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The Change Equation, The Change Curve, and other Human Dynamics Affecting Your Organization’s Ability to Continually Execute Change


The greatest challenge in any organization is staying relevant. To stay relevant requires change and innovation. However, there are multiple human factors working against change and to be successful at continual change requires knowing the basis of human psyche and an understanding how your communication affects current and future changes – to build a culture of change.

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Learning Objectives:

  1. Illustrate how people’s experiences, level of trust, and inherent behavior and psyche can frustrate an organization's ability to execute change.
  2. Provide a number of models that are useful for understanding those dynamics.
  3. Provide discrete strategies and examples of how to execute continuous change in your organization.

Webinar Transcription

Steven Olson, MS, HP (ASCP):

What I'm going to be presenting to you here today is what I consider some very foundational information as far as dealing with people. I've been using this information, and it to be very popular in the things that I present to folks and work with and use very much day-to-day for probably close to 20 years. I continually am being asked to present this information. I hope you find it valuable.

Program Objectives

What I'm going to try to do today is try to illustrate for you how people's past experiences, levels of trust, their behavior styles, and even their basic human psyche can frustrate your organization's ability to make change, whether that change is just moving instrumentation around the laboratory or bringing on new testing, or whether that is advancing your organization growth and doing brand new things in brand new ways. I hope to provide you a number of models that I find useful for understanding these dynamics, rather than having to remember complex ideas. We're going to try to boil them down in to a model, a picture, if you may. Then, provide some discrete strategies on how to deal with some of the continuous change problems.

You think this program is about change, and it is. This slide says it's all about communication. My mentor of many years says that 98% of all issues in life are communication related. I have found very few examples in my day-to-day work where communication didn't play a major role in the failure to execute change or to the lack of obtaining change in any way, shape, or form. I find this very useful.

The Basics of Effective Communication

What I'm going to show you today are the change equation, the change curve, the SHAPE of people, and the 5 C's of trust, and show you how they relate to working with people and executing change in your organization.

Module 1: Exceptional Interpersonal Communication

Now, let's take a look first at how to deal with people one-on-one, exceptional interpersonal communication. We'll talk about what I call effective communication, not efficient communication, but effective communication. The way to measure the effectiveness of something is to look at outcomes. What are the results from it? Sometimes, how you look at something determines what the results are. You probably have to know that it's a process. It's not a point in time, and we'll get in to that a little bit later. It's a process that provides people with the information necessary to make timely and informed decisions if they're making those decisions. Sometimes that decision is just whether to get on board with whatever change you have. Or, it's the process that helps people understand that timely and informed decisions were made.

Now, we can study this by looking at communication, but that's a huge, huge thing to look at. I go back to when I was a young child. I think I was 8 or 10. My father was a long wave physicist for one of the national labs, and his job at the time was to study long waves coming off the sun. I found it very oxymoronic or strange that he would get in an air force large jet airplane with an instrument to study the sun, and yet fly across the country under the shadow of the moon during the eclipse to study the sun. I said, dad, if you're studying the sun, why are you in the shadow of the moon where there is no sun? He said to me, we have to get rid of all the noise coming away from the sun to get at just what we want to study. He was studying long wave physics and long waves coming out of the sun. I found that interesting, and later in life I reflected upon that. Sometimes there's so much information coming out about communication that to understand it correctly would probably be best done by blocking out most of the noise and getting at perhaps what might be best, which is the antithesis, the opposite, of good communication, and that is poor communication.

Barriers to Effective Communication

These five things are what I've found to be great categories to fit these communications in to, these back communications. These are the barriers: Untimely communication, incorrect communication, lack of communication, misunderstood communication, and of course the great communicator, body language, which is really a big challenge in this new electronic world where everybody is digital, phone conferences, emails, etc.

Let's get in to these a little bit. Let me give you some examples of some of these. Here's an example of untimely communication. Four o'clock on a Thursday, Bill has got an anniversary dinner with his wife at 5:30 at some nice restaurant, and his boss comes to him at 4:00, Bob, and says I've got a report due at the vice president's meeting tomorrow morning. Can you get me the financials for the past six months by the time you go home tonight? This is a several hour task, so Bill's got to call his wife and say I don't know what's up. This is a big hurry, etc. Just being that it's in a hurry, number one, and number two, it's late, indicates several things to Bill. Something's up. This is an example of untimely communication.

