So many great ideas never happen because of communications problems. Here are the five critical strategies for framing and communicating a new idea — and building support for it with at least 10% of the people in your organization.
So many great ideas never happen because of communications problems. Here are the five critical strategies for framing and communicating a new idea — and building support for it with at least 10% of the people in your organization.
It’s that time of year — business planning, which means this is a great time to show how your idea supports whatever your organization’s 2014 mantra may be.
I’ve been fortunate over the past few months to facilitate strategic planning sessions in several very different industry sectors. Yet all shared a common theme:
How can we better focus, collaborate and simplify work?
An incident last week jolted me awake about women in the workplace.
I participated in two days of new employee orientation for a financial services client. About 70 percent of the 40 people in the class were women, the rest men. As part of a group exercise the instructor asked for a representative from each table to stand up and share the group’s work. A man spoke for every group but one, that being my table where I stood up.
I was shocked and saddened. Why are women letting men dominate, even in non-threatening situations like work orientation games?
When I was in my 20s we women boldly stood up and spoke up, knowing that our views were as valuable as the guys, oftentimes even more so. We weren’t very good at slinging the bull shit like some of our fearless men friends. So our responses were often more considered and thoughtful.
We knew we had to speak up. Trailblazers like Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzeg had worked hard and sacrificed much to help us move into the corporate world. We wanted to pay it forward by succeeding and helping other women in their journeys. Having a say and being heard was essential.
When I was working at AT&T early in my career I was promoted into a job where I made $22,000, taking over for a man who hadn’t been performing so well at the job but had been making $48,000. More than double what I was paid for the same responsibilities. I raised this disparity with HR, which told me that the man had more experience, and, confidentially, “if you keep speaking up like this you could hurt your career.” I loved telling that story, and I more loved seeing the pay gap between women and men shrink.
We’ve made such gains over the 30 years, but apparently not enough.
Aside from my fear that women will continue to not get promoted as quickly or make as much as men if they do not speak up and believe in themselves, I worry about businesses being able to adapt and grow. Research shows that the more diverse the thinking an in an organization, the faster and better it can solve problems. If women are submissive, organizational performance will suffer.
I was recently planning a conference with a wonderful, enlightened European man. He recruited the first 12 speakers. Eleven of the 12 were men. When I pointed out this imbalance, he was taken aback. He hadn’t even noticed that he had invited almost all men. I am pleased to tell you that this conference is now equally represented.
Today the Fast Company blog had a story that caught my eye, “Eight Successful Entrepreneurs Give Their Younger Selves Lessons They Wish They’d Known Then.” When I clicked on the story all the entrepreneurs were men. Really? The writer couldn’t find one successful female entrepreneur?
Let’s call the media on this imbalanced view of business.
Let’s also get back to supporting and encouraging women in the workforce.
I don’t know about you, but I thought we had come farther. I thought my diligence in helping and promoting women had worked and now I could move on to new issues.
Just as Sheryl Sandberg is doing with her LeanIn.org, we need to help women stand up and be heard for their considerable talents and perspectives. If they don’t speak up confidently they will be overlooked for promotions and for increased compensation.
Worse, we wont be able to solve the complexity of today’s issues without the equal voices of both women and men, and not just women and men. But people who think differently from one another. Believe me, no one has the answers figured out in any industry.
PS — this Hay Group study just came out yesterday.
When I started my career in public relations it was a function that tried desperately to show value and “results.” The assumption was that lots of press and “awareness” or “impressions” were good, less was less good. None of the PR measurement models correlated to business goals like sales, customer satisfaction, brand preference, competitive intelligence — or the performance drivers of those goals. PR was one of those “have to have” functions and leaders didn’t take it all that seriously. A career in PR, much like its pink cousin HR, was a “soft” career.
One of my good friends, a well known PR executive, and I use to joke that our career goal was to get out of PR because it was so hard to convince executives that it could be and should be something more than publicity and crisis communications. When I ask him how he is he jokes, “Still in PR.”
I see similarities between PR then and social media today. Instead of impressions people are measuring social media “engagement.” But to what end? How does what kind of engagement support what business goals? Alas, I see company reports that show “results” being more and more engagement. 2,000, 5,0000, 10,000 Twitter followers. 3,000 likes on the company Facebook page. 2,000 views of the latest company video on You Tube.
My question is, so what. It’s like the old publicity awareness goal. Awareness of what and how does that help what business strategy.
The potential value social strategies can bring to business is extraordinary. Data mining of unstructured social data to see ways to develop new types of products and services way ahead of competitors. Incorporating social apps into products and services to earn customer preference. Crowdsourcing to develop products and services more quickly and with much more predictable adoption rates.
