Groups; Meetings; Communicating – You’re Doing It Wrong! – (Insight From Wiser By Sunstein And Hastie)
Slate.com has an occasional “You’re doing it wrong” article. What a smart, good, right-on-target series.
Their articles are usually on day-to-day tasks, like “You’re doing it wrong: scrambled eggs.”
I thought of this Slate series as I was reading Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter by Cass R. Sunstein and Reid Hastie, my selection for the March First Friday Book Synopsis. Their basic premise is this: we are doing groups wrong. Here’s a sample, from the book:
The good news is that if discussion is properly structured and if groups adopt the right norms and practices, they can create that culture. The bad news is that in the real world, discussion often leads people in the wrong directions. Many groups fail to correct the mistakes of their members.
The book points out quite a few ways we are doing groups wrong, and points us toward come correctives in the direction of doing things right in groups. (I will share my lessons and takeaways from this book after next Friday).
I think they are right. If you think about all the time spent in groups, in meetings, in conversations, and all the ways that progress is not made, and all the ways problems are not fixed… you might begin to think that we are doing the whole communicating with and working with one another all wrong.
And, then, as you keep thinking, there are so many other things we seem to get equally wrong, like:
Speaking, presenting, writing… communicating
The list goes on…
In other words, nearly all of the efforts in government, in corporations, in nonprofits, in education, are crippled by the wrong practices we continue to follow.
It reminds me of a so-very-true quote from Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto:
At least 30 percent of patients with stroke receive incomplete or inappropriate care from their doctors, as do 45 percent of patients with asthma and 60 percent of patients with pneumonia. Getting the steps right is proving brutally hard, even if you know them. (emphasis added).
Here’s a simple question: why would we ever want to do anything else wrong? Wouldn’t we rather get things right?
And, so, here is our ongoing challenge:
Step #1 – Discover the right way to do things.
Step #2 – Do these things in that right way.
But, I was also very disappointed in him. It simply screams “there will be a sequel.” It is unlike every other book he has ever written.
I only read the customer reviews on Amazon.com after I wrote this post. In general, these are vicious. I don’t think the story is that bad, and I don’t think it’s boring. Maybe it has just enough sex to keep me interested. But, I do join others who criticize the book for the low-quality ending. Just finish the story, John. Move on to the next book.
In summary, to find out what happens, you will have to buy the next book. That has never been the case for Grisham, who has penned so many best-sellers over the years, and which have found their way to the big screen through adaptation. Who has ever forgotten The Firm?
You won’t find this one moving to film. At least, not until we know the ending.
I won’t spoil the presentation next week at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas, but if you attend, you will certainly find Rory Vaden‘s approach to time management very different from every traditional approach you have ever seen.
His premise is different, yet realistic. We all have the same amount of time. His idea is to ignore methods and tools you have heard about for years. These include prioritizing daily tasks, segmenting parts of your day into specific focused activities, and so forth. Rather, his focus is on understanding and coming to grips with the emotions that get in our way and preventing us from maximizing our time. To Vaden, time is not something you spend, but something you invest.
You will remember his previous blockbuster best-seller, Take the Stairs. Over time, Vaden has become one of the most popular and influential speakers and authors of our time.
As an award-winning entrepreneur and business leader, Rory Co-Founded Southwestern Consulting™, a multi-million dollar global consulting practice that helps clients in more than 14 countries drive educated decisions with relevant data. He’s also the Founder of The Center for the Study of Self-Discipline (CSSD). Rory is the world’s leader on defining the psychology around modern day procrastination, called Priority Dilution™ – in fact, he coined the term. He speaks and consults on how to say no to the things that don’t matter, and yes to the things that do. His client list includes companies and groups such as: Cargill, The Million Dollar Roundtable, P&G, True Value, YPO, Wells Fargo Advisors, Land O’Lakes, Novartis, and hundreds more. His insights have recently been featured on/in: Fox News, CNN, Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Inc, Fortune, and the New York Times. He is a regular contributor for American Express Open Forum, Huffington Post, and The Tennessean and his articles and insights average more than 4 million views every day.
For more, you need to attend the presentation on Friday. You will hear all about the five permissions.
I can promise you it will be a very different approach to managing time, from someone who is very different himself.
I will see you then!
