The Value of Bad News

Business, Business Communications, Communications, Leadership

An interesting article caught my eye recently on the importance of listening. It specifically looks at senior leadership and the challenges of remaining connected to the full organization while creating an environment that fosters sharing and listening across levels. The article is titled Are You Really Listening? via Harvard Business Review (limited number of articles per month free or for subscribers) and is worth a read in full.

For years, CEOs and other senior leaders (corporate, agency, and nonprofit) have often struggled alone in managing the pressures they face. Despite being in charge of hundreds or even thousands of employees, it can be a very lonely role. The expectation exists to be confident and strong in their decision making, to always have a handle on what’s coming next. Studies have shown that many CEOs don’t feel that they can have someone internally with whom they can be truly open and honest in working through ideas or challenges they face.

Because of these pressures and challenges, it is easy to become disconnected from those with lines of sight to the day-to-day operations. It’s also common for information moving up the chain to be revised at each step to appear more positive. Managers and directors along the way don’t want to be the bearer of bad news either so senior leaders may be receiving filtered information that paints things in the manner that staff “believe” leadership wants.

“At the core of the challenge is a paradox in the life of senior leaders, particularly CEOs: They generally have access to more lines of communication than anybody else has, but the information that flows to them is suspect and compromised. Warning signals are tamped down. Key facts are omitted. Data sets are given a positive spin.”

Are You Really Listening? – Harvard Business Review

There are a number of great takeaways within the article and Adam Bryant and Kevin Sharer provide quality insights so I won’t repeat those but one aspect that I’d like to expand on is the importance of accepting, and actually encouraging, staff to share bad news.

In my career, this has been one of the major challenges that most organizations face. It’s hard to share bad news, really hard. Every employee wants to perform well and succeed so sharing news like “the promotion isn’t working” or “customers don’t want our new solution” with your boss can be a scary proposition. The first time I ever made a mistake at work, which turned out to be a relatively easy to fix once I summoned the courage to raise it, I was absolutely sure I was going to be fired and finding a new line of work. Yet I’m still here 25 years later thanks to a great boss that probably saw the fear on my face and calmly talked through a couple options to get things back on track.

To empower staff to share information openly, consider the following:

Directly communicate the importance of unfiltered updates– The best way to convey your need for essential, open information is to state it early for all employees. The information coming in from all sources in the organization must work together to provide the organization with the flow of real-world feedback needed to succeed. As a manager or leader, you can’t do your best work without the support of employees in their roles. Be sure every employee knows that as well.

Walk the talk in supporting culture- It is easy to say “come to me with anything” but without a system in place and backing from the top of the organization that statement rings hollow. The first time any employee comes to you with a concern or bad news, how you react will set the tone for the future interaction with them and anyone else that knows of the issue. A disappointed look, frustration, or anger will carry more weight than any policy they’ve read. You begin building trust from day one and you continue to earn it over and over with each update, good or bad.

Create regular touchpoints to listen and clarify- Establishing a regular cadence of updates from all levels of the team allows senior leaders to have timely, open updates. Putting the pieces together from all sources of information throughout the organization is the responsibility of leadership. To do that, they need full access to information but that also requires focused listening.  A meeting can shift into something that just has to be done and then on to the next one, particularly for remarkably busy individuals. Don’t make that mistake and slip into turning a valuable commitment into a missed opportunity. To gain the strategic value from listening, you must be fully present to hear what is being said and take the opportunity to clarify and ask questions. Actively listening provides employees with the confidence that they are valued and trusted while senior staff get the insights they need to effectively set the right strategic direction for all.

Women Doing Great Things Every Day

Business, Life

International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to consider where we are and how far we still have to go in order to see women recognized as they should be in so many ways. Within the communications industry, there is better representation than many professions and for that I’m truly thankful. I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many smart, talented women throughout my career but, even in this industry, there remains an unequal gender balance in many of the very senior and executive levels.

Today I want to thank a number of people that have had an important impact on my professional life over the last 20 or so years.

Thank you to Patti Engel and Janet Stacey for your support and the opportunity to learn from each of you. The stages of my career were different but being able to work for smart, dedicated health care leaders was tremendous.

I appreciate the great industry friends, colleagues, and client contacts I’ve been fortunate to have over the years. Whether working together directly or just within the industry and crossing paths, it’s been such a pleasure to collaborate with people like Heather, LeAnn, Christina, Melissa, Jenna, and Maggie.

I’m also so excited to see how many of the young professionals I met during the earlier stages of their careers have gone on to do some wonderful things. It’s probably just that I’m old now but these “young” pros success is amazing and well-deserved. As an example, Jessie Clapper was an intern that put up with me way back when and has gone to do tremendous achievements for a number of leading brands. As have Kirsten, Nicole, and Janey.

I would be remiss to not-mention my amazingly talented wife Christina who is so dedicated and doing awesome things in her professional world and for our family.

Still a long road ahead, but I’m thankful that it’s being paved by this group and so many others.

Learning More About Moral Leadership

Leadership

Really interesting and important research from The HOW Institute for Society as shared by the World Economic Forum on the true desire for moral leadership. This is not a call for just CEOs and formal leaders, but those of all levels that influence and lead others. It’s always been relevant but in greater focus now given well, everything the last year or so has thrown at us.