These opportunities require heavy lifting. Big brain data analysts, developers, new business processes. Willingness to experiment and iterate vs. the traditional research, plan, develop, market (and publicize!) New types of external partner and developer relationships vs. “the agency.” Systems thinkers vs. project managers. You get the picture.
Most companies see social as a better way to communicate. PR on networked, social steroids.
When I was a young woman in PR the president of my company advised me. “If you really want to get ahead, make sure there’s revenue attached to your job.”
If your company wants to get the most value from social, make sure it’s attached to revenue. (Or a worthy strategic equivalent.) Not to meaningless impressions or engagement numbers.
This week behavioral scientist John Furey shares some of his scientific discoveries from his MindTime project. I’ve worked with many different behavioral models, and believe there’s something very big here for marketers, leaders, and each of us as individuals.
Personality tests such as the MBTI are based merely on describing traits and behaviors, categorizing behavioral patterns. MindTime reveals the drivers behind the behaviors and therefore why we behave the way we do, or as scientists might call it, the adaptive value of the behavior. What is significant is MindTime is looking at causation, not simply outcomes.
Understanding why people behave the way they do, rather than simply describing what they do, provides a greater ability to predict what they will do.
MindTime uses a phenomenological framework—Past, Present and Future Thinking—as a means to understand people. These basic concepts of thought— Past/Certainty, Present/Probability, and Future/Possibility—all have adaptive value; in fact, they explain almost all the concepts of the cognitive mind.
So, by measuring how people think, we can use this knowledge to predict behavior, attitudes, and even the personality traits they manifest. By knowing why a person does what s/he does, and the why and how of their strategy, we can use the knowledge in just about any environment to facilitate individual and organizational success.
Here’s a brief snapshot of each:
Our maps provide people with an in-depth interpretative report on their thinking style. It quickly and accurately helps a person to understand the value they bring to the world. We explain a person’s:
The most common comment we hear from people when they take the MindTime profile is “Aha!! That explains so much about me.” When used in team building it provides this same kind of epiphany for our understanding of others.
However, while these insights are invaluable I think there is a more significant learning that comes out of all this that impacts our professional abilities in a profound way.
We each know people who we can rely on to bring ideas, inspiration and a sense of possibility to our lives. In fact, this might describe you. We also know people who are much more likely to bring order, planning, procedures and stability to bear. They’re much more engaged in creating continuity than they are engaged in bringing change. Likewise, there are those among us who are more keenly aware of and driven to understanding the meaning of data and facts. These folks bring us depth of thought, a need for truth and trustworthiness and can be relied on to think deeply about things rather than coming up with ad lib answers to good and necessary questions.
Knowing that a person is driven towards creating order and harmony versus being driven towards opportunities and risk-taking versus being driven towards information and analysis of a situation can change the quality and value of our interactions significantly. It empowers us to manage, motivate, listen and speak in a more empathetic, or at least consciously aware, way.
Empathy, messaging, motivation, management, collaboration, roles, engagement style, motivation, change readiness, adaptability, and so on, are all positively impacted by this basic human awareness of each other.
MindTime can accurately predict how well a team will function at a task or towards a goal in view of the mix of thinking styles of people on the team and the roles people are playing. It can also predict the kinds of pitfalls a given mix of thinkers will encounter, both interpersonally and in team dynamics.
MindTime helps the team understand the thinking styles of each team member so that people can understand and value different people’s contributions. Future thinkers will be focused on possibilities, while Past thinkers will want proof and certainty of ideas, and the Present thinkers will want to be able to predict outcomes. Understanding people’s thinking helps us create the right setup and awareness of what’s really going on instead of leaving us to fix what is bound to go wrong.
People’s thinking processes are very difficult to change so the best strategy is to figure out how we can align our objectives with a person—or group of people’s—natural inclination.
By understanding people’s motivation, which you do by understanding their thinking styles, you can align your goals with their fundamental objective (to pursue Possibilities, Probabilities, or Certainties). Alignment becomes a simpler way to elicit the desired behavior.
Sure, but given that you’re going to blog this why don’t I give you two visual examples and brief explanations?
This first map is of a target market for a product. Through a separate study the ads used were found to be messaging a Future audience. They contained works such as: ideas, possibility, and phrases like “What could you do?” And, ”What’s next?” Can you spot the problem here? Why did the campaign fail?
Yes, the target and messaging was to Future thinking, the audience on the other hand was very much Past and Present in its thinking. A total miss.
