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Simplicity Doesn’t Mean Stupidity In The World Of Communication

As leaders we continually strive to take complexity out of our businesses, out of our processes, out of our decision making…
and we do so to drive agility.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?

However… I’m continually struck by how we don’t take the same approach when it comes to our communication.

My conversations with clients this month have focused on pitches that are too long, presentation slide decks that are too dense (and which no-one understands), answers that are too detailed, and opinions that are too unstructured… the list is endless.

So, what’s going on here?  I cannot decide if it’s driven by a lack of confidence, a need to demonstrate the ‘right’ to be in the room, a power play, a misunderstanding about what influence really means, a belief that our value is in our technical expertise so we need to talk about it extensively in our messaging, a desire to avoid being perceived as stupid or incompetentor something else entirely.

Whatever the rationale, let’s be clear – simplicity of message doesn’t mean stupidity… it means clarity.  It also means agility.  We can only be agile if we remove complexity from our communication.

So, if you want to influence others, get support for your ideas, drive momentum to get things done, achieve your objectives, get more time back on your calendar, increase your satisfaction and improve your relationships with colleagues and customers alike, then focus on simplifying your message.

Simplicity doesn’t mean stupidity; it means clarity.

Until next time….

Sarah Brummitt

Concise, Compelling Communication Isn’t Easy 

The new year has begun with international travel to work with clients in the world of law, life sciences, energy, finance and professional services; and even though January still isn’t over, I’m reminded of a stark reality for professionals everywhere.  It is simply this: concise, compelling communication isn’t easy.  Unless we really hone the essential skills which underpin an influential message; it’s a common error to fall into the trap of ‘blah, blah, blah’.  What do I mean by that?  I mean too much has been said, or the focus isn’t right or the level of detail doesn’t suit the requirements of the audience.

Concise, compelling communication means:

  • Rigour on the objective for the message.  What do you want achieve specifically by the end of it?
  • Structure is paramount.  A 3-part narrative stops the waffle.  If we’re not clear on the sections of our message, it’s impossible to organize and convey our message effectively.
  • Grab the audience’s attention at the beginning.  The goal is that they ‘lean in and listen’, rather than ‘lean back and check out’.
  • STAR moments.  Every engaging message needs these.  What are they?  Something They’ll Always Remember.
  • Context – why should they care about what you’re saying?  Be clear on this early on.
  • Ask – if you’re influencing you’re asking for something.  What is it exactly?

Until next time….

Sarah Brummitt

Think You’re a Good Coach?  Think Again… 

My conversations this month have focused on coaching as part of developing a bespoke coaching programme for senior leaders, and the challenge of highly experienced sales leaders coaching their sales teams.  I am reminded again of what the data tells us and has been telling us for years and it’s stark: you’re not as good a coach as you think.

Research going back more than 20 years has reinforced engagement surveys of several global brands with whom I have partnered for more than a decade.   All of them – yes all of them – reinforce what Daniel Goleman talked about when he asked executives to self-assess their coaching capability and compare it to the perception of their skills from the people whom they coached.  There was a mismatch – a significant one – and this difference I have come across repeatedly.   
So, irrespective how long we’ve coached, how do leaders everywhere really need to sharpen their coaching skills?

Here are my top tips:

*Get your ‘why coach’ story clear to improve buy-in, because otherwise your team don’t get it, won’t see the value of it and it won’t work.

* Don’t save coaching for 1:1s.  Brilliant coaches effortlessly coach within everyday conversations.  Coaching isn’t a ‘special event’ where you ‘do some coaching’.

* Having said that, make sure you understand what 1:1s really are.  They are very different types of conversations from all the other discussions and so the chance to have a rich, expansive, extensive coaching discussion during 1:1s.

* Each person in your team should have a development plan (irrespective of whether or not they want climb the career ladder in the future).  Why?  Because we all get tired and stale in our role if we don’t – and worse – we don’t even realise it.