He's not very happy with his boss at this point in time. He gives the report to him the next morning just before the board of directors meeting or the manager's meeting, and his boss retorts back to him and say's did I say all the financials? I meant to say just the expenditures by financial class, which in most finance systems is a 15-minute job to do. Now, he's worried about making his boss look bad in front of his bosses. He might have the wrong information. It's too much to digest in a big meeting. He's really worried about things. This is incorrect communication. He and his boss did not fully understand what each was communicating or hearing. This is not off to a good start.

Now comes what's called backchannel communication. Because there was a lack of communication, what I'll call a black hole. I'll refer to black holes all throughout this presentation. If there is no reason given, people start making up reasons. So, he starts thinking to himself or talking down in the lunchroom, I wonder what's up. Bob really needed that information in a big hurry. Now he's worried about his job, about paying his mortgage, etc. So, the lesson to be learned here, guys, is without the real reason being said and understood, any reason has validity. You'll often notice that when you go around and talk to people, people are making up stuff that's incorrect, because they don't have the correct information. They have a lack of information.

Then comes misunderstood communication. Here's perhaps another example. Your boss runs your lab, sends out an email, says there's no place for breaks in our organization. Your first thought is he's outlawing taking breaks. It's not going to be very popular with the staff, but you go to him and you talk to him, and what he meant to say was there's no place for our people, no physical place for our people, to safely and comfortably take a break outside of the hazardous areas at the laboratory. So, he's essentially trying to be good to the employees, but that communication was misread or misunderstood by the people who read it.

Then, of course, there's body language. Anytime you talk with someone you may read their body language. Most people do it, but don't even realize it. Even in our modern world, sometimes we're a little bit numb to subtle cues of body language. What do crossed arms mean? Certainly that the person is very reluctant to listening to you. Turning sideways to the speaker gives the impression that the listener is interested in walking out of the room so that they don't have to listen to you. Looking at your watch says you're impatient or you're using up my valuable time with your petty concerns or whatnot. All these things can be important, not only as a listener, but as a speaker to read body language, but also to cast the correct body language. I'm a big fan of Dilbert, so I always use Dilbert examples. Sometimes I read these and think who's in my business making cartoons about the people I work with? You may know some of these folks. Here, the boss comes in. He says, "Alice, I'm sending you to a communication class, because I've noticed that your words often say one thing, while your body language says another." He says, "Frankly, it's creepy." While she's grimacing with this angered look on her face, she says, "Thank you. I appreciate the useful feedback." So, there's a disconnect there that's often read.

That's very difficult in our modern world, where we're communicating over the phone or we're communicating via email, to read body language in to something. Sometimes an email that sounds—if someone were to read it or to speak it to you, it's pretty benign, but if it comes over in an email in all capitals, then the audience gets this impression that they're being yelled at, and the information is misconstrued. It's a big, important thing when you get in to communicating. We're talking about making effective change over a long period of time, not just a single point in time, but effective, long-term change for your organization.

The Solution

Let's take a look at perhaps some solutions for fixing some of this. Let me take a quick drink here. I'm getting a little bit dry this afternoon. The solution is essentially four points here. Number one, you need to seek to understand. Understand your audience. Who are they? What do they look like? What are their experiences, those kinds of things? We'll get a little deeper in to each one of these. Understand the basis of every relationship is trust, and over time you need to build trust in order to drive further change. Understand the foundation of human nature. What makes up people from just being a person? You need to understand your message before you send it. A lot of communication messages when they're outbound are very mistyped, misstated, incorrectly stated, not completely stated, etc. Understand that each communication is a message in a process. It's a two-way interaction in time that happens over a good period of time. You can learn to become a better communicator and teach others to become better communicators. Then, you need to learn by listening. Always go back at the end and find out whether or not your communication is healthy at the end.

