and they get blown out of proportion. We understand all the rational discourse on why the company needs to change, but in our guts we are scared by that. We get caught up in the emotion of how we feel about what somebody said to us and not about what they actually said or meant. We spin our wheels in the mud worrying about not getting a project done instead of just working on it.
And no matter how rationale the argument is against this imaginary thing – we are still scared. When people are scared – we don’t work well. We don’t go up the stairs to get the book. Instead we sit in our cubes and wait. We spread rumors and try to get others to believe in our imaginary monsters too. We worry and fret and stress.
We are emotional beings. Our imaginary fears and worries are not going to dissipate with rational discourse or well reasoned arguments or even facts. Sometimes the only way over it is to have someone figuratively hold our hand, or walk halfway up the stairs or go chase out all the monsters first.
Too often as leaders we miss this fact!
The Not So Shining Knight
As leaders we want to be the shining knight that comes in and vanquishes all the monsters. So what do we do – we focus on the facts. We layout well reasoned arguments. We rationally explain away all the potential downfalls.
Our communications highlight all the great benefits of the new program – but don’t address the emotional side of things. We discuss program rules and miss out on leading people through an example of what it is going to be like. We provide all the facts on a new change initiative but don’t go out and show them how we have to change as well.
We don’t bring in the human side of things.
We need to get better at holding hands. We need to work on our empathy. Communication, no matter how good, won’t solve all our problems. As leaders, we need to lead. We need to go up the stairs first. We need to put skin in the game. We need to feel the pain too.
We can’t always talk people out of being scared – even when they are scared about imaginary monsters. As a leader it is not about being right or getting the facts straight. It is about emphasizing with what your team is going through and being there for them. It means that we have to start thinking and acting with our more with our heart and less with our head.
That’s what makes great leaders.
Let us know what type of imaginary monsters you face…leave a comment.
Here is a little bit of psychology that most of us know intuitively. People hate vacuums. No not the kind that you use for cleaning your carpets…the kind that exist when there is an information void.
Our brains work overtime to fill in any vacuums that they encounter.
This is a good thing mostly since it has helped us survive, such as when one of our ancestors filled in this unknown, “hmmm….I’m not sure what the growling noise is, but I bet it’s not good so I better run.”
We fill in these blanks all the time – often at a subconscious level. In the 1930’s, Gestalt psychologist conducted a number of experiments that focused perception and filling in missing information. They named this phenomena “the law of closure” famously demonstrated by the Kanizsa Triangle where there are no triangles or circles in the image – yet that is what we see.
While filling in missing information has often helped us, it can also be very detrimental. Take for instance what would occur if your company made a statement to employees such as “we are going through some difficult times and some changes will be announced next week.”
Not knowing what those “changes” are, people will automatically tend to fill in the blank…and what do you think they will fill it in with? Positive thoughts on the future…probably not.
In fact, we can pretty much guarantee that different people will interpret this differently. Some positive, some negative, and others not even registering on their radar. Psychology shows us that ambiguous stimulus will most likely be translated into multiple perceptions by different people – based on their current emotions, past experience, personality make-up, and a variety of other factors.
People will also fill in the blanks based on information they can gather – thus, the “changes” are associated with “difficult times” so the conclusions they will draw will probably be focused on what they have seen or been part of with other changes in difficult times.
But what a company wants is to make sure that a large proportion of people are not filling in the information with negative or wrong information. For instance, the above statement probably would cause a number of people to go back and start talking about the “layoffs” that will probably occur next week – even though nothing of the sort was said.
So what does one do?
While we can never fully make sure that everything is 100% clear and absolutely understood – we can do things to mitigate the negative aspects of this:
1. Eliminate as much ambiguous information as possible – be as clear and complete as you can in both verbal and written communication
“The new compensation plan is only as good as the sales representative’s understanding and acceptance of the plan.”
This quote is from the December 2010 issue of World at Work’s Workspan journal. I found it very familiar as we’ve been using the following line in our proposals since 2003 “You can have the best incentive plan in the world, but it doesn’t make a difference if your people don’t understand it or buy into it.”
I believe this with all my heart.
In fact, much of our business is built around this belief. We work with many of our clients creating communications campaigns that drive understanding and help build buy-in to their incentive plans. We tend to think about this in a holistic way with many touch points along the way. We don’t just craft a cool looking brochure and leave it at that. Our ideal process involves upfront analysis with interviews of participants and managers to better understand how the current plan is perceived and used. This analysis also provides us with much needed information as to some of the barriers that we will face in trying to communicate the plan. Then we need to think about how to break through the deluge of information that a typical sales representative is bombarded with. We also work very hard at trying to craft words and visuals that explain the incentive plan in a very easy to understand manner – crafting multiple messages, charts and images. The overall flow needs to be right or the impact is lost. It is important to understand what medium the message is going to be presented in and where it comes in the continuum of communication touch points – is it the first message that is intended to generate excitement in a flash e-mail; the main presentation at the National meeting that needs to show how a sales rep can maximize their payout with this plan; or the detailed plan books that are the legal documents that contain all the minutia that an incentive plan has? We then look at follow-up interviews and focus groups to make sure the message got through and that we didn’t miss anything. Throughout the year we want to communicate to the field using quick reminders and little teasers to keep the plan top of mind.