* Understand the difference between coaching, mentoring, advising, directing, empowering, motivating, enthusing, influencing and how it can transform the engagement and performance of your people no matter how long they’ve been in post, how skilled they are, how engaged they are. 

* Stop passing the buck.  If your team aren’t continually improving their capabilities …then that’s on you.  It’s the job of a leader to improve the capabilities of their team and keep them engaged.

* You’ve always got time for it.  If you talk to your teams every day, then you’ve got time to coach…because that’s where you can coach brilliantly.

* Prepare better for the discussion with far better questions.

* Stop telling all the time.  Coaching helps people think, act, and own their own success.

* Show up fully and stay present… your emails, pings, messages etc. can all wait.  If they can’t, you’re not delegating sufficiently and developing your team to be able to step away from madness and have quality time with your team.

* No-one is perfect.  No matter how superb your team are, everyone can hone their skills.  Always.  Ask any high performance athlete.  Who do they credit when they conquer the world in their chosen sport?  Their coach.

Until next time….

Sarah Brummitt

3 Of The Biggest Mistakes Hybrid Leaders Everywhere Need To Avoid

So, how’s it going so far, being back in the office?  Is it all sparkles and sunshine?  Or is it a bit of a grind and with rumbling dissatisfaction amongst some quarters?  My conversations with clients across a number of industries and geographic regions this month have focused almost exclusively of the value of bringing people together in the office, and the challenge which hybrid leaders everywhere face when it comes to getting it right.  Here are 3 of the biggest mistakes (let’s call them regrets or learnings shall we, to be a bit more positive), that the experiences so far have revealed:

1.          A ‘Tell Rather Than Involve’ Mentality

The default human reaction to change is consistent; we worry as human beings about what we might lose.  So, as our teams consider doing battle with the commute, and let me be clear, some of our employees can’t wait to get back to the office, the mistake to avoid is issuing edicts.  ‘You must’/ ‘You are required’/ ‘You have to be’ etc.  Why do I say that?  Because whilst I fully appreciate that organisations have large, expensive buildings which have sat largely empty for several years, and the commercial need to bring people together for lots of good reason is utterly valid, the opportunity here is to involve our people in working out how to make coming into the office really work for them.  That way, our people will want to come in often and are invested in getting the maximum benefit from it.  Stephen Covey is often quoted as saying: “no involvement means no commitment”.  Asking our teams to contribute ideas and suggestions to the new operational rhythms and routines which will make working from home and working from the office actually – well, work – means trusting and empowering them to work out what the frequency and format should be.

2.          A Lack Of Rigour Around Technology Used In Hybrid Meetings

Who can even remember how to turn on the conference room technology in the office, let alone use it?  Given the extensive enhancements in enterprise-wide conferencing platform technology – the need to upgrade our kit at the office is essential.  The most common mistakes include inadequate audio capability, so the remote audience can’t hear those who are gathered together.  Remote teams are pretty well sorted with microphones/headsets at home, but the office hasn’t caught up sufficiently quickly.  If we can’t be heard, then who cares?  The remote audience will just get going with some emails.  Camera angles and being visible when sat in a meeting room is also really important – especially if we want – and we should do – to see our colleagues who are dialling in online. 

3.          A Failure To Realise That Better – And Different – Communication Skills Are Needed

We meet to have high quality conversations, make decisions, seek commitments and agree actions.  We don’t meet to confuse others with lengthy complicated slides which no-one understands, do emails and ignore each other for hours at a time.  There’s too much of the latter, and not enough of the former going on in business today.  A hybrid meeting (where people are present in person as well as dialling in online), requires a fundamental shift in our communication skills.  There is far more complexity to navigate, two different audiences to manage, plus the glorious unpredictability of technology and so our chairperson skills and technology management skills increase to meet these challenges.  Brilliant, hybrid communication skills drive equitable, high value, timely and relevant conversations in the hybrid environment, and enable real-time tools such as chat, polling, annotation etc. to work for us, not against us.

Until next time….

Sarah Brummitt

Back To School… And Back To The Office?