Let's look in to a little of detail on several of these items. First, seek to understand, which is before seeking to be understood. It's important. I think you may have heard nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. Certainly, that plays in here first. I think you need to understand who you're communicating to. What is the SHAPE of your people or your person that you're trying to communicate to? What is their strength? What are they really good at? What can they take? What kind of communication style really works with that person? What is their heart? Are they very brittle? Are they very resilient? Those kinds of things. What is their attitude? Are they resistant to new ideas? Are they the first adopter in your group? What is their personality? Are they outgoing or withdrawn? What are their experiences through time that may color the way you might work with some people? These all come from a book that I reference at the end that I find to be a very, very useful tool and something I hand out anywhere I go. We'll talk a little bit more of that.

If you're going in to talk to an employee or if you're going in to talk to a pathologist about something, you might want to sit down and jot down a few notes about the SHAPE of that person, which may color the way you deal with that person, either in written or verbal or whatever way you communicate with them. It's important to understand your people first.

The second part of that is to understand that the basis of all relationships is trust. I've always dealt with the problem of trust, but I've never bumped in to something that I think I could grasp on to until I read a book on trust by Les Csorba, which, again, is referenced in the back. He talks about what he calls the five C's of trust. Through it all, people want to know that you care about them. Through it all, people want to know that you will act consistently. Through it all, people want to know that you will be competent. Through it all, people will want to know that you will speak with candor. Through it all, people want to know that you will act with congruity. Those are the five C's: caring, consistency, competency, candor, and congruity.

Each communication is not seen in a vacuum. It's seen as a part of experiences with you. But, what you've got to know, I think, is they don't expect perfect competency, they don't expect perfect candor, they don't expect perfect consistency, as long as you care about somebody. Caring has the biggest impact on trust than do the other four elements alone. Not to say that if you care about somebody, but treat people differently, that you'll get anywhere, but notice that caring has the biggest impact on building trust than do any other factors in trust building.

Now, let's get on to the foundation of understand the foundation of human nature. People act in accordance in which they were trained or are being trained. I'm going to point you back, if you get some time after this session, to go Google a social experiment done on chimpanzees called The Five Monkeys and the Ladder. Many of you may have heard this story about workplace social interactions. This was conducted by G.R. Stephenson and some others, Wolfgang Kohler, back in the 1920s. What they did was take five monkeys and put them in a cage or a container, and they put a ladder up to some bananas hanging above the ladder. Every time one of the monkeys or one of the chimpanzees would climb the ladder to get the banana, they would take a cold water hose and hose down all the rest of the monkeys down in the bottom, not the monkey climbing up, but all four that were left behind. Over time, what that did was teach the monkeys in that cage that if anybody goes up and gets bananas there's a certain negative reward that happens with that. They soon learned to bring that monkey down, to beat him up, and to prevent them from climbing up to get that banana. That's in interesting study in itself, but they took it on to the next phase, where they slowly, over time, removed each monkey and replaced him with a brand new monkey. So, at one point in time, all the monkeys in the cage had never been hosed with cold water when other monkeys went to get the banana. That behavior continued. It was a learned social behavior. If any monkey started to go up that ladder for that banana, the rest would pull him down. They had not experienced that themselves, yet they had learned this behavior.

Think about the situations that have happened in the last 10, 20, 30 years of your work life that have disincentivized workers to reach for the banana at the top of the ladder, that have disincentivized group participation, which disincentivized doing something new or making some change in your organization. That's a really powerful model of what happens in a social situation like work.

The second part here is that people at the most basic level of their psyche need three things. That's identity, security, and value. Now, many of you might have attended a college where you took a class in psychology, one of the general liberal arts classes, where you may have run in to this psyche model called Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. What that hierarchy, that pyramid, describes is that as you fulfill each layer of your psyche, you reach for fulfillment at a higher level. Basic level of fulfillment is just water and food and shelter and clothing. The next layer is fulfillment of other items. Then, at the top you have this need to fill yourself with self-entity, with an ongoing beyond-the-grave reputation, if you will. As you fill in those lower areas, you move to fill them in. Now, a lot of the sales people in the 50s and 60s were taught to use that, and that's why some of your commercials today almost use Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to remove some level of your psyche in order for you to buy their item to fill it. So, you see these commercials for beer, and everybody's having a good time. They're in a nice beach house, and they're playing in the sand, and they're drinking beer around a campfire, and somebody who's sitting at home says, you know what; I don't have all those things. There's something missing from my life. I need to go out and buy that beer, so that I can fill that void in my psyche. That's the use of Maslow's Hierarchy of Need. I don't want us to think of this thing as manipulating people. You just have to reward these basic elements: their identity, their security, and value.