The second map is of a group of people recruited to help with brand innovation. These were loyal supporters, not just customers of the brand, recruited by a brand community management company. Remember here, as you look at this map, that the desired outcome was brand innovation. Innovation typically starts with Future thinking. Do you see why brands were often less than enthusiastic about results? The recruited brand community had self-selected. They were of a mind to turn up on time once a week and participate by offering their opinions, predictably Present/Past thinking people.
The conclusion was that this audience, which lacked in Future thinking, was not really innovating at all. They were discussing problems that needed solving and identifying other “new” ways that the product might fit with their needs.
I remember a specific event. I was asked by a headmaster to work with students and faculty on the opening day of school. The Sage School was a new alternative school in Sun Valley, Idaho. On the opening day I addressed the assembled school and everyone learned the simple MindTime model and how it works. We mapped everyone in the school and spent the day practicing how to collaborate more effectively.
We learned how everybody has value to bring if we would only see it. And, by pointing out the likely pitfalls in human communication between the archetypes, we gave everyone both an awareness and tips on how to avoid them, or at least recognize them before they became an issue. I received a wonderful letter from the headmaster about a year later telling how enduring this learning had been and how it was still being used in lots of ways. That kind of work makes my life sweet in a really good way.
I would support any application of MindTime that decreases violence in all of its forms and increases human empathy. That’s the driving force behind all of this work; it is an ideal shared by all of the partners in the MindTime Project.
Note: if you self-identify as a change agent, maverick or rebel at work, Foghound invites you to take a complimentary MindTime thinking analysis test to get a personalized profile of your thinking style, leadership style, relationships needs, communications style, and what you are most likely resist doing. Click here to get your profile, which takes just a few minutes.
If you’re interested in learning more about the potential application of MindTime for your organization, contact Lois (firstname.lastname@example.org) or John (email@example.com).
“The Cardinals are tired of reading about financial corruption, sexual improprieties and infighting at the Vatican. They want a Pope who can get things under control,” explained Father Thomas Reese to Tom Ashbrook on his NPR “On Point” radio show today.
When there are calls to “get things under control” there is no hope for control.
Whether it’s trying to control clergy in the Catholic Church, parents angry over school policies, or customers tweeting unfavorable product reviews, there is no control.
When I hear “get things under control” I know it’s a situation that can only be addressed by getting at root cause issues. It’s not a “handling” or crisis communications issue, it’s a systemic issue requiring that the real problems be addressed.
No new Pope can get the Catholic Church “under control” without addressing some deep seated issues.
No business leader can get customers under control if customers hate the products or customer service.
No school official can get parents under control if they feel their children are not being served.
No politician can get voters under control if they believe the politician is more interested in getting elected than representing their views.
No good can come from trying to control.
I was cleaning my office (!) and found a speech from 18 years ago given by Rod Oldham, of then Bell South, to students at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. In an age of disruption, some “truths” stay constant.
Many people think disagreeing means that we’re being unkind and insensitive. Or impolite. (Egads!) “Let’s take this off line,” they say.
What’s unkind to me is pretending an uncomfortable issue doesn’t exist when everyone knows it does. There’s a tension at work when this happens. Nothing is moving forward, corporate inertia is draining us, and we’re becoming ever more skeptical about the cry for greater collaboration.
Furthermore, the longer an issue is ignored, the more frustrated and demoralized people become. Even worse, trust and respect among people erode. And when that’s gone, the organization gets crippled.
“When someone comes to a meeting and states an opinion or makes a suggestion that his teammates don’t agree with, those teammates have a choice: they can explain their disagreement and work through it, or they can withhold their opinion and allow themselves to quietly lose respect for their colleague,” says organizational health consultant Patrick Lencioni in his excellent book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business.
“When team members get to choose the latter option — withholding their opinions — frustration inevitably sets in. Essentially, they’re deciding to tolerate their colleague rather than trust him.”
More than most, we rebels see healthy dissent as a team sport, where everyone with something to contribute is expected to contribute. If you don’t speak up your silence can be interpreted to mean that you agree and have nothing to add.
We view dissent as a way of together getting stronger, like a team preparing to hike Mt. Everest. All the potential issues are honestly discussed and worked through to increase the likelihood of a successful expedition where no one gets hurt. We’re fed by the positive energy around these conversations. We appreciate and value what our colleagues have to say.
We also listen fiercely and ask frank questions. It’s about inquiry vs. preaching. But most organizations practice advocacy instead of inquiry in their conversations, say Sue Annis Hammond and Andrea Mayfield in The Thin Book of Naming Elephants.
“Advocacy is a win-lose form of communication…each person is trying to convince the other that he or she is right and there is only one right answer. Dialogue assumes people see the world differently…each person assumes he or she can learn something new from others.”
