Category: Process Improvement (page 1 of 2)

Good Communication – 8 Tips for Giving and Receiving

Who is Responsible for Communication?

Communication is something that has been on my mind a lot lately. It can be a subject that makes a lot of managers and supervisors cringe.

As leaders, we face a lot of heat for not communicating well enough. This is sometimes an honest assessment. But what about our employees? What responsibility do they play in good communication in an organization? And what can we do to improve our communication and encourage them to communicate better?

When it comes to communication issues the onus is generally placed on management. Fair or not this is the reality.

Even if we think we do a great job of communicating it doesn’t make a difference if the people we lead don’t think so.

Also, we can gripe all we want about how poorly our employees communicate the reality is that we can only control our own actions.

So, how do we overcome a sense of poor communication on our part and get our employees to communicate better?

In this post, I will discuss what I believe are the keys to good communication and discuss how we can use them to get our employees to communicate better.

Some of these tips may seem rather basic, but as you go through them really analyze how well you practice each one. I think you will be surprised to find out that there are at least a few you do not do so well.

Tip 1 – Minimize distractions

Too often we allow ourselves to be distracted when we should be listening. Distraction comes in many forms including looking at our phones, checking our emails, or just allowing our thoughts to wander.

If we are not focused on the concerns and questions of our employees when we are communicating, then we are only going through the motions.

To establish a clear line of communication we need to be focused on those we are communicating with.

Before you set out to have any type of communication make sure that you have freed your schedule and put aside anything that might offer a distraction. Finish up important emails ahead of time. Leave your cell phone on your desk. Put your phone in silence. Clear your mind of everything but what you need to be focused on.

Tip 2 – Practice Good Listening Skills

Is this one a no-brainer? Not by a long shot. Listening is something we can all do better no matter how good we think we are at it.

Good listening requires attention, genuine concern, empathy, and feedback.

Attention means we are not distracted (see tip #1 above). It means we are focused on the individual(s) we are communicating with at that very moment.

To truly listen to others (i.e. hear and understand what they are trying to say) we need to have a genuine concern for them. This means we care about understanding their position. Saying we are listening without care for the individual is disingenuous. Employees can see through false concern and it will end with damaged trust.

Finally, good listening requires feedback. This can come in two forms: 1) repeating back in your own words what the employee told you, and 2) discussing your own thoughts based on what you heard.

By giving feedback, you demonstrate not only that you heard the employee, but also that you understand their perspective. When you give your perspective, you are engaging the employee in an open back and forth. This builds trust and opens the lines of communication.

Tip 3 – Follow Up on Questions and Concerns

Good communication requires a feedback loop. We receive communication by practicing good listening. It is then continued through the way in which we respond to what we hear.

We can encourage or discourage communication in the way in which we respond to it.

How we respond to communication will tell our employees how important their ideas and concerns are to us.

Make it a point to follow-up on all communication in a timely manner. Get back to employees regarding questions and concerns they have. Even if you can’t resolve an issue to their complete satisfaction at least follow-up with them to let them know you acted to try to find a resolution.

Tip 4 – Always Make Time to Listen

Finding time to listen is in many ways tied to minimizing distractions, but it is more proactive.

What I mean here is that when somebody stops you take the time to hear them out. Let them know that they are important and that you genuinely care what they have to say.

Don’t blow people off. If you are too busy let them know you want to hear what they have to say. Let them know that while you have something important to do at this moment you want to listen. Then schedule a time to get back to them. Finally, keep your commitment.

One other aspect of making time to listen – schedule time to just walk the floor and engage your employees. Pick a time when you have nothing else vying for your attention. Then just talk to, and listen to your people.

Tip 5 – Ask for Your Employees Opinions

Too often managers and supervisors think they must have all the answers. This just isn’t true. The best leaders always seek out the opinions of their team before making important decisions.

Besides getting the best ideas from a wide range of people another benefit of seeking input is that it builds trust in relationships.

So, the next time you find yourself struggling with a problem, try asking the people on your team for their opinions. By doing this you will demonstrate that you trust and value their opinion. Then use their ideas to solve your problems.

Don’t forget to give credit when you use an employee’s idea. Make sure you show gratitude and never take credit for an employee’s idea.

Do this often enough and you will find your team coming to with ideas without your needing to ask.

Tip 6 – Communicate Face to Face as Often as Possible

In the era of modern communication, it is easy to send a text or email and think that we are communicating properly. And while these tools can offer an effective and easy way to communicate they cannot replace the human side of relationship building.