The Change Equation

Let's move on a little bit to a model that perhaps might explain most of the places you work in. That is called the change equation. This is kind of an easy way to understand the basic forces of change. Let me explain what these anagrams stand for. C equals change. You get change when there's pain, but if you just have pain and no vision of where to go or the first practical steps of where to get there, all you get is chaos. All you get is pain causing everybody to run around trying to fix the pain by doing whatever they can think of. So, as a leader, you need to provide a vision, relentlessly communicate your vision of where to go, and then provide the first practical steps of where to do. It doesn't mean as a leader you're supposed to solve all the problems. Most of the modern world uses the Toyota system of employee involvement to understand process improvement and where to go, but somebody has to come up with some first practical steps on how to get there.

These are the things that drive forward momentum, a change, in your organization. You can use pain to your advantage. I do not recommend it, like a lot of young managers do. They use pain in order to cause change. I do not recommend that. You can still take advantage of the pain that happens in your workplace in order to drive change, but you need to use it with a vision of where to go, plus first practical steps. Your role as the leader is to provide the V and the F in this equation.

Let's go on here to understanding your message. You need to understand your message before you send it. I don't know if you have a boss like mine, but he has a rule of thumb, and it's actually a literal rule of thumb. You better not send him an email that is wider, taller than his thumb is wide. He'll put his thumb right up on the screen, and if you're one line over, he purposely ignores it. He is trying to train us to communicate concisely, I think partially, but partially because I think he's very busy, and if you send him a big email he has to spend a lot of time digesting it.

Communicate concisely. Boil it down into the minimum number of tasks. Make sure you communicate expectations for those tasks. Don't you ever take on a task where you don't know the expectation. When do they want it? What's it to look like? Etcetera. You'll never be successful, if you don't know the expectations for the task you're doing. If you're giving a task be very clear about your expectations. What is it supposed to look like? When is it due? All the aspects of your expectations, so that people can learn to be successful. Give the person to whom you communicate a view of where they fit into the bigger picture. If you ask somebody for something, say, hey, it's really important we do this, because this gets us a better advantage over our competitors, or this will cut overtime, or this will cut whatever. You need to reward their identity, their security, and value, if you want them to be a part of change with you.

You need to communicate caringly. We communicate with people. Therefore, each of your messages need to have a human element in them. Why is it important? What is the caring element? Etcetera. You need to be trustworthy. Again, when I say trustworthy, now you know what the means. That's the five C's, so that you exactly know what trust looks like.

Then, we need to communicate with "trust language." I won't get in to that in today's session, but "trust language" is we, us, together, etc., as oppose to you, them, etc. We can get in to some of that later, at another session.

Understand that each communication is a process. It's a two-way interaction through time. Don't think of things as I send an email. How come nobody did it? You really need to understand that both of you are responsible for timelines, even though you delegate it to somebody, you've just delegated it. If you did not advocate it, you delegated it to somebody, go by and check on them to see if they understood it, see if they understood the deadline and check on the progress towards that deadline. You need to make sure that you understand it. Don't accept a task or an email if you don't understand it. Go find out what it was about. If you're unsure your people understand it, go out there and ask them. Hey, I sent an email today. Did you understand what I'm asking? You're both responsible for maintaining trust. Again, here, trust is the 5 C's. Both are responsible for training behavior. You may have inherited coming in to an organization a lot of broken people who probably have been pulled and moved in a hundred different ways in their lifetime and their work time, may be experiencing trouble at home, whatever. You need to start training better behavior, or you're consistently going to have to deal with those of their history in your life.

The last is number four, learn through listening. You need to ask for understanding. You need to go out and check backchannel traffic, which is if you send out a notification that you have a meeting, you might want to go around and ask some informal leaders, hey, what are people saying about the meeting I had yesterday? What are people saying about us redesigning this whole lab? What are people saying about bringing on R&A detection on an immunohistochemistry machine or whatever it may be? What are people saying about that? Do they think we're full of it? Hey, are they all for it? Some of those kinds of things. Informal leaders are those people who people tend to talk to. They may not have a position of power, but they probably have the ear of the people, and they're good people to go listen to. Of course, read the body language. You're having a meeting. You may look around the room and see the person who's really engaged sitting right next to you leaning forward. They're all gung ho about it. Then, you look down at the far end of the table, and you see somebody doodling on their scratch pad or somebody leaned back in their chair with their arms crossed, and you may want to draw them in or figure out why they're resistant to your ideas.