So what can you do to move from advocacy to inquiry? To help foster healthy dissent vs. angry debates? Here are some suggestions.
- How did your thinking on this issue shift?
- What one thing did you find most useful from the discussion?
- What was the high point of this discussion for you?
For more helpful ideas on facilitating healthy dissent, read Carmen’s post, “Advice for Managers: Do You Make It Easy for People to Disagree with You?”
The two-hour session devolved into conversations about personalities, systems limitations, approval hold-ups by the legal department, problems uncovered by market research, frustrations with the sales strategy, and a concluding “why do we keep talking about the same problems over and over?”
People left frustrated, exhausted and angry. Not much of significance had been accomplished. Such a waste of time.
And no wonder. When conversations get pulled into the emotion of drama and problems our primitive brain takes over and shuts off our higher order intelligence, says Daniel Goleman in Emotional Intelligence. In other words, drama begets drama instead of any useful ideas on how to accomplish what’s at stake.
Interestingly I was in a recent academic meeting focused on innovation and creativity that also fell into the rat hole of drama, problems, details, and more drama. Guess how creative and innovative that two hours turned out to be?
Quiet Leadership author David Rock suggests two practices that I find helpful. Agree in meetings on where to focus the conversation: vision, planning, detail, problem and drama. Wherever possible, keep all conversations focused on vision and planning. In this positive, low-anxiety mental state we’re better able to think fully and creatively
When you have to discuss detail, focus on one detail in a 10 minute chunk. After 10 minutes, we lose our ability to concentrate on that topic, says John Medina, author of Brain Rules. “You’ve got seconds to grab someone’s attention and only 10 minutes to keep it. At 9 minutes and 59 seconds, something must be done to regain attention and restart the clock.”
I see another opportunity in staying focused on the bigger picture: it is in this positive frame of mind that we’re more able to disagree in productive, creative ways. Because our minds are calmer and we’re focused on shared goals in this mindset, we’re able to intellectually consider and discuss alternatives. There’s a higher order of thinking that’s possible during this mental state, say the neuroscientists.
Once we get into drama and pointing fingers at people and problems, dissent becomes dangerous and unhelpful.
Not to mention that there’s no emotional energy left for compassion or creativity.
I’ve taken a new professional vow: keep the meetings I’m in focused on solutions, and out of drama and problems. Want to join me?
If you’re in marketing or corporate communications you’ve been in that strategy meeting where someone inevitably says, “We need to do more storytelling.”
But most leaders, marketers and communicators don’t really know what to say when they’re told to “tell a story.”
“About what? To what end?,” many wonder. Others push back, “Oh, I don’t like telling stories about myself.”
Here’s my take. Before telling useful stories, organizations need a narrative, the reason for being. The uber purpose. The big picture context. Then it becomes much easier for people to share anecdotes and stories that support that narrative. More importantly, it helps the people — citizens, employees, customers — understand what’s important and how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.
A narrative is like a clothesline, and you hang your policies from it, says David Gergen, communications adviser to four U.S. presidents. Similarly, companies hang its products and services from the clothesline.
Narratives are simple explanations. You shouldn’t need training for people in the organization to “get it.” (A communications executive of a global company told me that his company has a narrative, but I’d have to read the PowerPoint deck to really understand it. Sounds like there’s more work to do.)
Here are a few examples:
These narratives can be like North Stars — a fixed point in the sky that can be used to guide decisions, serve as a organizing prompt for telling relevant stories, open up thinking about new products or ways to work.
Narratives can also be a quest. I like John Hagel’s view in this Forbes article:
Story chronicles the path and progress of a limited set of protagonists – from the beginning, through the middle, to the end of a story arc. Narratives, in contrast, are designed for a growing number of protagonists — many of whom are yet to be defined — who share a common quest or journey that is yet to be fully resolved or completed.
To help companies find their narrative, I invite people to think of their organization as a cause or movement and speed write a rallying cry, starting with a verb. Or quickly write many responses to the “I believe that ….” prompt about their organization or company. No over-thinking, self-editing or corporate speak. Just ideas, beliefs and aspiration, from the gut.
I’ve also been suggesting to marketing and corporate communications executives that they NOT make this a formal process. Take some narrative possibilities and insert them into casual business conversations. Then into some presentations as a way of setting context to your ideas. See how people react. Ask them, “Does this help you better understand our strategy? Do you see how this new product line fits with our overall business? Can you imagine how this policy falls outside of our focus? Is this something you’d like to be part of?”