Maybe you need an encounter with a well-placed two-by-four…
I was talking to a top-level business consultant. He is brought in to fix some small problems, some process problems, and sometimes, some big problems.
When the problem has a process fix, it is a matter of: take these steps, implement this process. It’s work; hard work. People resist such process changes. But, it is doable.
But, sometimes, the problem is really big. It is some version of this problem:
This person, at or near the top of the organization, needs to change his/her behavior in specific ways. In other words, actual change in the way people act and behave. We may call some of these kinds of changes “soft-skills” changes. But there is nothing soft about them. And they can make a huge difference.
So, I was asking this consultant, how do you get someone to make such a big change. Especially when this change may be related to a career-long (multi-year) weak spot. He acknowledged that sometimes, the person does not change. And unless he actually owns the company, that can be the beginning of the end.
And he said that in order to get them to change, you have to hit them with a great big two-by-four. (Note to reader – this is metaphorical). You have to really, really, really get their attention. And only when they say, “Yes, I in fact do have this problem” is there then any chance of change and progress.
In the ancient field of rhetoric, this is akin to the idea of stasis – you bring the person (the audience) to a standstill; a point at which they say “I can’t keep thinking, feeling, and/or acting this way.” (You know, Step 1 of the Twelve Steps…)
Until a person comes to that point, there is no chance for the needed change to come about.
And, if you study books about top leaders (Focus by Daniel Goleman is one such book), you learn that the higher up a person is in an organization, the less likely it is that someone can or will wield that two-by-four.
So, maybe what many leaders need is a good encounter with a well-placed and well-timed two-by-four. Which leaders have the guts to seek out such an encounter; or to even allow that encounter? And which leaders are lucky enough to have someone around them who will do the wielding?
We have presented very few books about the brain at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas. Yet, the business world remains fascinated with it.
You are familiar with old-fashioned, yet highly understandable conceptions, such as “left-brain logical” and “right-brain creative.” And, you likely remember the book published in 1998, Time Management for the Creative Person: Right-Brain Strategies for Stopping Procrastination, Getting Control of the Clock and Calendar, and Freeing Up Your Time and Your Life by Lee Silber (Three Rivers Press).
So, even though there is no chance that we will present a synopsis of this book at our monthly event, I thought our blog readers would be interested in the newest work on this subject. On February 3, 2015, Michael S. Gazzaniga published Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience (Ecco/Harper Collins).
First, who is Michael S. Gazzaniga? Here is his biography from the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB):
Michael Gazzaniga is Director of the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at UCSB. He is the president of the Cognitive Neuroscience Institute, the founding director of the MacArthur Foundation’s Law and Neuroscience Project and the Summer Institute in Cognitive Neuroscience, and a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Academy of Sciences. He received a Ph.D. in Psychobiology from the California Institute of Technology, where he worked under the guidance of Roger Sperry, with primary responsibility for initiating human split-brain research. He subsequently made remarkable advances in our understanding of functional lateralization in the brain and how the cerebral hemispheres communicate with one another. He has published many books accessible to a lay audience which, along with his participation in the public television series The Brain and The Mind, have been instrumental in making information about brain function generally accessible.
Second, what does this book accomplish? From the Blackstone Library web site, I found this review:
This book tells the impassioned story of his life in science and his decades-long journey to understand how the separate spheres of our brains communicate and miscommunicate with their separate agendas. By turns humorous and moving, Tales from Both Sides of the Brain interweaves Gazzaniga’s scientific achievements with his reflections on the challenges and thrills of working as a scientist. In his engaging and accessible style, he paints a vivid portrait not only of his discovery of split-brain theory, but also of his comrades in arms—the many patients, friends, and family who have accompanied him on this wild ride of intellectual discovery.
On February 24, 2015, Sally Satel reviewed the book in the Wall Street Journal. You can click here to read her commentary. She ends her review with this touching note:
Tales From Both Sides of the Brain will be cataloged as scientific autobiography, and that it surely is. But it is as much a book about gratitude—for the chance to study a subject as endlessly fascinating as the brain, for the author’s brilliant colleagues and, mostly, for the patients who taught him, and the world, so much.
Since it is not a best-seller, it does not qualify for one of our books that we present. But, if you have followed the evolution of this topic over the years, this book appears to be worth your time.