Therefore, it is important to make sure we are communicating face to face as much as we can. This is especially true when we are required to deal with HR or personnel issues.

We can become too reliant on technology when it comes to communication. To show concern and interest in others we need to be physically present to them. People need to see us and be able to connect with us on a personal level.

It is hard to make personal connections through emails and text messages. I go into more depth on this subject here.

Tip 7 – Offer Constructive Criticism

Sometimes we are required to give criticism to others. This should not be a bad thing. If we have a genuine concern for others we should want to see them improve. For others to improve they need to know what they are doing incorrectly and where they are falling short.

When we offer this criticism, it should always be constructive. It should be approached with a concern for what is in the best interest of the other person.

Your communication with your employees should always be focused on what is best for them and want to improve things with their interest in mind. The goal should be about aligning the employee’s interests with the interests of the organization.

Check out more on employee feedback here.

Tip 8 – Get to Know Your Employees

If you really want to get your employees to communicate better get to know them. This means getting to know them on a personal level. Who are they outside of work? What interest do they have? Are they engaged in any hobbies? Do they have a wife and children?

Taking time to get to know our employees on a personal level is another way to demonstrate your concern for the individual. Again, getting people to want to communicate requires trust. If you show that you care about them as a person, and not just an employee, you will build that trust.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we can gripe all we want about how poorly employees communicate, but it doesn’t really make a difference. The only thing we have any control over is ourselves and our actions.

This doesn’t mean we can’t change how employees communicate. It does mean that we must do a better job of getting them to communicate better.

By practicing the 8 communication tips I laid out in this post you will become a better communicator and you will bring out better communication in those you lead.

You can choose to do nothing and sit around and complain. Or you can get to work and create a team that communicates better, trust more, and achieves more. It is up to you.

Here are some other resources that I think you will find helpful. I used these in doing my own personal research and thinking about this topic. Comment below to share your thoughts on this post and share ways that you have engaged your employees in communication.

How to Encourage Open and Honest Communication

5 Ways to Get Your Employees to Speak Up

How to Communicate with Employees

4 Tips for Encouraging Communication

Accountability is About Correction not Discipline

Accountability Not Blame

Accountability is at the heart of leading and managing people. It is about holding people to a standard and then ensuring that they are maintaining that standard. What it should not be about is blaming people and punishing them.

Holding people accountable for their work and addressing underlying issues that are the cause of performance deficiencies should be the goal of a manager or supervisor. Blame assignment should not be a part of this process. And in most cases, the first response shouldn’t be about discipline. Instead, you should be looking for the root cause of the problem, assigning responsibility, and then working with the employee to correct the cause.

Too often managers and supervisors shoot from the hip when addressing performance issues. Instead of taking the time to gather facts and think about what the long-term consequences of their actions are, or what they are looking to achieve, they just jump into blame and punish mode.

When this happens, it serves the opposite purpose of what should be the intended outcome. The manager’s or supervisor’s goal should be the discovery of the root cause of the performance deficiency and then working with the employee to resolve it. Improvement of the individual’s performance should be the focus.

The Goal of Accountability

The purpose of holding people accountable isn’t the same as discipline. Accountability is about establishing performance expectations, communicating them, and helping employees understand where they are falling short. Correction of deficiencies and improvement of performance are the key.

Accountability is not discipline. Discipline may become part of the process after you have performed the other steps necessary to address root cause and help the employee improve performance, but it should not be the focus.

Begin With the End in Mind

Anytime a manager or supervisor is addressing a performance issue they should be thinking about what the end goal is. What does the ideal state of performance look like and how does it differ from the current state. But you also need to consider what the goal is with your relationship with the employee and their relationship with the team. If you have read Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People you will recognize this as Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind.

So often we are operating from a state of putting out fires that we don’t always take the time to really think about what the end goal is and what affect our actions are having on individuals in our organization and our team.

When addressing performance issues, the key is to identify what you hope to achieve in the correction of the problem. And to make sure that those actions are in line with overall company and team goals and objectives.

In most cases, the end goal is to maximize efficiencies to ensure profitability. To accomplish this, you need to motivate your employees to want to perform to a level that meets these objectives. Your accountability objectives should be focused on the best way to improve employee performance by engaging the employee in the solution and motivating them to want to correct it.

Placing blame does not motivate people. Being concerned about them and their performance does. Having a genuine concern for the success of the individual, and framing the problem resolution in that light will motivate much more than placing blame.

