Tag Archives: Communication

Random Thoughts: Communication, Projects and Problem Solving

I have been thinking about processes… We find something – communicate – interpret – execute then either approve or revisit (PDCA). Sometimes it is true project work and other times it is day-to-day operations. When I think of how we could fail, there is a cartoon that comes to mind that I was shown in one of my MBA classes. There are different iterations of this image but they all are fundamentally the same.

Communicating effectively can be a difficult one to tackle. Half of it is the sender and then you have a receiver that needs to translate what you just said. I know I struggle with this from time to time. I have met a few people in my lifetime that have done exceptionally well with this. The common thing they do is repeat the message back. “Here is what I heard you say…” in their own words. When we write emails or issue work a lot of this can be lost. For critical to success functions we need some sort of direct communication such as an office visit or a phone call to get and give that 360 communication cycle.

While heading down this topic path, I could not resist a comical approach to how the meetings take place. Imagine all of the meetings for projects that you have been a part of. The tasks that are asked and what we are capable of doing are two very different things. Along the same lines of the cartoon above, view the video below. It is easy to see how one idea can go so many different directions and the idea never gets fully realized.

Another topic that I have been thinking a lot about since my visit to Toyota is how we problem solve. Often we have an issue, then call a problem-solving meeting, identify several things it could be, and slap a whole list of action items against it. Sort of like buckshot when you hunt. I only need to get directionally correct and I should hit the target. Sometimes the root cause is not what we really want to hear. It may not be an ah-ha moment and is something as simple as we have good processes in place but didn’t follow them. The root cause may be self-inflicted. Through the solutions phase we need to address the root cause – own our mistakes – and correct that one. That does not mean we need a jillion checks to check our checks. That only creates more work and greater opportunity for us to miss something with the extra work we created just to cover the one thing we missed. Granted checks are not always bad and can be a good precursor or way to see something failing prior to it actually halting a process. When we see the problem at its root we need to fix why that item happened which leads to lots of other symptoms or results. That does not mean we should not create contingency plans for continuity; we just need to be cognoscente as to what we are really gaining. I know I have led events where I facilitated scattershot approaches to cover everything under the sun. I would challenge us (myself included) to simply, standardize, be accountable and repeat.


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Flavor of the month

I cringe every time that I hear a new idea mentioned, and side comments write the idea off as a “flavor of the month.”

Recently, I was listening to some educational material, I will call it that for purposes of this article, and realized that the ideas being shared were forcefully trying to create this concept. It did not flow, other than the words naturally forming from the text that was being read. The model was well presented. The text was spot on structurally. It was missing something, something very important, buy-in. The cascading ideas from this article were being shared to the audience – and you could tell that the material was never built “directionally” correct. What do I mean by that? Well – I mean that the plan was top down, instead of bottom up. The trunk of the tree was placed and the roots should follow. Or better yet, I thought Kevin Costner was going to appear and some mystic voice from Shoeless Jackson would say “if you build it they will come.”

I am sure that this article is not a new thing. I have been to many companies, in several industries, where whatever is important comes from the top down – and is only important because of a current situation. When sales were bad at one company – we had to increase cold calls… and suddenly sales etiquette seminars were presented. The correlation does not always make sense and in that case the solution will be ill fit at best! The ice cream sales do increase when the tar melts – but there is much more to it than the surface.

If phrases such as “flavor-of-the-month” or “hot topic” are passes around about certain subjects than someone, somewhere is getting it all wrong. And if you do that, none of it will make sense, or fit, which will lead to so many-many-many more things…

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Business, Communication, correlation, flavor of the month, hot topic
Business: General
#Business, #Communication, #Correlation, #FlavorOfTheMonth, #HotTopic

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accountability: carpe diem

The last few blog entries have been linked to silent leadership in some way shape or form. It all comes down to one root – accountability. The very nature of not confronting or addressing a situation can be perceived as accepting, condoning or in some cases promoting the very behaviors we are working to squelch.