As September comes around, the sense of ‘back to school’ and ‘back to the routine’ looms large and as a new school year begins, I’ve been thinking about how clients might mark their own homework in relation to hybrid working and hybrid leadership in their business.  What ‘grade’ would we give ourselves?

Okay, enough of the academic references.  My conversations this month have prompted me to think about these questions and as a result, what are 3 things all great hybrid leaders need to focus on now?  Here’s my view:

·      Involvement: Involve your teams to be part of the solution, rather than set them as being on the other side of the ‘problem’.  Leaders want their teams back in the office to some extent. Great!  So, what makes it appealing and enjoyable for teams to navigate the commute and be there?  Other than being on Teams and Zoom all day?  Leadership is an inspiration business… now is the chance to inspire others to want to come back, rather than simply dictate that they are.  The latter requires little communication skill; the former requires a lot more.  No involvement means no commitment, as the very famous saying goes…

·      Development: Turbocharge professional growth… in a post-Covid world with an ‘intensity bias’ in every business I’ve come across in the past 3 years, each team member needs a relevant, engaging development plan.  Engaging your people means helping them be even better in their role so that they can enjoy more success, satisfaction, balance, joy, ease… whatever they want from their role… and this is especially key for your top performers

·      Connection: Strengthen it.  As human beings, we crave it and feel the loss of it at a level which is increasingly profound in a post-Covid world.  We want to belong to something that matters to us more than ever, something for which we are deeply appreciated, and we want to be part of something in which we flourish doing things that bring us meaning and purpose.

Easy to write; much harder to do… and without exquisite communication skills, we won’t.  So, not only is it back to school for our kids… but also for us.  What do we need to dial up today?

Until next time….

Sarah Brummitt

How Do We Meaningfully Build Relationships In A Hybrid Work Environment?

During Covid-19 when we were all working from home and the office doors were locked; a surprising fact is just how productive we all became.  We got extremely busy and accomplished a lot.  Whilst managing our health, looking after our families, worrying about those we love, staying safe, and wondering when all of this would end; we worked, and worked and worked.

Tasks won out.

However, amongst many things, in a professional context, what suffered as a result of the global pandemic was our relationships at work.  No time to natter; no walking down the corridors catching up on the latest events, no gossiping in the kitchen as we make a coffee, no sitting in the canteen and eating our lunches, no sharing plans for the day/week/weekend, no moments of connection, fun or friendship.

It is in all of these moments that we build ‘social capital’, and it is that which binds us together, makes us feel like we belong, like this is a great place to be.  It is in these moments that trust is built, and we feel psychologically safe.

Humans are wired for connection because we’re pack animals.  We want to feel part of something.  Fundamentally, we want to feel that we matter.  Now that we’re navigating a forever changed work environment where we’re both remote and, in the office, the strain, the challenge and the opportunity, is to strengthen our relationships with colleagues.

Why?  Because we’re all in a relationship business.  We need others to get things done, help us out, make our lives easier, deliver results, demonstrate value to our customers… the list is endless.

Harvard Business Review published research pre-pandemic which reveals that we’re two and a half times more likely to mistrust colleagues we don’t see very often versus those we see regularly face-to-face.  We feel less psychologically safe around them and are more likely to perceive incompetence, mistrust and poor decision making. 

And here’s the challenge… just how do we meaningfully build relationships now?  Especially given the new, hybrid world of work.  I’m struck by how many clients operate from the belief that “well, it just happens”.  Sometimes that may be the case, but most often the reality is that it does not.  Why?  Because we need to fight through all of the demands of time and task to get the attention of others, demonstrate value, create connection and build trust.  We don’t have much time, or even the same type of opportunities in which to do this, and so we need different skills and strategies to do this well.