Then, sometimes people just have to ruminate on things. They just have to think about it a little bit. How many times have you been asked a question, and you didn't know the answer? You have the best answer you could, and then when you're driving home that day, you think, oh man, I wish I'd thought of that, etc. We tend to think over things, and that process sometimes helps people understand things. Go back and ask about it later, after it's had time to sink in a little bit.

That's pretty complex. It's a lot of slides to talk about just talking with people. Now, we're going to get in to a more complex arena.

Module 2: Exceptional Organizational Communication.

We're going to talk about exceptional organizational communication. How do you talk to larger groups of people, five, ten, fifteen people or more when you're trying to make organizational change? This can be a really big channel. Let's look at some examples, again, of the barriers to effective communication in a group setting. Here's untimely communication. Employees working in a laboratory hear on the morning TV news that their company will be closing a local division. Don't you think the employees deserve to hear that before it gets broadcast to the news channels? Some of these examples have actually happened in my lifetime. Poor communication. The employees came to me very upset, because it got announced that something was being sold, and they were very upset.

Incorrect communication. The next morning, some employees come to their manager and ask about the closing. He indicated that he'd been in a meeting last week, a finance meeting, with a discussion about some financial information about the cost of a local operation, and he indicated that must be the reason. This is incorrect. They didn't go to the source. They went someplace else. Again, lack of communication plays a big role.

Misunderstood or lack of communication I think plays a big role in a lot of communication and effective change. Upper management knows that the closing is to reduce the expense of rent and move in to a newer larger facility in the growing part of town. You may be at one of those hospitals that's in a dying part of town, and they may want to get a laboratory out where all the growth is, some new neighborhoods and shopping centers and health systems are going in in the other part of town, and you're having to spend a lot of time running back and forth with couriers, etc., for specimens. That adds to your expense. So, somebody said, hmm, let's close the local division and move someplace else. But, since they never told anybody that reason, now any reason has validity. So, there's lack of communication.

Then, of course, misunderstood communication is related to it. He sends out an email. The CEO says I'll take care of this. I'll tell everybody what it's all about. He sends out an email that says the decision to move this branch comes from our need to strategically leverage our lease-held liability and debt capitalization with our market segment focus. Certainly, most of your employees would have a difficult time even understanding that communication and how it relates to me, the person, etc.

Group Communication Strategies

Here are some group communication strategies. Now, I could send you through a number of slides illustrating some points, and you'd have difficulty remember those. But, what I'm going to show you is a diagram, because I believe a picture is worth 1,000 words. This diagram I think explains the situation of how it should be. This is an interesting phenomenon or an interesting communication strategy, if you will, that's been in use for a number of years. Interestingly, the people who've adopted this the most are the people who build roads and highways in our country. They've adopted this change management curve. I don't know if they have this curve in front of them when they're thinking about this. They probably have a list of check offs to do, but I like a diagram to explain something.

Think about this. They Y axis is resistant to change, so the higher you go up there, the higher the resistance to change. The X axis is time. Think of what would happen if you introduced a change at the same day you decided to make the change. Say, all right, guys, we're going to do a 52-card shuffle, and we're going to totally redesign this laboratory today, without any planning. Let's just make it happen. Your people would probably pull out a gun and shoot you. Let's describe this in the realm of highway management. Say you're driving to work one day. You've got to be there at 7:00 a.m. You have to cross a major river in your city between your house and where your work. To do so, you have to cross over a main bridge. It's a two-lane bride, and there's lots of traffic on it usually. You're driving in a Monday morning, and all of a sudden you get within a couple hundred feet of that, and you see a sign that says bridge closed for construction, will be closed for the following six months. You're like holy cow. Why didn't anybody tell me? In fact, we've been trained as individuals to think that we should tell somebody ahead of a change. This is already coming in to play.