See how well the narrative serves you. If it works, quietly seed it so it can grow and serve others without bringing in committees, copywriters, lawyers or naysayers. Insert it into the CEO’s talking points. Use it to frame the next acquisition or product launch. If it helps, then make it better known and part of the company’s leadership strategy.
And if it doesn’t resonate? Keep experimenting.
Finding a narrative gives your organization meaning.
And meaning changes everything.
“Still Waiting for the Narrator in Chief: Why the president lost his ability to tell a story,” by Matt Bai, New York Times Sunday Magazine, 11/4/2012.
“The Pull Narrative: In Search of Persistent Context” by John Hagel
Here’s how I got the group unstuck. It might be helpful to you when someone uses the common “Yes, but we don’t have the money/people/time” refrain about new approaches or ideas.
“You all are stretched to the limit,” I said. “And let’s remember that we find resources for priorities that are important to us. Things that aren’t so important don’t get funded. Maybe the real conversation here is that this program just isn’t that important to the company right now. Maybe you should together decide it’s not important, and stop frustrating yourselves by bringing it up at every strategy session.”
Radio silence. (And one executive quietly laughing in acknowledgement.)
The group decided that the issue is important and they figured out a way to get a basic approach working within the next few weeks. It’s not the Cadillac or Four Seasons version, but it begins to provide value and address a real need in the company.
When someone throws objections, get to the real issue and get out of the endlessly frustrating and unproductive ” why not” objections.
This morning I experimented with a speech I give as part of my pro bono work with hospices. It was a bomb.
Instead of using my usual presentation that people always LOVE, I decided to do something very different. No PowerPoint, no lessons and advice. Just sharing a personal story that I thought illustrates the value of choosing love over fear and worry.
Though people cried and smiled and seemed moved by the story, they were waiting for more. I thought a 20-minute story would be enough. Who wants to sit in a ballroom longer than that? Well, these 200 caregivers and health care professionals certainly did.
Like all experiments we learn from them. But the smack of knowing you didn’t excel can really sting. It can make you want to stay on the safe path. Who wants something to splat when you can do what you know works?
I’m always urging friends and clients to experiment more. It’s the only way to learn, to grow, to innovate.
Yet today I’m reminded why people don’t experiment more.
I learned some helpful things, but I feel badly that I may have disappointed many people this morning who were waiting for an in-depth 45-minute “how to.”
Cue the Gloria Gaynor’s disco song, “I Will Survive.” Turn it up loud.
Keep experimenting even when it hurts.
I knew little about coaching and was curious. This Ivy League university conference seemed like a good place to learn.
The guru started interrogating the woman on the stage with him, cutting her off before she could fully answer his questions, barking that she wasn’t answering his questions, and flippantly responding, “Really? Really?” when she tried to answer the questions.
I couldn’t believe the meanness of it all. So I raised my hand.
Mr. Guru took questions from two people before acknowledging me, both people praising his technique and asking softball questions like, “Do you use the same approach in phone sessions as in-person sessions?”
I stood up and simply said, “ How was that helpful? It seemed intimidating and mean to me.”
Silence grabbed the giant hotel ballroom. Even Mr. Guru was at a loss for words.
He glared at me and gave some innocuous response, adding that he’d be happy to speak to me privately later. He then turned to the sea of people and said that this woman, meaning me, was in error. Because we were so far from the stage we couldn’t observe his body language correctly. If we could see better, we would know that the “young lady’s” comments were off base. (Calling a middle-aged woman a young lady also made my skin crawl; it seemed so condescending.)
There was a break after the role-modeling session. As I made my way to the snacks table people came up to me and said, “Thanks for saying what you did. I felt the same way.” Conversations ensued and I would guess that’s where some real learning happened.
It’s hard to speak up, especially in a huge crowd, especially when you’re not a “subject matter expert” or you’re early in your career or new with an organization.
What if my questions are dumb, we think.
What if they’re not? What if no one speaks up challenging people who treat others meanly, who use professional practices that seem ill founded, who closes down learning and thinking by being smug and sure?
Being an effective maverick and rebel in the workplace doesn’t mean that you need to reinvent your company, create new business models or solve other major challenges.
Sometimes we just need to be the people who are willing to raise our hands and put words to what we and others are feeling.
If not we, who?
I’m in the process of writing a new business book and a book of creative short stories. I love to write, except on the days I hate to write. Those days when I’m stuck, doubting the work, and tired. Then a note like this arrives from people that my sister-in-law’s parents met on a cruise. A husband and wife taking one last trip together; she had been diagnosed with Stage IV cancer and was intent on trying to have the best life possible during the end of life.