The newest book from Ram Charan was released yesterday (2/24/2015). We have presented so many of his books at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas that I am almost certain that we won’t do this one. But, I thought that our blog readers would like to know that he has another book out.
The book is entitled The Attacker’s Advantage: Turning Uncertainty into Breakthrough Opportunities (Public Affairs: 2015). On its first day of release, it shot to the top of Amazon.com’s Planning and Forecasting sub-section of Business Book Best-Sellers. The reviews on Amazon.com are enthusiastic, but as always, we don’t know where they come from or how they got there.
Here is the description of the book from Amazon.com:
The forces driving today’s world of structural change create sharp bends in the road that can lead to major explosions in your existing market space. But exponential change also offers exponential opportunities. How do you leverage change to go on the offense? The Attacker’s Advantage is the game plan for winning in an era of ambiguity, volatility, and complexity, when every leader and every business is being challenged in new and unexpected ways.
While many leaders know how to cope with operational uncertainty—when, for example, revenue fluctuates—the same cannot be said for dealing with structural uncertainty that can alter the money-making patterns of a company, industry or entire economic sector…. [The book demonstrates] the huge upside offered by structural uncertainty and provides the concepts and tools—such as being able to spot the catalysts of disruption, building organizational preparedness, developing a financial understanding of the consequences—to take advantage of forces that are creating new customer needs, market segments and ways to make money.
The book has four major sections:
1. The Fundamental Leadership Challenge of Our Time
2. Building Perceptual Acuity
3. Going on the Offense
4. Making the Organization Agile
Some summaries of Charan’s earlier books are available at 15MinuteBusinessBooks.com.
Only time will tell whether this is a valuable contribution to the business literature. But, from the first day of its release, it is certainly off to a smashing start.
If this is a time for life-long learning… If, as Peter Drucker says, the only real job security comes from your own ability to learn… if staying current, and ahead of the curve really matters… then ask yourself this simple question: What are you, personally; what is your company, and the team members in your company; doing to stay current, to stay head of the curve?
You and your team need to learn some stuff; to “get away to think about big-picture issues.” …Or, you and your team need to tackle a specific area of need.
But, getting away costs plenty – plenty of money, plenty of time.
Or… maybe you have a need to do some personal “catching up” just for yourself.
Select 3-5 of our book synopses, listen and follow along together, (or, by yourself), and have your own “what do I/we learn from this” conversation.
Each month at the First Friday Book Synopsis, we present synopses of two useful, important business books. (We’ve been holding these sessions since April, 1998). We prepare multi-page, comprehensive handouts. And we record our presentations (15-17 minutes, usually).
You can purchase these from our companion site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com. You receive our handouts, plus the audio recordings.
So, gather around your conference table, hand out the handouts, listen to the recordings, and then discuss the implications for your company.
Here’s a sample mini-seminar on “Let’s think About Innovation Challenges”:
Order our synopses for:
The Second Machine Age
Zero to One
How Google Works
In a two-three hour mini-seminar, you can learn the key content of these books, and have a great team conversation.
(You can of course, peruse our catalog, and put together your own mini-seminar).
You might want to read this blog post, 12Vital Signs of Organizational Health, to get some ideas of “areas” to tackle for your own mini-seminars.
Give it a try. Click here to visit our site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
(Yes, I am aware that going to an actual seminar provides great interactions, the “networking” that is so critical to business success. This “create your own mini-seminar” can’t provide or replace that aspect of a good seminar. But, it can provide content from the very best business books, and that might be enough to get your juices flowing!).
Dick and Emily Axelrod come from a long line of entrepreneurs. So it was no surprise when in 1981 Dick left General Foods to form The Axelrod Group. At the time Emily was studying to get her second masters degree, in Social Work.
At the same time as Dick was leaving General Foods, his friend and colleague Jim Shonk landed a huge contract with Ford and needed help. This kickstart from Jim was just what the fledgling Axelrod Group needed to get started. Emily in the meantime was honing her skills as a family therapist. Periodically, Emily would work with Dick to conduct communication skills training programs.
