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Comm Series #10: What People Need to Know (2)

16 Mar

Last week we noted that being well informed about their jobs was the first thing people at work need to know.

The second is an understanding of how their jobs fit into the process of accomplishing work.

Consider the above Venn diagram.  This could be two jobs (people), units, teams, or even divisions.  The work flows sideways through these structures.  This is the simplest version of a process improvement model.  It shows individual and shared responsibility: yours, mine and ours.  Add more circles and you have the diagram of a process designed to deliver a product or service.  This diagram is the basis for process mapping.

Deming, the quality guru, noted that most of the quality problems happen at the hand-offs or boundaries.  Sub-optimization happens when actions designed to improve individual or unit functioning fail to account for negative effects on other parts of the system.  In the workplace, understanding how your actions may enhance or degrade the performance of others is critical to building team spirit and improving quality and productivity.  Simply put, most people want to know how their actions help or hinder others and how they can contribute the making products and services better.

Comm Series #9: What People Need to Know

8 Mar

Remember the principle: Better informed = better performance.

People in the workplace seem to perform best when they know three key chunks (how I know this is a long story).  These are:

1.   As much as possible about their jobs

2.   How their jobs fit into the process of work

3.   The “big picture”

This week let’s examine #1.  People live in their jobs.  The job is one of our most important social roles.  It provides:

  • Compensation
  • A social system (friends & colleagues)
  • An identity

The negative effects of losing a job involuntarily demonstrate how much adaptive behavior a job supports.

Every one of the tools we have discussed in the previous eight blogs, if properly used by a person’s immediate manager, can support and enhance understanding of and performance in a job.

Consider also this more overarching fact:  A job is fundamentally a set of responsibilities.  How many people in the workplace fully understand this idea?  An effective technique in new management practice is to define the core responsibilities of jobs. This is an example of principle-driven management. These are the elements of the job that, if not accomplished, cause the job to collapse. For example, one of the core responsibilities in my job (which is also my company) is marketing and sales. No sales, no work, no job and no business.

Next week: How the job fits into the process of work.

Comm Series #8: Persecuted By An Integer

2 Mar

In 1956 George Miller opens a classic article titled “The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing Information” stating the above.

People mentally store and retrieve information in “chunks,” and the maximum size of a chunk is seven plus/minus two. Thus if you want to have people remember what you say and write, simply follow the “KISS and chunk rule.” Keep It Short and Simple and make sure that your chunks do not exceed seven to nine. Also odd numbers seem to be better.  Think of all the ideas we organize in 3s, 5s, 7s and 9s.

If we say or write a “chunk,” others can easily remember and act on it. Many managers are ineffective because they practice “information overload.” When you communicate too much information others will chunk the information and choose the topics of interest to them, this is how much miscommunication happens.

Large amounts of data can be reduced to smaller chunks and organized hierarchically. The next time you read a newspaper or report or hear a speaker, ask yourself What are the main points in this communication? Once you identify them, recalling the information will be much easier.

Think about ways to apply these principles. The use of “bullets” in written communications can make letters, memos or reports much more effective. In oral communications, define the chunk of information and organize supporting material around it. When in a meeting, look for the important “take-aways.” Remember, the ability to chunk is a measure of cognitive efficiency.

For more in-depth go to chunking.

Comm Series #7: More On Candor

23 Feb

In the video Susy Welch says we are trained to be nice and this is the reason for our lack of candor. Another explanation is that candor often elicits a negative emotional response, this leads to avoidance.

How do we become sensitive and effective users of candor?  Practice is the key element. Effective performance results from careful preparation, lots of trials, feedback and refinement of our practice.  In human performance, we do our best when we work inside our style.


Comm Series #6: Candor

16 Feb

Communications tools will not work if we fail to practice candor.  Candor is quite simply honesty or directness.

Jack Welch in his book Winning says that candor in communications does three things:

1. It gets people into the conversation, and with more ideas and frank discussions, better decisions are the potent outcome.

2. Candor generates speed, and speed in our competitive economy is a powerful competitive advantage.

3. Candor cuts costs by eliminating meaningless, non-contributing functions such as pointless meetings and lack of follow-through.

Why then is candor so hard even for those of us who know its value and have had success using it?

Can you spare four minutes to consider why candor is so powerful yet so difficult to practice? Also, learn the hardest place to practice condor.  Go to


and under “related videos”  on the right, click on the “candor” link.

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Comm Series #5: Feedback

9 Feb

Recently the Gallup organization published an interesting finding from their “Q12” employee satisfaction survey.  Almost 70% of employees stated that they had not received any feedback from their immediate manager in the past six months. Gallup has substantial information that effective feedback builds engagement and engagement is a driver of productivity.  Consider the potential improvements in performance if every manager would even occasionally visit with his people about performance.

Feedback comes in many different flavors such as the spontaneity of an “attaboy” (easy to overuse) to the formality of an annual review.  The best have these characteristics:



Direct but sensitive



Focused on performance, not the personality

For a more in-depth discussion of effective feedback go to Feedback! What’s That?.

“I can live for two weeks on a good compliment”  – Mark Twain

Comm Series #4: Listening

2 Feb

Do you want to have an interesting discussion? Ask any professional woman “What irritates her about male colleagues?”  One of the top three answers will be: They don’t listen.

Effective listening is one of the most respectful things we can do with others.

Yet on a day-to-day basis in the workplace and elsewhere there is very little evidence of people practicing good listening skills.  Consider how often we are either not heard or misunderstood in both our private and work lives.  Why?

Americans always seem to be in a hurry and the “hurry-up syndrome” precludes taking the time to listen to others.  Also, most of us have a natural tendency to be thinking of our response when others are speaking.  This interferes with good listening and we often miss critical elements, make an inappropriate response and inadvertently offending others.

Improve your listening skills by practicing a simple procedure called “active listening.”  Although there are many facets to active listening, the essential ingredient is to restate or summarize what the other person has said.  This forces us to attend to the content of the message.

The benefits of effective listening are fivefold:

1.    Receive more information.

2.    Show your respect for others.

3.    Earn others’ respect and confidence.

4.    Save time.

5.    Can be an effective conflict management tool