What the highway folks have learned to do is they've learned, if they're going to execute change and not have everybody mad at the orange barrels and the highway and always go over budget and always be late getting the job done, to communicate the change prior to executing the change. So, they spend time sending it out to the newspapers. They send out the message that on June 15th this bridge will be closed for construction. They send it out to the news media, the television station. You hear it back in March that it's going to be closed. It comes out in the newspaper. The highway group may actually hold focus groups for local business like the gas station convenience shop that's on the other side of the bridge that gets a lot of money from this and is now concerned that they won't have revenue for three months while you do this construction, because no one is coming over the bridge. No one is going to buy donuts and coffee on their way in to work. What are we going to do about that, folks? They can work down that resistance by saying, all right, well, it's a two-lane bridge now. What we can do is make it a four lane, and you'll have twice as much business after we're done with construction. Or, they may find some other solution. They're listening to their customers, their public, before executing this change. They may put up a sign ahead of time. Two weeks from today this bridge will be closed, so that as you drive over every morning you get a daily reminder. Maybe you've been out on the highways recently and seen the signs that say this road will be closed for construction, or one lane will be closed for construction beginning Thursday at 7:00 p.m., ending Monday at 5:00 a.m. Giving you a heads up, they are actually working down your resistance to that change.

After they spend a good amount of time listening and communicating, then they can execute change, but realize even if everybody is okay with the idea of change, the changing itself is going to be difficult. You move an instrument from one place to another. They used to turn left to go to the fridge for re-agents, and now they're having to turn right to go for those re-agents. It's just a matter of habit, and changing habits is hard. Try eating something different for breakfast every day of the week. I find that very difficult. I am resistant to change when it comes to my breakfast. You may find yourself in that way.

You would think that doing this, separating these two phases, would cause this project to run longer. You're having to spend all this time communicating about something before you do it. If you get in a rush to do it, however, you will break trust with people, and your ability to execute change in further events years down the line will slowly diminish. In fact, this is the number one reason why executives tend to have to leave organizations. They are brought in to execute change. They execute rapid and fast change without spending a lot of time communicating. Then, they lose trust with the organization. There's a lot of backchannel traffic and people going to the president of the organization saying, man, that was… we were just… that was just shoved down our throats. We don't understand it. Everybody's scared. That kind of stuff. An executive can execute change for a period of time until he breaks trust. At that point, he's totally ineffective and usually is either asked to leave the organization or is so frustrated he leaves the organization. It's because they don't understand the necessity of separating the idea change from the actual change in itself.

I think this model is really good for explaining things. For those who like lists, like I do, I also provide a list here. Number one, think about the effect it will have on people. Be a trustworthy leader through that process. You now know the 5 C's of trust and know what trustworthy means, communicate consistently, caringly, be competent about it, coordinate your timing to manage the resistance to new ideas, start early, folks. The bigger the change, the earlier you start. The harder it is for people to accept, then you're going to have to spend time working down that resistance.

Before any change, make sure that the adverse effects aren't a part of normal communications. You do not want to communicate a change and directly associate it with bad effects. You don't want to hose down the monkeys the instant somebody goes up to get that banana. That's really important. If you're going to train your people to accept new ideas, you're going to have to disassociate the pain of those changes from the ideas themselves.

Coordinate the timing to allow for good two-way communication. Plan your communication, and don't wait for people to walk in your office and say, hey, here's a problem. You're going to have to go out and seek it out. Use your informal leaders, your town halls, any kind of methods you can to find out how people are relating to your communication and the change that you expect.

Use at least three different methods to communicate. I always like verbal personally, because I think every communication needs to be done that way. It's just that in these modern times we can't necessarily do that. We have an operation that's got five separate locations. It's very hard to get to each of those locations in a timely manner, but I think it's important to communicate personally. However, the more important or life changing the communication, the more personal your method should be. Craft your message. Have someone look over it. Have somebody who's an editor. My wife is a technical writer. Sometimes I have her read over my stuff, and it comes back all bloody red, but she's really helped me communicate better using better words, phrasing things in ways that can be understood. Especially for you technical folks who are used to communicating very technical things, you may forget about some of these human words, some of the empathy words that you might want to introduce in to your communication. You're pretty much a this is what we need to do, let's do it, just get with the program, folks, kind of person.