An Accountability Strategy

When accessing your accountability strategy consider the following:

  • What is the end state that is desired?
  • What actions can I take to try to reach this end state?
  • How will the employee perceive your actions?
  • In what way will your actions affect the team?
  • How will your actions help reach organizational goals?
  • What is the best way to identify the root cause of the problem?
  • How can I help the employee improve their performance?

Accountability is about setting clear expectations, goals, and consequences (both positive and negative). The goal is to help employees improve their performance with the end goal of meeting organizational objects. It is not about placing blame but is about identifying the root cause of performance problems and correcting them with the end in mind.

Do You Have a Management Philosophy and do You Need One?

What is philosophy and is it important to managers and supervisors? For the purpose of this post, I will use the following definition of philosophy as our guide:

Philosophy as:
A: pursuit of wisdom
B: a search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational means
C: an analysis of the grounds of and concepts expressing fundamental beliefs
(Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/philosophy)

Based on the above definition we see that philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom in order to gain a general understanding of values and reality. It is about analyzing the underlying fundamental beliefs of a system of thought.

As managers and supervisors, we need to understand the concepts of managing people and resources as well as the belief systems that surround these areas. Without this understanding, we are merely going through rote motions that may or may not lead to success. Without a deeper examination of our actions and the reactions of others, we cannot expect to enjoy any lasting success.

Most of us probably feel too busy and overwhelmed in our daily duties to give much thought to our beliefs regarding the philosophical underpinnings of what we do and why. But I think that if we are going to be successful in managing the people and resources entrusted to us we need to have at least a basic idea of what we believe is the best way to accomplish our work and measure that against the reality of what really works and what doesn’t.

In addition, we need to have a grounding in general management philosophy so we can take advantage of the best ideas that have been tried and tested. In the endeavor of human knowledge, no man, or woman, stands alone. As has been noted by others we truly stand on the shoulders of giants and we should take advantage of this inherited knowledge.

There are many schools of thought on the best way to manage and lead people including Robert K. Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership, Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits, and Jack Welch’s Welch Way among many others.

While reading about these different systems can give you new perspectives and tools to use they should only be used as guides to help you build your own personal management philosophy.

Because we are all different in how we think, interact with people, and view the world we each need to take in the knowledge around us and use it according to our own gifts and weaknesses to form a system of management that works for us and for the teams that we lead.

Coming to an understanding of what your management philosophy will be will require you to sit down and figure out what you believe, what your values are, and where your strengths and weaknesses lie.

As somebody who thinks deeply about management and writes on it frequently, I would suggest that you keep a journal or diary to write down your daily thoughts.

Take just 10-15 minutes a day. I recommend doing it at the end of the day after you have had time to process and absorb all that you have experienced in the day.

Think about what things went well and what things did not go well. Really think about the underlying causes. Identify what made things work and what did not.

You have to dig deep under the surface. Don’t stop with the first cause you come across. Look deeper to find what is under the surface. It is only when you dig deep that you will get to the truth or root cause.

Over time you will begin to see where you are being truly effective and where you are falling short. Once you start to identify patterns in your behavior you will be able to develop the fundamentals of a successful philosophy to managing people and resources based on your knowledge and experience.

Another thing I would strongly recommend is to identify what your core values are as a manager. How do you view your role in relation to your organization and the people you lead? Why did you get into management? What do you hope to achieve in your role as a manager or supervisor? How do you want the people you work with and lead to viewing you? What words would you like them to use when they describe you?

This exercise will help you to define what things are important to you. You can then use this discovery process as a starting point for creating your own management philosophy.

As the writer and philosopher Ayn Rand once said, “Philosophy provides man with a comprehensive view of life. In order to evaluate it properly, ask yourself what a given theory, if accepted, would do to a human life, starting with your own.” (The Ayn Rand Lexicon, pg 361).

Philosophy is a comprehensive theory that helps you to understand the correct way to manage. It is about taking in the collective knowledge of others who have come before you and integrating it with your beliefs and experiences. It can help you to create a system that not only leads to your personal success but should also lead to the success and enrichment of everyone you interact with and lead.

Instead of Making Excuses Own the Problem Even if It Isn’t Your Fault

Have you ever gone up to an employee to address a problem and instead of them helping to resolve it all they did was give you a hundred excuses about how it wasn’t their fault and there was nothing they could do about it?

Did this make you feel like going to them in the future to get a resolution to a problem? What did it do to your level of trust in that person?