The book they mention is “Be the Noodle,” a book I wrote two years ago about helping my mother die. Many days while writing the book I thought I was being self-indulgent, helping myself through writing. Other days I was convinced that people needed to know that they’re not alone as they help a loved one die.
My point is that if our intentions are good, we should put our work out into the world and stop self-judging. Put it out there. Even if you only lift the lives of a handful of people, you have done great work.
Anger is powerful in a good and bad way. It can motivate us to act and it can derail our good intentions and credibility.
Carne Ross, former British diplomat and founder of the Independent Diplomat, quit the British Foreign Service due to his anger over how issues in Iraq and Kosovo were handled by official powers.
The Museum of Modern Art’’s Paola Antonelli nailed an interview that led to her position as senior curator at MOMA by angrily addressing an interviewer’s dismissive statement on design. “Anger can make you do interesting things. Beneficial good can come from positive anger,” she has said
Jay Rogers, CEO of Local Motors, started an open source automotive company based partly on his anger with America’s dependence on foreign oil – and his tour of duty as an elite Marine sniper in the Middle East.
Anger helps us see what we deeply care about, and it pushes us to act on those beliefs.
Anger can also trigger us to say and do things that make us say and do stupid things.
Frustrations can grow so acute that we lash out when we and our bosses, colleagues and/or task forces least expect it, surprising everyone, especially ourselves. We feel momentarily victorious finally saying what needed to be said. The outburst relieves pent-up stress. Then we realize that we have damaged ourselves. People have paid attention to our anger, but not necessarily our point.
When someone or something sets us off our heart starts racing, our jaw clenches, we sweat, our mouths go dry, and the voice in our head barks at us like a drill sergeant, “Set the record straight right this minute, damn it. Don’t be a sissy. Give it to them.”
In a rage we say things that attack. We come across as judgmental and hot headed. When we spew our anger, people usually run for cover or shut down as they wait for us to finish our rant.
Nothing good comes from these outbursts. Most damaging is that our anger gives others the ammunition to discredit us, labeling us as loose cannons, blowhards, short fuses, temperamental, overly emotional, hot headed, immature, unstable, lacking judgment, and maybe even an ass. It is all code for implying not so subtly that we are not a person the organization can, or should, trust.
What a mess.
When you feel you’re about to erupt, call on behaviors that help you cool down before spouting off. This requires enormous discipline and much practice. While I’ve gotten better at doing this through years of experience, there are times I err.
Here are some techniques to consier. See what works for you, and practice, practice, practice. By controlling your anger while also finding motivation from it, you’ll be able to act with more credibility, calm and effectiveness. You’ll also be more receptive to understanding the real obstacles you need to deal with.
- “We’re all feeling frustrated and on edge abut this. How about we go around the room and everyone shares what they’re feeling in a sentence or a couple of words? No interrupting, just everyone calmly telling us his or her position.”
- Or, acknowledge that you’re at an impasse and suggest, “We’re not making progress because emotions are running high, even those that are unstated but bubbling under the surface. Should we adjourn so we can all cool off?
- “Are there any data or research or subject matter experts we could bring into the conversation to help us see more clearly?”
- “Should we get an objective outsider to help facilitate our conversations so that we can resolve this situation?
- These questions recognize the tension and take an active approach to finding ways to address them. Often people suppress their anger, going passive while the frustration continues to build, increasing the chances of a harmful emotional outburst when you least expect it.
- What 10 things worry people most about this idea?
- What 10 pieces of objective data or credible anecdotes would help people open up their thinking around this?
- What are 10 things I can do to move the idea ahead that don’t require approvals and meetings with people who oppose the idea?
- What 10 people could I talk to who could help me see a way to move ahead?
- What are the 10 worst things that will happen if I abandon this idea?
Lastly, accept that some anger will always be present and powerful for rebels, change agents and innovators. . The secret is being aware of the paradox of anger. It can power and it can derail. Use the power, and find ways to stop yourself from doing and saying stupid things when angry.
Note: I’m on vacation this week at a beach community I started coming to as a child with my grandparents. This post isn’t about business, but is a reflection of what it takes to get things done in groups. Whether it’s business or beach communities, it takes patience and a sense of humor.
The Chief wanted to talk crime. The Security Committee wanted to talk flags. But for the beach association members the real issue was golf carts.
The annual Home Owner’s Spring Information meeting to kick off the summer starts at the reasonable hour of 10 a.m., allowing people time for morning runs, usually to Dunkin’ for the old timers, but the new people are more the Starbucks types. (And yes, it’s the spring meeting, held the first week in summer.)