During the early 1990’s, Dick was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the approach most consulting firms were using to bring about organizational change. You know the process: it consists of sponsor groups, steering teams, and project groups, all organized to create the change. When these groups finished their work, they then faced the arduous task of “selling” their solution to the organization. This need to sell the solution brought many a change process to its knees.
Out of this dissatisfaction, Dick and Emily developed the Conference Model®–a process for involving the “whole system” in creating organizational change. Every new idea needs someone who is willing to try something that is unproven, and Ken Goldstien, who at the time was Director of Organization Development at R.R. Donnelley and Sons, was willing to give this untested idea a chance when no one else would. Because of the early success at R.R. Donnelley, companies like Boeing, British Airways, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, INOVA Health System, Weyerhauser, and the Canadian and UK health systems were able to benefit.
At the height of this innovation, Dick had triple bypass surgery, and that is when Emily jumped into The Axelrod Group with both feet. Along the way, colleagues have joined the Axelrod team, and this worldwide network provides a range of skills that enrich The Axelrod Group’s offerings.
Dick wrote Terms of Engagement: New Ways of Leading and Changing Organizations, published by Berrett-Koehler (May 2000) with a paperbound edition published in 2010. He and Emily then co-authored Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done, also published by Berrett-Koehler (August 2014).
Here is an excerpt from Part 2.
* * *
When and why did you decide to write Terms of Engagement?
Dick: It was in 1998 when we were working with Peter Block in what he called the School for Managing and Leading Change. The school brought together teams from the for-profit and not-for-profit world in a series of workshops to learn about organizational change. Each team came with a change project in mind that they worked on during the school. If a team from a for-profit organization wanted to come to the school, they had to fund a not-for-profit team’s tuition. It was in the school where Emily and I learned that our ideas had currency in a larger context than our own consulting clients. People were always asking, “When are you going to write your book?” Finally, I got the courage to do so.
Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.
The first was that I was a terrible writer and needed help. Our son, who is a very good writer, read the first chapter and said it was awful, he was bored to death, and many other not so positive compliments which I probably have repressed. I had a conversation with Richard Heckler one day about my frustration with writing and he said, “You are not a professional writer; what you need is a writing coach.” So I went out and found one and have continued to use a writing coach for every book I have written.
To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?
I think it shifted from a tool book to a book of core principles because core principles are the most powerful tool anyone can have. Every organization is different and there is not a one-size-fits-all change process. But if you have a set of core principles to follow, you can approach any situation with confidence. This was driven home to me when we worked with Boeing Engineering following the strike in 2000. The goal was to increase what we now would call employee engagement following the strike. Actually it was to renew the culture and heal the wounds following the strike. I had a great client in Hank Queen, to whom I could say, “I don’t know how to do this, but here are some principles I think we should follow.” Hank got it and his story is in the second edition of Terms of Engagement.
You assert that this “is the first book to challenge the widely accepted change management paradigm.” What are that paradigm’s core principles and values?
Here’s a graphic:
Most of the companies annually ranked among the most highly admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those that are most profitable and have the great cap value in their industry. Presumably you agree with me that that is not a coincidence.
How right you are. What these companies are doing is unleashing the power of their intellectual capital. This occurs when people experience meaning, challenge, learning, autonomy, and feedback in their work. When they know their voice counts and they are proud of what the company stands for and its place in the community.
I’m currently working with an American manufacturing company in Turkey to improve employee engagement. One of the things the company has going for it is people are proud to work for an American company. When they need a loan at the bank, they get a better rate because they are seen as being less likely to default on the loan, and their neighbors and family think more highly of them because they are working for an American company. Additionally, because the company’s product is used in pharmaceuticals and making baby formula, they feel proud to be helping improve people’s health.
As you already know, major research conducted by reputable firms such as Gallup and Towers Watson indicate that, on average, less than 30% of the workforce in a U.S. company are actively and productively engaged; the others are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively disengaged, undermining the company’s success. In your opinion, what’s the problem?
I think there are several reasons:
First, I would go back to meaning, challenge, autonomy, learning, and feedback. The extent to which these are missing in a job or the work environment, the more disengaged people become. Many people feel under-utilized at work. They feel confined, with little opportunity to use their full talents, and that in many ways they have to leave the best part of themselves at home.
