Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Getting Your 'Ask' Right

Being a leader means driving change. Being influential means persuading colleagues, teams, suppliers, and senior stakeholders to do things large and small, risky and less risky, expensive and not so much, in order to drive results. This month I have been working with a business that is challenged with the concept of onboarding. Often new leaders joining this business complain about an insufficient onboarding process which leads to unnecessary duplication, lack of productivity, reduced employee engagement, and in a complex, high value sales environment, a disproportionately high number of people attending client meetings. In addition, many of those who attend these meetings are not effective, and missed sales opportunities and a sub-optimal customer experience are the result. Despite this painful reality, the problem has persisted and little has changed over the past few years.

So, why is it that no matter how concise our message, no matter how clear our slide deck and explicit our request, we don’t always drive the change that we seek?

My time with clients this month has caused me to reflect on the answer to this question by considering the concept of ’the ask’, one element of which is to be clear on whether we seek a decision, action or some sort of commitment (time, money, people etc.) However, we also need to have thought through our strategy around the ask, and there are a number of elements to this:

  • Doing our research to understand our audience’s current awareness and sense of urgency around the issue
  • Linking the ‘ask’ explicitly to an impact on the stakeholders’ key priorities
  • Pre-briefing certain people in advance to get them onside
  • Ensuring no ‘nasty surprises’, because that’s the quickest way to alienate others
  • Demonstrating alignment with communities most impacted by the ask
  • Garnering support from others to demonstrate how easy it would be to get started and make a difference
These matter - a lot. And there is something else too. We need to beware of asking too much, too soon. In other words, we have to get the scale of the request just right and it has caused me to evolve the concept of ‘the iterative ask.’ In the onboarding example I’ve cited, asking for a wholesale change to the onboarding process won’t work. It’s too big, too complicated, it involves too many stakeholders and will elicit the most common response - which is to do nothing. We need to break this down into a number of smaller asks which, one by one we get approval for, deliver a result against, prove the value to relevant commercial metrics, and then go back to ask for more.

The ‘iterative ask’ forces us to think through our strategy for what we want and the order in which we want it. It forces us to consider our audience, prove the concept, develop its application, reinforce its business value and over time, get the bigger scale change delivered.

So what’s change that you’ve been trying to lead which has stalled, or failed to get the traction you seek? How might your strategy be improved by focusing on the clarity of and strategy for a series of asks that you might need to iterate?

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

How Trustworthy Are You As A Leader?

I’ve been working a lot with my clients recently around the concept of trust.

As an ex-pharmaceutical sales representative, I remember all too well the Tylenol scandal from the 80s where 7 people died because some of the tablets had been laced with cyanide by a rogue agent. The CEO took the decision to pull $100m worth of product within 2 minutes of finding out what had happened. Compare and contrast this approach with the challenges currently facing Boeing and their difficulty in getting their newest 737 fleet back up in the air and regaining the trust of their airline clients who have invested heavily in them, and the passengers everywhere who need to use them.

And they are not the only brand facing these kinds of struggles…..

I have worked for a number of years with a range of fantastic clients, colleagues and business partners, and the conclusion I have reached of late relates to one person and - candidly - it surprised me. Her behaviours are superficially very inclusive and supportive, however what I have noticed on closer inspection is a high self-orientation, an astonishing need to ‘always be right’ and a lack of emotional intelligence which means that she behaves in a passive aggressive way to try and ‘win’ every point, should someone disagree with her.

I realise now that I simply don’t trust her.

So what makes us as leaders trust other people? What makes other people trust us? Is it about the speed of action? The willingness to take responsibility? Or the capability to apologise quickly? Or something else?

I have been discussing with my clients the reality that no matter how laden our corporate meeting rooms, walls and websites are with the values of the business, where these values really live is in our daily behaviours.

As leaders, a highly effective operational rhythm is reflective practice. We should build regular time on our calendars to consider what we’ve learnt, where we’ve grown, where we’ve failed. Where have we built trust through our behaviours? And where have we damaged the relationship by eroding trust?

The thing about trust is that it’s personal. It’s also very, very subtle. What works for one person won’t for another. What one person cares about is utterly irrelevant to another when it comes to understanding what makes them trust others.

To get this right, we need to pay attention, be curious, listen and observe carefully, as well as reflect regularly in order to understand what will make us trustworthy in the eyes of our team, our colleagues, our customers and our suppliers.

Great leaders build their brand by building trust with their people. After all, any marketing expert will tell you that brands are all about relationships, and for any successful relationship to work it has to be built on trust.

So, what will you be doing this year to strengthen your professional relationships, extend your sphere of influence and demonstrate that you are worthy of the trust of others?