You need to put things in writing. I don't know how many of you have gone to a session, you heard somebody say something, then you walk out and you find out that five different people got five different things from what was said. So, back it up with something in writing. I tend to have meetings first or have group communications first, and then document what was said in an email later to reinforce it, but giving them something they can go back to and refer to in case they misunderstood something that I said.

Post the item where people will gather or pass by. The purpose of billboards, the purpose of those signs that the road people can move around is communicating to people who go over that bridge that the bridge will be closed. Why tell the people on the north side of town, who never cross the bridge, that the bridge is going to be closed? So, they pinpoint where it is, and they move it around. You'll notice those signs move from place to place. That's really important in your workplace. You may have a bulletin board in your coffee shop or in your break room for things, but people walk past those bulletin boards and never look at things. Sometimes you need to put it on an easel and stand it in a hallway. Do whatever you need to do to put it where people don't expect it. You need to meet with your key leaders first. Whey they understand, they can help you communicate. What you don't want to do is not involve your leaders. If you're leaders aren't on board, if you're supervisors are not on board, they will make your live miserable, and you will never make a change. Or, if you get the people involved and not the supervisors, then you've kind of flipped over the power curve, and you've upset people in that way, too.

Then, the message should explain the rationale for the decision, the human rationale. Why are we doing this change? Are you doing it just to make you, the boss, look good, or is this good for us as a company? Will this save time? Will this get us home to our families without spending a lot of overtime? Will this lessen the amount of walking I have to do back and forth between what I have to do every day? You need to communicate human rationale for doing things. If you can't find the human rationale for doing something, then perhaps it's not something that should be done.

Communicate three to five different times. Don't just take one time. Again, it's over time. Communicate. Listen again to see how the backchannel traffic is. See the understanding. Communicate again. In one of the books I'll point out at the end, they have advice that says relentlessly communicate your sense of vision. Continually get out there and say, hey, guys, this is where we're going, and then go and listen to people about how we're going to get there. Which direction? Which methods? Those kinds of things. Again, actively listen. Don't wait for it to come to you. Go out and listen, actively. When, and only when, resistance to the new idea is at a low level, then you can execute your change, and then use trust-building activities through the physical change. Take people by the hand. Be there on the day of change. Help them out, because it's difficult. Just the day that you're driving in to work and the bridge is closed, you're going to have to find a new way. Maybe you didn't test drive it. You didn't understand that I can't turn left at that light at this time of the day. They've got that blocked. Uh-oh, now I've got something else to do. It's just a matter of difference. I've recently had to change my desk. I used to work left to right, putting all my undone work on my left and all my done work on the right. Now, it's backwards, and I'm really having a tough time figuring out what's done and what's not done. So, do that.

If you want to boil it down in to a couple of easy things to remember, drill down to the core of people. Understand their SHAPE, what makes people tick, how they react to things. What kind of social things did they learn through going up in business that affects how they do things? How can you change that? Put your own communications under the microscope. Understand your own communications, what you say, your emails, your voice tone, your body language. Analyze your message for all its smallest parts. Have somebody look it over. Then, listen, of course, to see if your communications are healthy.


Here are some resources that you can go look at. I absolutely love the second one, The Way of the Shepard, by Leman and Pentak. In fact, this is a really great book for learning managers. I hand them to all my managers. I keep a little cheat sheet in my upper right-hand corner of my desk that I can go to all the time. Every time I run across an issue with a person, I think, okay, which of the techniques do I want to use here. It's a $7 book out there on Amazon. I buy them by the case and hand them out. Good to Great, of course, by Jim Collins. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team talks all about trust a basis of that. Some good resources for you if you want to dig in a little further in to these topics.

Questions & Answers

It seems like a lot of things you mentioned would be time consuming. How do you manage to get accountability if you have to constantly go around and prod people on?

MR. OLSEN: Well, yes, it is time consuming. Don't think that communication is not time consuming. But, effectiveness, you have to be effective. One of the problems with accountability in the old days is it was seen more as I'll just threaten them with their job, and they'll be accountable. I think that's what a lot of people equate accountability to. The problem is the people who are working to keep their job are not doing their job. So, accountability has a lot to do with setting expectations.