Second is the breakdown of the old contract between the employee and the employer. When people experience that the company owes them no allegiance, they put less energy into the work. There are also employees who fell entitled and that they don’t owe the company anything for their paycheck. They act as independent contractors where their first allegiance is to themselves and they owe little or nothing to their employer.
Third is the “engagement industry” of which I guess I am a part. Many organizations are touting the benefits of employee engagement, increased productivity, customer satisfaction, safety, and even health. However, they approach employee engagement as something to be done to people.
I believe engagement is a choice that both leaders and employees make. Leaders choose to create the kind of work environment where people may choose a higher level of engagement. Employees choose the level at which they engage in their work. Once leaders recognize that authentic engagement is a choice everyone makes, that leaders can create conditions where engagement can flourish, but in the end people will choose to engage or not, that changes everything. It’s the difference between ordering people to join you and inviting people to join you, knowing that some will not accept your invitation.
Finally, what I learned in working with Hank Queen at Boeing was that when you ask people what they care about at work and why, and then help them find ways to have more of what they care about show up at work on a regular basis, both the organization and people benefit. In his case, there were productivity improvements of more than 25%.
To what extent are supervisors responsible for the problem?
What the research says is that leaders have a great deal of influence, but I think it is easy to blame supervisors for the lack of engagement. The way a supervisor treats the people who work for him or her does influence their engagement, but its more complex than that.
Supervisors work within a system and culture where they may or may not feel engaged. They may feel constrained by the culture and system in the way they would like to operate.
Which strategies and tactics do you recommend to improve the percentages?
These seem to be especially effective:
1. Involve people in change that impacts them.
2. Design jobs and teams where there is meaning, autonomy, challenge, learning. and feedback.
3. Go beyond the numbers. The goal should not be to improve the numbers. Rather the goal is to create an engaging work environment and the numbers are measures of how well you are doing. Be careful with surveys and look for other results and unintended consequences. As a PhD scientist once told me, when you decide the measures ahead of time, that is all you will see, and significant findings and learning’s may go unnoticed.
4. If you are a leader at any level, engage people in a mutual conversation about what you care about at work and why. Also ask this question in a team environment. Then ask what people can do to bring more of what people care about at work into work on a daily basis. You will be glad you did.
* * *
Here is a link to all of Part 2.
To read Part 1, please click here.
Dick and Emily cordially invite you to check out the resources at this website.
So, recently, I had a call about some people serving in the top levels of a company. As a group, they are tasked with pretty important responsibilities. A budget in the many millions. Organizing and overseeing big, big projects. And, a set of skills that they have developed that bring the admiration of the many they lead, and success to their endeavors.
But, for a few of them, they have had the same problem for ..well, maybe, probably, their entire career.
Their problem – they are not all that good in front of an audience. Their presentation skills (speaking skills) do not match their other skills.
And, every one of them has watched speakers who are good (and others, not so good). They have had to give plenty! of presentations. But they have apparently not gotten much better at this.
How to explain this?
Simple… they think this is not worthy of their time. If they thought it was, they would tackle this issue as they do other issues that require attention and work. They would read, watch themselves on video, critique their own speaking, asking:
How are my gestures?
How is my diction, my enunciation?
Do I avoid speaking in a monotone?
Am I engaging my audience(s)?
Are my ideas easy to follow?…
In other words, they would work at getting better at this.
When one of the people they lead has a deficiency, they demand that that person seek help to improve, in order to get better. They should hold themselves to the same standard – the same need to improve in their areas of weakness.
The fact that they have not improved means that they haven’t taken it seriously enough.
Big, big mistake!
Until we have telepathic abilities, where we can just shoot our ideas from our own minds into others’ minds (someone’s bound to be working on this somewhere!), we have to rely on words and sentences and verbal presentations to get our ideas from our minds into the minds of others. And, any company that is bad-to-mediocre, (anything less than excellent), at this communication transfer is going to be frustrated, and discover that needed progress will be harder to come by because of their failures to communicate effectively.
If leaders want their people to get better at the tasks required to do a job well, it is time for leaders to get better at one of their jobs: the task of communicating.
So… ask yourself – are you getting any better at communicating clearly, in front of an audience, and through your e-mails, and in one-to-one conversations?
If not, then it’s time to tackle this communication challenge. GET BETTER AT IT!