So where to begin?  Over the next couple of months, I’ll share a variety of practical approaches which work in the hybrid world.  Here’s just three to kick us off:

– Set SMART goals for the relationship.  Wait, what?  Because we need to set intentions and gauge whether or not our efforts are working.  Think in very practical terms.  For example, by the end of the quarter I want to have met that person face to face.  That’s a SMART goal.  What’s next?  That’s where most people get stuck.  Don’t just assume that you’re now mates for life; you’re not.  It is a subtle, gradual process around which there is much more to say… and I’ll do so over the coming months.

– Be fully present.  Hideously bad habits have become the norm (e.g., talking to you whilst on my device; demonstrably doing emails and not listening on a remote call, off camera most of the time etc.).  All of these things and many more besides say ‘you’re not worth all my attention’.  Well good luck with that.  Show up and be fully present, otherwise don’t show up at all.

– Be curious about others.  I have an expression called ‘the press play person’.  This individual (and they might be in our family or social circle, never mind at work) just talks, and talks, and talks.  It’s like pressing play on a podcast, movie or song.  It just goes on and on and on.  They never asks you a question about you, your life, your family, what’s important for you, what’s going on for you… they simply talk and talk and talk.  Don’t be the ‘press play’ person.

Meaningfully building relationships in the hybrid environment isn’t easy.  There’s much more to say….and I’ll be saying it next time.

Until next time….

Sarah Brummitt FFIPI AICI CIP

What Makes A Great Hybrid Leader?

Many conversations with my clients this month have focused on this question as leaders around the world build teams and businesses within an evolving, hybrid working environment.  There is no blueprint; a tight labour market; balance sheets overburdened with debt due to the pandemic, a sense of urgency everywhere, and a workforce which is extremely reticent (role allowing), to return to the office full time.   

So, no pressure then…

You’d expect me to say that at the heart of any great hybrid leader has to be exquisite communication skills…..but it’s true.  Leadership is a relationship business, which means it is a communications business.  The challenge is, in a hybrid working world… what is it that we need to strengthen our communication skills to be able to do?  Well, here’s 5 of my favourites…

  • Build Trust: Any healthy relationship is based on trust; otherwise, it’s not a healthy relationship.  If we’re going to meaningfully move the needle on trust, then it starts with giving others our full attention.  So, put down the device, turn on the camera, move your phone to one side and start giving others your full and undivided attention… for more than just a few seconds or minutes.  This muscle group is unbelievably out of shape, and it will take some meaningful work to start to strengthen.  Always remember, if we appear distracted, what we’re really saying to others is clear and simple: “you and this conversation are not worth my full attention”.  Listen deeply, without agenda, with fascination and curiosity.  Again, easy to write; most people don’t do this.  Ego, pride, shame get in the way and we just can’t help ourselves; we stop listening, start talking… and keep going. 

  • Play An Actively Involved Part In Developing Your Teams’ Skills: Irrespective of seniority, we all need to continually learn, practice, play and evolve new strengths.  We shouldn’t abdicate our responsibility in the form of simply booking them on a training programme and passing the ball to the learning and development department.  If each member of your team (and theirs) does not have a personal development plan, then they need one… and fast!

  • Empower Others To Own And Be Accountable For More:  That doesn’t mean ‘dump more on your team’… it means, that if you’ve built trust and coached your team regularly to develop their skills, then they will be ready for more and be more effective to deliver more.  I see too many virtual catch ups to check in on progress against task… staying connected makes sense of course, but overburdening calendars with calls which effectively say ‘I don’t trust’ you are not useful at all.

  • Agree And Iterate The Ground Rules: How often do we want to be in the office?  To do what?  How do we co-ordinate our calendars and activities so that being together is enjoyable, useful, creative, fun, social?  What are the ground rules for virtual communication so that we avoid the black screen of boxes where lots of people are on calls not listening to or engaging with one person who is talking to themselves? 

  • Continually Talk About Communication:  It is the source of so much conflict.  It’s not the case to talk about it once, or at the start of a project.  We need to talk about it often, canvassing opinions widely and be willing to be open, flexible, responsive to feedback and meaningfully appreciative of the contributions of all.