If you say we've got a month until this deadline, you just go and say if you don't get it done by the end of the month, you're fired, that's not necessarily the best tactic. Yes, it takes some time to craft in to people accountability. I tend to do this. I say you've got a month to do it. I'll check in with you next week and see how it's going. If my boss gives me something to do, I'll say, okay, here's where I am. This is what it looks like. Is this in the right direction? He then has the opportunity to re-direct me if I'm headed in the wrong direction. He understands my pace, what other things are going on, etc. So, accountability comes with working with people and giving them kind of sub-deadlines along the way. I tend to divide a month halfway through, at fifteen days, I'll check with them. Halfway between fifteen and the end I'll check with them. Halfway between there and the end, so that when we come up to the deadline, I know we have got it perfect. They are on task. They understand that I'm measuring them. They work with me as to deadlines, as to what things look like, and we're both going to be successful. They're going to be successful, and I'm going to be successful. That is modern accountability. Yes, that takes time. Yes, that takes good communication. But, if you can retrain people in a few years, they become accountable on their own. You can hand somebody something, and they'll walk in to your office ten days later and say I got this done ahead of time. I know this is what you like. Here's what it looks like. Any last minute changes? You're like, man, I've got the best employees on the face of the planet, because you spent the time investing in them and teaching them a new way.

Next, you mentioned the trust curve. What is that? Where can I find more on how to use it?

MR. OLSEN: Les Csorba's book on trust is great. He introduces the trust curve when he talks about the Enron debacle of a number of years ago. He shows where a company builds trust. It maintains trust over time, but if it loses trust, it doesn't fall down to an entry level trust; it falls in to the negative trust arena, where people are very untrustworthy of big businesses. To recover from that is very difficult. That book gives a lot of insight in to what builds trust. There are five phases to building trust, and you can let them happen over time as you get to know people, as you experience things with them. You may go to retreats with you coworkers where you do trust-building activities, where you learn to trust folks, etc. All those are built to drive trust forward. You can study a lot on trust. The phases of trust. I think even Stephen Covey has a book called "Fast Trust". I'm not a big fan of "Fast Trust", because it seems like a manipulative sales technique, but he essentially works you through the five phases of trust. I do do some teaching on the five phases of trust and how to use trust language and know which phase you're in, which phase you're heading out of, what techniques to use, what kind of language, what communication styles you need to use to build and maintain trust. What you don't want to do is get to a point where you break trust. So, there's a lot of good studying. Maybe I can come back in a few months and do the trust curve, if there's enough interest in that as well. There's a lot. You can go from Les Csorba's book on trust. There are a number of references in the back of that book that will lead you down a lot of those avenues.

One problem we seem to have in our organization is a flood of emails that seem to go nowhere. How do I train people do correctly use email? How can I better manage that communication?

MR. OLSEN: Yes. Emails are the dreaded panacea of modern work. My mentor told me don't feel like you have to answer each email as it pops up. Maybe you just let them sit for a while. He taught me to go in at the top of the hour, and on a busy day the top and the bottom of the hour, and answer emails that occur only after there's been a number of responses. But, he also said to be like a referee. If you get a big fight happening on the field, you get a bunch of emails, everybody's sharing opinions, now this email string is 30 or 40 emails long, you need to blow the whistle, get everybody in a room and say, okay, let's talk about everything. Let's work all this out together, as opposed to wasting everybody's time with a flood of emails. But, partially, you need to learn to communicate and use email correctly.

I tend not to introduce brand new ideas via email, because I know they'd be misunderstood or misread or misconstrued or those kinds of things. I tend to use email as a follow up to a personal conversation or as a conversation starter. In fact, my people got so used to me doing this that I'd send out an email, and I wouldn't get any responses, so I'd go down to their office, and they'd say I knew you'd show up anyway and ask me, so I just didn't even bother responding in email, which is precisely what I wanted to happen, because I wanted to ping them with an idea or some sort of message, but I wanted to go ask them personally, listen to their body language, hash something out with somebody one-on-one, so that I didn't have to play down a lot of broken trust later. It got to the point where my emails were pretty much preemptory strikes for an upcoming business.

I find that you should look at which communication style accomplishes certain things. Introducing new ideas or complex emails are probably the most divisive things in an organization, and should be avoided. Do that face-to-face, at a group meeting, whatever, but follow it up with a written documentation in an email if you need to, so that it can be understood and referred to later.

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