The metal folding chairs are set up in 12 neat rows, with an aisle down the middle, long rectangular function tables in the front for the 12 or so association board members and in the back with a nice spread of Danish pastry, with the gooey raspberry filling melting fast in the already hot day. The coffee urns sit next to cartons of half-and-half.
Everyone in this Cape Cod beach community drinks coffee with extra cream, being mostly from the inner belt of Boston’s Route 128. Hardcore Bostonians at their beach cottages, most with one bathroom for as many people as you can squeeze into the house. (Providing that at least two wheels of each vehicle touch the property; otherwise you could get a parking citation. The two wheels on lawns rule takes an especially creative twist on holiday weekends with the mini-vans.)
Lately folks have been tearing down the old places and building new, with two stories, big porches and two or three bathrooms. Summer living is going through big changes here at Popponesset Beach.
But back to the Community House for the Association meeting, where the petite chairwoman is calling to get started. “There are seats up front, everyone. Let’s get started, we have a lot to cover.”
“We’ve rearranged the agenda this morning because The Chief is here and has some important information about security. So without further ado, Chief…”
“I won’t take up too much of your time this morning, but want to call your attention to something that happened up the road last week. Not in your area, but not too far away.”
With that the local police chief told a story about a couple of bungling burglars, casing houses and making off with televisions and other household electronics in broad daylight. People listened politely, nodding their heads when the Chief said, “If you see something suspicious, call us. We are here 24/7 for you. That is our job. A suspicious person may be nothing. But you never know.
“Here in your neighborhood we got a call last Friday night about a disturbance.”
Now people were riveted. Burglars might be moving around New Seabury, but we are vigilant. What could have happened?
“A fellow was trying to get into a house in the wee hours, about three a.m. to be exact. Pounding on the door, creating a disturbance. The homeowner called us and we dispatched our officer to the home. We found that the fellow had had a few too many and was trying to get in the wrong house.”
Everyone laughs. This is our Cape Cod.
“We detained the gentleman while we helped him find his house. But the moral of the story,” warns the Chief has he puts his stern face back on, “is that you just never know.”
Three hands go up around the room. Hands like second graders who want to be called on by the teacher because they know the answer.
The Chief points to a hand in the back of the room.
A millisecond hush falls among the 60 people packed into the community house, with its beige, yellow and orange linoleum floor. People swivel in their metal chairs to see who asked that question. Before the Chief responds, chatter erupts. Like opening a door to a school gymnasium. Hushed quiet in the hall, and then the energy and sound explodes.
Heads turn to the Chief. The room gets quiet.
“If you have a title, insurance and a valid driver’s license, you can drive a golf cart on the streets,” explains the Chief matter of factly. His shoulders relax, like he was expecting a tough question and got this softball underhanded toss about golf carts.
“What about kids driving these carts, Chief,” asks another. “I saw a golf cart with kids hanging off the back and they almost hit an elderly person walking across the street.”
“Yeah, and a golf cart crashed into my neighbor’s yard one night around 2 a.m. and damaged some property,” someone else yells out.
“Okay, now,” says the Chief. “According to the Massachusetts Department of Motor Vehicles, you must be a licensed driver to operate a golf cart. This means underage kids should not be driving golf carts.”
“But Chief, how about kids with a learner’s permit?”
“Chief, what about a golf cart that goes under 20 miles per hour? I believe that’s exempt from the rules for golf carts, which go faster than 20 miles per hour.”
“Please, everyone,” says the Chief. “The rule is you have to have a title, insurance and license to operate a golf cart. I believe Chapter 90, Section 18 spells this out, but I don’t have the exact information here.”
“Chief, how many people can be in a golf cart?”
A helpful community member and golf cart owner answers, “As many people as there are seat belts can ride in the golf cart.”
Now that people other than the Chief are offering advice, more people speak up.
“Everyone might be interested to know that there’s a universal key for golf carts,” says a stocky guy in his Korean Veterans baseball cap. “You can go to the hardware store and have a key made and it will fit any cart.”
People nod in an appreciative way. We really know useful stuff.
“Chief, what if we’re driving the carts at the country club and don’t have our licenses?”
“No worries, we’re not going to give you a citation crossing the road over to the club. This is about common sense, everyone. We don’t need to get into a lot of legal mumbo jumbo. Ah, excuse me on that. I see that there are some lawyers on the committee.
“Remember, title, insurance and license,” he says, with the three words becoming like a mantra. “If you stick to those three things there should be no problems.”
It’s now 10:50. The sun is blasting through the window shades, reminding us that it’s a really good beach day.
A woman waves her hand and interrupts from the back of the room.