So, what is accountability? In a generic Google search, it is, by definition, “responsibility to someone or for some activity” according to Princeton.edu. Sounds simple enough. We have a definition of what we are looking at. We can easily identify the behaviors that go against the policy or not in line with some expectation. What makes this subject so hard to address then? I have found that there are two main things: clear ownership and confrontation (or perhaps confrontation based on clear ownership).

To make sure we do not set ourselves up for an issue we must use the 360 communication style to make sure that messages are conveyed, and understood. During an assignment we must make sure that we specify our expectations. Basic communication involves relaying the message, the recipient receiving the message and providing feedback to the sender and clarification from the sender or acknowledgement/affirmation.  Also, it is important that we set up measurable such as a due date and person responsible. “Next week” is vague and should not be used in many cases. Vague demands can lead to a lingering project or deadline. “End of business on 07/24/13” sets a much firmer expectation as to when the material or assignment is due.

Next we must also have the ability to confront the respective parties if the assignment is not completed on the due date. It is imperative that we follow up and follow through. The severity should be based on the individuals performances. Now that may should like I am backing off – on the contrary, I am setting up a longer term plan. If the individual is normally a star performer, see what the delay is/was. Did the person come to you letting you know there were issues? Did the individual have a legitimate reason? What is the frequency of the person’s failures to commit? In any case – action should be taken and the severity based on answers from the previous questions. At a minimum keep a record for further review if continued performance failures occur. However, if the person continues to struggle with commitments, take a step back and let the employee know where they stand. Maybe it is time to create a PIP (performance improvement plan). It is quite possible that the very mention of a PIP will create a turn around in the employee.

So, we have not discussed feedback whether it is a communication cycle on assignment setting, or review for performance. Let us take a second to examine the sense of ownership and confrontation. Take a step back and look at your group. It is important to consider the global view (the entire organization) but realize that your circle of influence and control changes as layers or other groups of the organization are added. Do the rest of your reports have similar attributes? Have you taken a second, as a leader, to question your effectiveness in setting expectations? Is it time for a group meeting, or perhaps a self evaluation (or 360 feedback) session? I have always believed with any of my reports that fail, [they] do so in part by my inability to reach them or convey the message in a functional way to his or her learning style. Granted, there are the employees that just cannot be reached and should exited from the group or organization accordingly. I have also seen some success in a workshop addressing communication and team building exercises where deadlines are a topic.

So far we have addressed the direct forms of accountability where deadlines are presented. Lastly, I want to discuss the non deadline related topics. These topics are very general but I am sure you can find relevance if you switch some topics around for your relevance. Many forms of accountability and silent leadership happen with day-to-day activities. Maybe an employee is not supposed to chew gum on the shop floor. Perhaps employees are clocking in late or telling inappropriate jokes. Maybe employees are picking their fantasy sports teams on company time… use your imagination. What do you do? If you go along with the said offense, then you are aiding in the situation. If you ignore the situation then you are aiding. Remember, the lack of confrontation is a key component in accountability. I challenge you to take the bull by the horns and deal with whatever issues you see now, in a real time fashion. If you wait too long it becomes an accepted practice and a way of culture within the organization. The longer it is accepted – the further it spreads and before you know it an epidemic can take hold.

What are you going to do? Carpe diem.


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that’s not what i said



While I was in college I remember seeing this cartoon (above). During one of the computer programming lessons we were discussing communication. To this day, I have kept this photo. I cannot count how many daily life occurrences have made me think of this drawing. I mean everything from customer service, to one on one interactions that did not end as desired. The point is, ensure proper communications.

The cycle is very simple (there are a lot more steps but it is essentially these key points):

  • Sender conveys messages based on personal interpretation
  • Receiver translates message based on personal interpretation
  • Feedback is issued from receiver to sender
  • Feedback received redirects
    • Sender redirects to affirm or correct (starts process over)
    • Message accepted; close

The most important step in ANY communication cycle is the feedback from receiver to sender for verification. A good practice that I have adhered to when the feedback is questionable is to ask the receiver to repeat the instructions / message. A good way to ensure understanding is by demonstration; it is easy to listen but true understanding is demonstrated.


Filed under Business: General