Tuesday 21 May 2019

Alan O'Neill: 'Team talk is the ideal way to achieve goals'

Communicating using the 'Four Ps' in a briefing is a great way to boost morale and get message across

Alan O’Neill, author of Premium is the New Black is Managing Director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development, Go to kara.ietargets. Stock image
Alan O’Neill, author of Premium is the New Black is Managing Director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development, Go to kara.ietargets. Stock image

Alan O'Neill

A big part of my working life as a change agent is supporting organisations to refresh their culture. If your products, your systems, your assets and controls are the 'hardware' of your business, your people and culture are the software. Without your people behaving in a way that fits with your broad ambition, then the hardware is pretty useless to you. It's about cause and effect.

A key enabler of having the right culture is effective communications. Now even though I said it myself, that's a bland statement if ever I heard one. You see this is one topic that generates lots of debate wherever I go. In fact, whenever we carry out an employee-engagement survey as a way of checking the mood in an organisation or assessing the level of employee engagement, communications nearly always gets a bad score.

Just to be clear, that doesn't mean that communications should be ignored or that you don't conduct a survey. A survey will direct you to the specific challenges and where communications and other issues are at their best and worst. It's the verbatim comments in a survey that helps understanding and it is that detail that leads to improvement.

Because people have different views on who should communicate to who, when it should happen and how, I do appreciate that it is really difficult to crack this. I remember facilitating a focus group and communications turned out to be a big negative. Some of their examples had merit and some didn't. One person complained that his manager doesn't listen. But what he really meant was that his manager simply didn't agree with his idea. Another complained that he was told about a strategic change in a newsletter, and not in person.

I watched a YouTube experiment the other day where a message was whispered to the first person in a line of 20 people. You know the outcome; the 20th person had a very different message to the one originally whispered.

All that said, you might be tempted to throw your arms in the air and think you cannot win. Well, don't despair - you can at least try. You see if you don't take communications seriously and at least try to bring structure and order, the 'bush telegraph' will dominate. Your people will assume things, make things up, feel demotivated and disrespected. And that's not the culture that delivers best results.

'Team Briefing' as an Organisational Communications Tool

Whenever I talk to leaders and managers about running briefing meetings, they will often say that they don't have enough to say, or that people don't talk, or that loud-mouths scupper the agenda. All that is true of a disorganised and unstructured approach.

'Team Briefing' is a tried and tested circular approach to formal communications that ensures the management message is cascaded quickly to the front line, and in turn their feedback loops back.

1 Content

First and foremost, let's address the 'I don't have enough to say' issue. The 'Four Ps' is an effective checklist to prompt you to consider what to include. Some of the core content will emanate from the senior management meetings. When each of the managers then prepare to brief their own teams, they might add in local issues relevant to their team only.

People: What news do you have that is relevant to this audience? For example, new hires, people departing, role or structure changes, plans for training or performance reviews, births, marriages, social events.

Policy and process: Are there any changes to policies or processes to note? eg holiday arrangements, regulations, compliance issues, email etiquette, systems changes.

Progress: What relevant updates can you give regarding the performance of the business? These might include progress against targets, projects or new initiatives.

Points for action: Consider here any issues you want your people to pay special attention to, between this meeting and the next one. For example, focus on a slow-selling item, get behind a promotion, sign on for training, update files, tidy the warehouse, monitor customer feedback on a new range, check competitor activity.

You won't always have something to say under the 'People' and 'Policy' headings, but you will always have something to say under 'Progress' and 'Points for action'.

2 Structure

A good structure will introduce order, discipline and consistency to your initiative.

n Frequency, timing and location: Decide whether you plan to do this monthly or otherwise, and stick to that. Typically, briefings like this can take between 20-60 minutes, so plan the logistics accordingly. The first couple of meetings may seem strange and stilted but over time you will establish a rhythm.

n The meeting itself: Start the meeting with an overview and finish with a summary of the agreed 'points for action'. Think about flow. For example, if you have four agenda items, the briefer should present each item one at a time. After each one, ask for comments and feedback, before moving on to the next one.

The Last Word

There will be times when you are instructed to 'cascade' a message, that you yourself may not agree with. And that's tough. However, don't succumb to the temptation of saying "I don't agree with this myself, but it says here...".

That may well endear you to your audience, but it devalues the message. It also undermines you as a briefer and your credibility will be at stake.

You are a manager. The only time for you to disagree with such a message is when you yourself are being briefed.

To achieve effective communications in an organisation is not easy. But with a process like this, you will at least be showing good intent. Your culture will improve on the back of that.

Alan O'Neill, author of Premium is the New Black is Managing Director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to kara.ie

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