“Excuse me, please. I live across the street and people have parked in front of my driveway so I can’t get out. Every time there are official meetings in the Community House, people park illegally, blocking our driveways.”
People squirm. The chairwoman thanks the neighbor, who obviously doesn’t have a golf cart, but does have a car. Which she can’t use.
Humbled by the obvious disregard for other rules, the meeting moves off the carts and on to the beach flags, the second most important beach community issue.
I sit on the beach later in the day with my flag safety-pinned to my beach bag and wonder about the seaweed. There’s a lot of it. Should I bring it up at the next meeting?
Never, ever publicly embarrass, threaten or upstage a Bureaucratic Black Belt (BBB), those protectors of the status quo, upholders of processes and procedures, fighters for following the rules without exceptions, righteous minimizers of risk.
Similarly never start a fight with them. You will lose.
BBB’s can be formidable foes. You may never win them over or convince them to approve your idea. The best case is to neutralize them so that they don’t fight you and your rebel ideas. By neutralizing you’ll have a better chance of finding a way to work around them.
This is an important lesson for rebels, mavericks, change agents and innovators. The BBB’s are often our greatest obstacles. Not necessarily the official decision makers, but the people who can drain our energy and derail our plans. Selectively involving these gatekeepers is a necessary step in removing obstacles.
BBB’s hold all kinds of positions, though you will find more in Legal, Finance, and Human Resources, Customer Service, IT, Quality Management, and Environmental departments. If a person’s job involves any sort of regulations, compliance, product quality or public reputation risks, they are more likely to be a BBB of some degree. They have to, really. Don’t blame them for doing their jobs.
Which brings us to the first technique for neutralizing BBB’s.
Put yourself in their position. What are they held accountable for? What happens if they make a mistake? Don’t properly enforce a government regulation? Not follow a standard procedure and get audited? They succeed by being fearful of what could go wrong. If they mess up, public humiliation for the entire organization is at risk.
If they’re not born that way, they become wired to say “No” to anything even slightly out of the norm.
We rebels see opportunities, they see danger.
So empathize with them. Feel their pain. (We know this can be challenging especially if you’ve been foiled continually by BBB’s, which is likely.)
Bring this empathy to your conversations with them, letting them know that you get how difficult it must be to be them. “It must get frustrating and lonely being the person who has to always remind people of the risks,” you might say. All people want to be seen, to know that people understand what it’s like to be them. Especially BBBs, who may have an even more difficult role at work than rebels.
This empathy is likely to ease the tension, perhaps put them at slightly more ease with you.
Also helpful is to understand who in the organization the BBB respects, fears, wants to please. There is always someone. Find out who that person is, what’s important to him or her, and who or what influences him or her.
Then invoke the name of the Person Who Is Revered when dealing with the BBB. Better yet, figure out how to get support from the Person Who Is Revered, and tell the BBB that so and so supports your idea. The tiger is likely to back down a bit. Not entirely, but enough that you’ll find more space to navigate.
BBB’s, like most of us, like to be recognized as smart and influential, so do feed this need by asking the BBB for advice. (This also helps you figure out what this person most wants or fears, more data points to factor into your neutralizing strategy.) You might say, “Diane (The Revered One) is interested in seeing how we might be able to make this idea work. If you were in my shoes, what would you do? What advice can you give me that might be helpful?”
If the BBB says something annoying and unhelpful like, “Diane should know better. That idea will never work here,” The next question to ask, “What would have to be in place for the idea to have any outside chance of working?” This data will help inform what you need to do, or how to position the idea. Questions are your friends in dealing with BBBs, as is listening.
Know, too, that you have won some points by involving the BBB. These people get angry and become stronger foes when you ignore them. Which is what we’d like to do because they can be so unpleasant and FRUSTRATING. Understand when and how to keep them in the loop. Disclose what you must, but not everything.
It’s also important to not wing it when going into meetings: Have a goal in mind whenever you have a conversation with a BBB. What do you want them to do, or not to do, after the conversation happens? The more clear and precise your goal, the more likely you’ll achieve it.
Free flowing, unstructured conversations with BBBs can be dangerous because we rebels tend to get passionate and excited about what’s possible. Passionate possibilities send warning signals to the BBB. “Danger! Danger! This person is not staying inside the lines; they are even talking about painting the lines orange instead of regulation blue. Beware of what she is saying. Stop thinking about what she is saying and launch into why this is not possible. Shut her down. Now.”
Lastly, thank BBBs when they are helpful. Public recognition for their efforts, especially with The Person Most Revered, will go a long way in making sure that they leave you alone.
Remember, BBB’s are unlikely to EVER fully support you. You just don’t want them to stop you.