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

A New Decade, A New Year And A New Plan?

Happy New Year! Here’s hoping that a new year and a new decade will bring you everything you wish for in your career.......... isn’t that what everyone says?? Or at least hopes and thinks??? And yet - it doesn’t necessarily always work out that way.

A new month, a new year, and a new decade always bring with them a tantalising combination of excitement at the possibilities which lie ahead, and reflection on achievements and failures of the recent past. One of the most consistent themes to my coaching with successful leaders relates to the dynamic of managing time, being effective and being satisfied in our role at work, and it strikes me that a new year, as well as a new decade represents a natural moment to pause and take stock.

I have written extensively about the concept of ‘Executive Presence’ and one of the compelling facets of leaders who exude this is what I call ‘being on your purpose’. The most successful - as well as the most satisfied - leaders are clear sighted about what they are good at, stay very attuned to what drives them, love what they do with a passion and have found a way to get well paid for it.

And this reality isn’t down to luck or good fortune. It’s down to good planning, followed by a relentless focus on execution.

As I write this post, I have just returned from a new year break where my husband and I always conduct something which we have labelled a ‘Brummitt Summit’. We sit down and talk about our goals, priorities and aspirations across all areas of our life - not just our careers. We write them down and then work through them throughout the following year. We take a break from work and the demands of everyday life to really stop, think, discuss and plan. After all - it’s only our lives we’re talking about.

I encourage my clients to do the same - and most often the place our coaching starts relates to our role and our careers. It’s essential to make it an enjoyable experience (e.g. go for lunch, visit somewhere that inspires you, walk your dog etc.), and not a conversation you try to have between dealing with screaming children, a broken washing machine or feeding the cats. Our focus might need to be on finding a new role, or getting better or getting more balance in our current one. It might be on achieving more qualifications, or more money, or finding ways to spend more time with our children, or get more peace and quiet, or more fun, or more joy....or more of something else in what we do for a living.

Whatever we want, it needs a plan in order to get there. It’s a new decade and a new year and I wish all of you the very best for it.

Monday, 16 December 2019

Why Every Leader Needs To Use Soundbites

As I write this newsletter, the United Kingdom is just a few days into a newly re-elected government following our third general election in five years and as a population we are - amongst many other things - weary of the political debate around if, how and when we will leave the European Union. Rest assured this post is not a political comment, and I remain incredibly grateful and humble to live in a country where I have the right to vote in free and fair elections. However, as I have listened to and watched endless debates over the past months and years, my curiosity is spiked by the challenge of any influencer (which let’s face it politicians are supposed to be), when it comes to the challenge of getting the message through to an audience that is weary, distracted and distrusting of the endless, rambling commentary.

This situation is analogous with the challenge facing leaders in business when it comes to getting their message across. We all work in a commercial world with continual interruptions, relentless change and multiple distractions, all of which means that we don’t have the time to work out what you mean amidst all the ‘blah, blah, blah’.

This is where the concept of the soundbite can help… and this is also where my use of the word ’soundbite' parts company with that with which we typically associate politicians.

I’m not talking about empty, vacuous promises. I’m not talking about clever phrases with alliteration that means nothing. I’m not talking about talking meaningless, pointless nonsense.

What I am talking about is cutting through the noise, removing the complexity, crystallising the essence of our point and landing a memorable, repeatable truth to our audience.

An effective soundbite does just that.

One of the best that was ever said to me was ‘if you walk around with a hammer; everything starts to look like a nail’. Isn’t that sensational? The metaphor is easily understood; the message is crystal clear and it makes perfect sense. We are wired to remember and repeat concise, compelling messages that create meaning, connect with our humanity and linger long in our memory.

As leaders and influencers we all need soundbites that do just that.

So, as we close out this year and look to 2020… my question for you all is simple…what are your soundbites for 2020?

Monday, 11 November 2019

Why Talking About Your Weaknesses Makes You A Better Leader

I’ve been working with a global corporate client in the past month and had a fascinating conversation with a high potential talent leader regarding the concept of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Their challenge was a high level of discomfort around acknowledging to themselves - let alone others - the areas of their communication and influencing skills that needed to improve.

During an intensive skills development workshop that included a typical business simulation, their influencing skills were tested, and the experience revealed their strengths as well as their weaknesses. When given constructive insights around how to close these gaps, how did the leader respond? With a high degree of defensiveness, sprinkled with some misdirected frustration.

This response got me thinking. What is it that this leader was afraid of? Every successful and competent professional has weaknesses in relation to specific skills. Absolutely no-one in business - much like life - is perfect at everything. And, in breaking news, others in our organisation – and perhaps even our clients - already know this. How can I say this so confidently? Because we’ve already shown our weaknesses to them in different situations.