As managers and supervisors, we need to be cognizant of how we respond to problems in the work place. Whether it is an employee looking for a solution, a fellow manager, or a boss, we need to own the problem.

Making excuses doesn’t solve a problem and it doesn’t build trust. Even if you’re not to blame for the problem it is better to take ownership of it and offer resolutions than to start throwing blame around.

I am not suggesting that you take responsibility for every problem that is presented to you. Only that as issues arise that are part of your area of responsibility don’t blow them off; be accountable.

When problems are initially discovered and you need to respond quickly it is better to be a leader and accept responsibility for correcting an issue.

There will always be time later to dig into the root cause and find out where it actually went wrong and who is to blame (though I would suggest blame is less important than identifying where the breakdown in the process occurred). Then when you do identify the root cause you will have built trust and clout with your team that will pay dividends especially if it turns out it really was your fault.

Taking responsibility for a problem shows a level of emotional maturity. It shows that you are confident, secure, and intelligent enough to shoulder hard issues.

Leaders don’t make excuses, they step up and make opportunities out of circumstances that are created because of a breakdown in a process.

Look at these trying circumstances as an opportunity to use your skill and knowledge to turn a negative situation into a positive one.

Use it as a learning opportunity, not just for yourself, but also your team. Show them what a leader looks like and use it to show them how to stick together as a team without casting blame on one another.

Be an example of how a person can put aside emotion, ego, and self-doubt to rise above difficulty.

Seek out win-win solutions that allow everybody in the process to walk away feeling that they gained something positive from the outcome.

Being a problem-solver, rather than playing the blame game, will bring you more personal success as well as your team and organization.

By being accountable for your area of responsibility you build trust with your management team and your subordinates.

Responding to difficult circumstances, taking accountability, and being a problem-solver will deliver far more positive outcomes than looking for someone else to blame. Leadership means taking on responsibility for things you didn’t do and finding solutions when other can’t or won’t.

Don’t be a follower hiding behind others. Be humble and helpful. Take on difficult decisions and shoulder responsibility. Lead by example.

At the end of the day, you have control over only one thing – yourself. So own yourself and own the situation. Stand tall and face the problem straightforward and with courage. Make the problems yours and you will win the day.

Managing to the Numbers is a lot like Painting by the Numbers

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Managing by the numbers is a lot like painting by the numbers. It might give you a nice pretty picture but it lacks originality and inspiration.

Working in a manufacturing environment there is a huge focus on numbers. How fast are the machines running, how many pieces an hour are we producing, how much down time do we have, etc.

Data is important to understanding how well a process is working, but they don’t tell the whole picture. Managers get so focused on numbers and metrics that they lose sight of the big picture. They lose sight of the people in the process.

Focusing on numbers, while losing sight of people, can alienate and make people feel like cogs in a machine.

Production and financial numbers should be used to tell a story that people can understand. They should be used to guide people and help them to understand their role in the process. The numbers should be the start of a conversation not the end of it.

When talking to people about production and financial figures always help them see their role in either achieving the goals or working toward the goals.

Don’t become so caught up in the numbers that you fail to consider other factors driving the numbers. It is difficult to get the entire picture from just a bunch of figures. There are underlying factors that can’t be captured by metrics.

People, team cohesion, and input factors cannot be captured by data collection.

There are no numbers that will tell you when people are unhappy or dissatisfied with their work or that will tell you when there is an issue with the team dynamic.

An environment that has been poisoned by too much focus on production metrics can be hard to fix. Managers who focus solely on numbers without considering what the real causes are, or having empathy for the people in the process, have a difficult time mending those relationships.

Likewise, input factors, such as low quality raw materials that create production issues will get lost in the data. Often cheaper materials are purchased due to the fact that it looks good as a line item on a financial report. It is much harder to capture the true cost of production inefficiencies created by the poor quality raw material especially in processes with many input factors.

Gathering and reporting data is important in any business. It helps guide decisions in regards to investments and payback. Data tells whether a process is working or needs adjustment and gives guidance as to profitability and loss.

All the data in the world will not tell you what people know.

They know what is working with a given process and what is not. When it comes to team dynamics, only people can tell you what is and isn’t working.

Let the numbers be a guide but let your focus be on the people. Don’t allow yourself to be so driven by statistics and data that you forget the dynamic nature of what you are being asked to manager. Allow yourself the freedom to paint outside the lines and create something bigger than the numbers would allow.

 

 

 

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