It’s fascinating to see some of the many findings that are far from complex in concept- as an example, “79% of respondents agree that their organizations would make better business decisions if they followed a golden rule: treat others as you would have them treat you.” This is what most of us learned at home before even starting school. Treat your teams with compassion, treat each other as humans and not just workers, and know that everyone is working to balance many roles in their lives. These are real factors in how teams perform and overlooking the human piece in leading an organization will ultimately leave you short of optimal results.

One of my favorite pieces in the report:

These leaders are not simply well-behaved, they stimulate action by anchoring their daily work – and the work of those around them – in a principled vision of what is good for the world. Moral leaders are advocates who see the humanity in everyone and take the time to build unique and deep relationships. They see people not as means, but as ends in themselves. They listen and learn from those they lead and are often more inclusive.

Read the full report from The HOW Institute for Society and consider how you can continually learn and improve your own moral leadership skills and enjoy better performance.

B2B Email Marketing in 2021

Marketing, Writing

Every year it feels like there will be a push to move away from B2B email marketing with new tools and channels available. Plus, “everyone gets too much email” and “nobody reads email.” This year will be no different. The growth (justifiably so) of audio and video has captured much of the buzz as we collectively seek new ways to connect while more physically apart than any time in recent memory.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE- B2B email is performing better than pre-pandemic levels. According to Hubspot’s State of Email Marketing in 2020, 78% of marketers have seen an increase in email engagement over the last 12 months. Email can generate an ROI of up to 42:1 per research by Litmus with some industries even outperforming that average.

Why does email work so well? Targeted, strategic content that is on-target to your prospects.

  • We’ve been conditioned to look for professional communications via email. There’s no surprise in this but the key is identifying the content that is relevant for your audience. Would you have guessed that 73% of millennials prefer communications from businesses to come via email? (Hubspot) Understanding your audience is central in creating the content strategy that will drive your B2B program.

  • The most successful companies use metrics to measure content performance and have a documented content strategy. (Content Marketing Institute) It’s difficult to improve performance if you aren’t measuring against specific goals. One of the areas I work with clients to improve is utilizing metrics to track progress and performance but also learn specifically what type of content and topics are working and what could be missing the mark.

  • What do you want them to do? This is the central question when shaping email content. With limited real estate both visually and in terms of best practices for copy length, be specific in what the call to action is within your message. Don’t make the mistake of trying to list every benefit or feature that you think a prospect needs to jump to a buying decision. Consider the journey that will be required to move a prospect from awareness to consideration and ultimately to a decision- work step-by-step. Email is a great way to nurture a relationship, provide useful content and you’ll get there.

Overcoming Obstacles and Inspiration

Business Communications, Communications, Life

In 2020, one positive that came from such an unusual year with more time at home was a re-birth of time spent reading by so many of us. While I didn’t get through as many books as I personally hoped, (it was still an odd year with plenty of other things to deal with) finding ways to learn through traditional business education or inspiration to think was a critical way for so many to keep some balance in an upside-down world.

I recently completed Fear Is A Choice which is the story of James Conner and all he learned in facing cancer as a young athlete. Initially, I wanted to read this book mainly as a Pittsburgh Steelers fan but as I read I found much more. Conner recounts his experience as a college player with dreams of the NFL, through diagnosis and treatment, to ultimately learning to embrace the new role he carries as a face for thousands of others facing cancer.

Through his personal journey, Conner gained wisdom beyond his years and I found myself thinking about how many of his messages are true values that can apply to our professional lives in addition to being great advice for daily life.

A few highlights included:

  • The more you are able to recognize the people who are walking beside you, in whatever capacity they can, the more grateful you will become for the allies you have, and the stronger you will feel.

    This was included appropriately enough within a chapter titled “Recognize Your Team” which we overlook far too often during tough parts of our professional journeys. When you consider this in the context of a career, it’s a pretty powerful concept. In a year when so many faced significant career change, think about those that have made an impact on your professional journey and how much it means when someone really believes in you, and walks with you during the challenging days. Take the opportunity to look around from time-to-time and do all you can to walk beside others whenever you can too.
  • You are in your position, living out your story for a reason. You were uniquely created to do something with the exact circumstances you’re facing. Your story exists for you… Don’t wish yourself into someone else’s life. Don’t wish yourself out of your own story.

    Over the course of your career, there will be success and failure. Everyone will be faced with both and often times the grass always looks greener on the other side, but the obstacles hold the potential to be the moments that transform us.

    For young professionals, please know that while you may not be where you want today, don’t run from or rush your story- it’s meant for you. For my fellow gray-haired friends, your story continues to grow and may even change dramatically from where you’ve been and that can be THRILLING.

  • Your courage to engage life with passion and chase your dreams despite setbacks sends a message to others. By coming out the other side of a challenging time stronger than ever, you are carrying a little bit of their fear and discouragement; you are making their load a little lighter because they know you’ve already walked this road.

    It’s been a year— we’re all working through things together and every time you do something brave you inspire the next person behind you. At a time when inspiration is needed, the work you choose and how you react to challenges can be more meaningful to others than you may ever know.