Leaders who demonstrate ‘executive presence’ are comfortable to talk about their gaps. In so doing they model the behaviour we want to encourage in our people – namely that we all have room to continually learn and grow. Company offices are filled with values that the organisation holds dear, and words like ‘integrity’, ‘clear’, ‘open’ and ‘trusted’ are amongst many that can adorn the walls.

However values live in daily behaviours. If we are to be credible, authentic, trusted, or respected, we need to be comfortable to ‘own’ our weaknesses. That is not to say that we do nothing about it; far from it. As leaders, when we talk about not only our weaknesses, but also what we are doing to improve them.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Signing Off On A High

In the 1970s and 80s in the UK, there was a famous comedy duo who had their own TV programme called ‘The Two Ronnies’. A family favourite, this hour long show ran on British television with two gentlemen – both named ‘Ronnie’ funnily enough, and it contained an amusing variety of skits, monologues, songs, jokes and sketches. As a duo, they were renowned at the end of every show for signing off with one Ronnie saying ‘and it’s goodnight from me’ with the other Ronnie replying ‘and it’s goodnight from him’.

Perhaps you may be wondering….so what has that got to do with me? Well, in the world of leadership communication, the short answer is ‘a lot’.

By way of a current example, one of my clients is a life sciences business with whom I am working, to help some of their technical leaders become more effective in their ability to influence their colleagues across the organisation. Whilst I work with professionals to hone their pitch, rehearse their opening line and handle the tricky question, we have spent a considerable amount of time in the past few days talking about the ‘sign off’. Quite simply the ‘sign off’ is the end of our message. It is our ‘parting shot’, our last impression; our verbal full stop.

In my experience, the ‘sign off’ is often extremely weak. Whether it’s the relief of getting to the end of what we wanted to say, or the prospect of not having to face the audience for much longer, all too often there is a weak ‘thank you’ or ‘that’s it’. Candidly, if we need to say ‘that’s it’, then our message isn’t sufficiently structured and obvious to our audience – and it should be.

So, quite simply we need to stop this. Instead, we need to ask the right question, or finish with the right statement, either of which signals to the audience a number of things: (a) we have finished (b) we have completed a compelling point (c) it is now the turn of the listener to speak. The possibilities are endless for what we can say, but it needs to be natural, impactful and an easy invitation which continues to move the conversation forward. ‘What do you think?’ ‘How can we do this?’ ‘I’m wondering how you’d like to move this forward…?’ Alternatively it could be a specific ‘ask’ of the audience (for a decision, action of some type of commitment).

It’s also important to mention the style of how we convey the message. I am not a fan of ‘pitching’ in the traditional sense of the word (slightly too forceful, slightly too polished, slightly too turbo charged). I’m talking about being natural, relaxed, articulate and composed in our delivery and in the way that we finish what our message.

Monday, 16 September 2019

Why Most Leaders’ Communication Fails To Hit The Mark

Got your attention? Spiked your interest? Curious to understand what that headline means? This is an example of a ‘hook’. A way to grab your attention and invite you to continue to read. In the world of the internet this phenomenon is known as ‘clickbait’ - a way to entice the reader in the midst of gazillions of megabytes of information. Frankly, I don’t like the phrase (and often times the examples of clickbait that I see), because they can deceive, distract and disappoint the reader. And yet, the part about clickbait that works so well is that it succeeds in getting people to look further, linger longer and become engaged with the message.

So what?

So leaders today need to take this concept and apply it far more effectively to our verbal communication. I call it a ‘hook’.

We open our mouths to do a number of things, including building rapport, asking questions, providing information, making jokes, challenging others, coaching and supporting our colleagues or team.

  • I'm talking about the moments in a conversation when the time has come to influence and persuade. When we need to shift the perspective, mindset, alignment of others in relation to an issue. Too often our commentary lacks a compelling, intriguing, interesting way of getting the audience’s attention right at the start, and as a result, we have already lost them. The audience has disconnected, disengaged and dismissed the value of continuing to pay attention.

Examples of a ‘hook’ include a powerful question, a statistic, a piece of customer verbatim, a quote, a soundbite, an irrefutable fact. The point of a hook is not to be so theatrical that we feel uncomfortable and something of a twit. Instead, it’s about using a natural, relaxed, conversational style to ease a ‘hook’ into the first words that come from our mouths when we need to deliver a structured message for impact.

So next time the moment comes during a discussion when you need to influence and persuade, how can you grab the attention of your audience right at the start?