Are there more than 5 aspects to consider?  Yes.  But this is a great place to dial up our skills meaningfully, deeply and effectively.

Until next time….

Sarah Brummitt

Emotional Labour Is Part Of Being A Leader

I’m working with a global brand whose executive team is exhausted.  There are many reasons which could point to the reasons why: a world recovering from the impact of Covid-19, a war in Europe, the charge of customers to buy online, a challenging economy, difficulty in recruiting the best talent, trying to get the workforce back into the office… the list is endless.

And yet… as businesses everywhere grapple with the consequences of all these undoubted difficulties, one powerful reason behind the exhaustion is easily overlooked.  It is the challenge and responsibility of ‘emotional labour’.  

Wait, what?  

Yes, ‘emotional labour’ is a ‘thing’ in leadership.

Harvard Business Review published – as they always do – some brilliant research in 2022 which explores ‘The Emotional Labour of Being A Leader’, and in some ways it explains what leaders have known for years.  In order to be effective, we need to balance optimism and pragmatism, we need to translate powerful emotions from those above us into messages that will enthuse our teams, we need to be seen as calm and in control whenever things look like they are falling apart.  Here’s another list which is endless.  Anyone who has ever managed others will know that this means there is always an emotional issue or difficulty going on for at least one member of their team, which needs our support in some way.

And that’s emotional labour.

So what?

Well, so there are so many angles to explore here aren’t there? 

  • Let’s start with ourselves.  How has the emotional labour I’ve undertaken impacted how I’m now ‘showing up’ at work to my team?  What’s been the impact on my resilience? Authenticity?  Energy levels?  If the answers to these questions are ‘not good’, what is it that I must now do do to rest, recharge and restore my zest for what I do and why I do it?

  • Now let’s turn to our teams.  There’s also the ‘how’s my team’ angle.  If our view is that we’re in a good place, but our team might not be (because of the amount of emotional labour they’ve undertaken), what’s the impact?  How is it affecting their professional relationships?  Productivity?  Engagement?  What do they really need now?

  • Oh, and one more challenge – to do all of this  for ourselves and others in the hybrid world of work, which is here forever more

As we mark the third year since the pandemic began, and take a moment to look back at everything that has happened to us and our teams, we will have engaged in emotional labour as never before.  It’s easy to be flippant; one leader said to me that this is just ‘tea and sympathy’… which is fundamentally to miss the point… and the opportunity.  Every leader – no matter their role, industry, geography or economy is in the business of relationships first and foremost.  Being an engaging leader, conveying presence, impact, authority and driving that ‘I’ll follow you anywhere’ loyalty amongst teams, colleagues, customers and stakeholders alike means reflecting on how we really are, what we really need to be even more energized amidst the challenges, and how we can help our teams to step up, deliver more and have a brilliant time as they do so.  

That’s emotional labour and that’s leadership….meaningful, effective, inspiring leadership.

Until next time…..

Sarah Brummitt FFIPI AICI CIP

Dial Up The Empathy

An intensely frustrating personal experience recently has focused my mind on its implications for how we connect and relate to others.

I locked myself out of my house.

Never done that before; but as I went into the front garden to talk with the engineer from my broadband provider, the front door clicked firmly shut.

I had no coat, phone, cards, cash, keys (obviously) or any way to get back into the house.

Calls, meetings and work awaited, it was freezing cold and my husband was in the City of London; an hour away.

We’d changed our front door locks a mere 24 hours early, and with high security keys, the normal spare key that is hidden outside was not yet in place.

I don’t know my husband’s mobile number off by heart (because it’s in my phone under his name).  I borrowed the engineer’s phone to dial his work number… a tedious rerouting process which proved absurdly unhelpful then ensued.

A tale of woe for sure.

Here’s my point.  The first 5 strangers I called (using the lovely engineer’s phone), in an attempt to get them to help me in some way, laughed.  They laughed.  What’s so funny?  Why laugh when someone is genuinely in a difficult and frustrating situation?  I simply don’t get it.