Dan Airely, Richard Thaley, Cass Sunstein, Daniel Kahneman, Ran Kivitz, and many more psychology and behavioral economics researchers have shown that while we like to think of ourselves as rational, thinking human beings who are out to optimize our well being, we aren’t.
In fact, we are very far from it.
Sharon Begley at Newsweek wrote this interesting blog “The Limits of Reason” in it, she states, “But as psychologists have been documenting since the 1960s, humans are really, really bad at reasoning. It’s not just that we follow our emotions so often, in contexts from voting to ethics. No, even when we intend to deploy the full force of our rational faculties, we are often as ineffectual as eunuchs at an orgy.”
We see this all the time. I wrote about it in my earlier post from today “5 Lessons from the Maze.” We tend to act and behave in very non-rational ways. There are lots of irrational types of behavior and thinking and lots of theory’s about them (i.e., Loss Aversion, Status Quo Bias, Gambler’s Fallacy, Hedonistic Bias, Anchoring, Reciprocity, Inequity Aversion, etc…).
Here is what is interesting – we tend to still design our incentive programs and our motivational strategies based on believing that people act in a rational manner. We create programs that have 10 different ways to earn, with multipliers, qualifiers, and ratchet effects. We create programs with multiple components and factors that we think will drive specific behaviors and elicit particular performance results. We believe we know what people want and use only extrinsic rewards to drive our results.
This is a true story of what happened to me and one client.
It began in August. I was contracted to conduct an analysis for a company that will remain unnamed. The analysis looked at some specific aspects around a new product launch and involved interviewing a number of executives and sales people from across the organization. In all I did over 40 hours of interviews. I spent twice that amount of time analyzing the interview responses, finding patterns and insights that applied to their specific situation, assessing linkages and developing insights.
I created a comprehensive report that included an executive summary, detailed findings, recommendations for success, and a large section with selected verbatim comments from the interviews.
I thought it was pretty good. We uncovered a lot of useful information regarding the launch process, the sales force readiness, and the work that needed to happen leading up to the launch that could really help the company be more successful. We had taken the pulse of the organization and reported it back in a clear and informative manner.
I’m not just tooting my own horn – the client was very pleased with the content and the findings also. No really he was. In fact, he stated in an e-mail, “I’m very happy with the content and findings and I’m glad I used your services…”
My four year old son was playing trains downstairs with two of his friends last week. It was going great until one of the friends somehow ended up with 5 train cars while my son only had 4. This sent my four year old into a tizzy in which he stomped out of the room and sulked on the floor in the kitchen.
“He has more than me.” was the response I got when I asked him what was wrong.
So trying to think quickly and forgetting that I was dealing with a four year old, I asked him if he had been having fun playing with four trains before he realized that his friend had five? “Yes…but it’s not fair. He won’t share and he has more.”
My equally “way-too-old” for a four year old response was, “but right now you have none – which is more fun, playing with four or playing with none?” I thought I had him here….
He looked at me with a quizzical stare and held up his hand with all five fingers out – “Five!” he said in response with 100% conviction. Ahh yes, I’m dealing with a four year old mind.
As the hiring outlook improves with anticipation of the new calendar year on the horizon, election dust settling and corporate tax liability gaining clarity, the talent exodus will begin in next few months.
Are you ready?
If your organization has not installed proactive mitigation efforts, you could lose your best talent over the next 2 quarters (in other words, if your not doing something now, you’re going to pay for it later). Successful recession recovery strategy should not ignore the critical variable of having the best talent on-board as well as engaging the “survivors”, lest ye not forget;
“High-commitment organizations outperform low-commitment organizations by 47%”
“Engaged employees are 43% more productive.”
The Hay Group
Our research shows that engaged employees can increase your financial position by almost 200% while disengaged employees can decrease your financial position by almost 25%.
Counter-intuitively, organizations tend to find difficulty prioritizing their employee engagement efforts during challenging environments. In fact, during this recession many have executed a status quo strategy, which communicates to their single greatest resource that you are “damn lucky to still be here”. Take a moment to think about this – has this been your organizations approach to engagement?
Therein lies the issue! If we tell our recession survivors they’re lucky to have a job and yet we label them our greatest remaining resource, we are sending mixed messages.
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