Secondly, listening skills were incredibly poor.  Each individual offered (after getting past the hilarity of the situation) to take my number and call me back.  Did I mention that I’d locked myself out and my phone wasn’t with me?

Thirdly, it got me thinking… was that just an odd day and these were odd responses?  Or is it reflective of a more common trend?

Here’s my conclusion.  Empathy is powerfully conveyed in the first, immediate moments of our response to others.  How we respond dramatically impacts the perception others will have of us, the emotion others will feel about us and the long term memory that others will hold in relation to us.  I’m also reminded of the fundamental need we as human beings have for empathy… especially in moments of vulnerability large and small.  I’ve yet to meet a professional who doesn’t think that they show empathy, however I’m equally certain that we can completely miss the moments to show it, meaningfully, wholeheartedly, humanely, kindly.

If we want individuals to grow, if we want teams to evolve and strengthen trust; if we want our best people to really love working with and for our business, if we want them to achieve that which seems impossible at work, we need to encourage our people to take risks, get things wrong, learn from their mistakes, regroup and go again.  That will require courage and vulnerability in spades. 

So, when they do take that leap, my question for leaders is very simple.  When it comes to empathy, how can all of us dial it up?

Until next time…..

Sarah Brummitt FFIPI AICI CIP

Turning Expertise Into Impact & Influence

For all of us today we work in the business of translation.   Wait, what? 

All of us are in the business of translation whenever we need to influence those who don’t have the same technical expertise as us.

In a fast paced, global, matrixed, changing business world, evolving through the consequences of a pandemic, professionals everywhere continue to drive performance amidst rapid change and challenge.  We do so within a business climate which is trying to ‘fast start’ 2023, navigate a hybrid working environment, and where executives are trying to work out what their policy is regarding encouraging employees to come back to the office. 

What Often Happens Is:

  • The habit of ‘can you just put a few slides together?’ is a commonplace, reasonable, but often not useful request that comes our way when meetings appear on our calendar… and we readily comply.
  • The purpose of the conversation isn’t clear or agreed, in order to help manage the scope of the discussion.
  • The virtual environment has reinforced an over reliance on too many slides to enhance presenter confidence and bring more control to the way in which we manage the audience.
  • Slides are eye wateringly dense, data heavy and without a clear message.
  • Remote audiences can readily, openly and often disengage because either they don’t understand and/or care about what is being said.
  • Alternatively, our audience can gloriously – and without rancour – disrupt and derail what we wanted to communicate.

To Translate Our Expertise We Must:

  • Be far more rigorous around what the objective of what we share on slides.
  • Provide context immediately.  Why this topic?  Why now?  Why should your audience care about what you’re talking about?
  • Embrace this fact: credibility does not come from sharing lots of detail, data, expertise.  It comes from the clarity of your message.  This means we must learn to let go of the ‘the audience needs to know all this’.  Often, they don’t.
  • Organize your message first.  Notice this post is in 3 clear parts and reflects the narrative arc from storytelling.  It enables the message flow to be quickly, readily, easily understood.
  • Hone soundbites.  Soundbites have a personality, pack a punch, leap in the ear and stay there.  We want our audience to remember and repeat key phrases, soundbites, conclusions which resonate and persuade.
  • Translate our expertise means leaving out a lot of content.  This is uncomfortable and difficult to learn to do; and yet it is essential.  For your message to have clout, you need to leave the density out.  Get to the point, refine the essence, be more crisp.
  • Realise that ‘FYI’ is not influence.  That’s sharing information.  I’m talking about influence.  Your audience wants to know: what do you want from me?  We need to be absolutely unambiguous with our ask.

Everything about communication is easy – in theory.  However, doing this effectively, consistently and persuasively is not.  It takes focus, practice, experience, repetition, rigour.  We must assume that our colleagues believe we have expertise.  Our challenge is to hone the skills which translate that expertise into impact and influence.

Until next time….

Sarah Brummitt FFIPI AICI CIP