This is part 4 of The Organizational Clarity Series. We encourage you to start with an introduction to the idea in part 1, HERE.
“Leadership requires two things: A vision of the world that does not exist yet and the ability to communicate it.” ─Simon Sinek, Start with Why
How many attempts does it take to break a bad habit? Or to start a new one? Or how many times must we interact (read, write, recite, etc.) with new information to remember and internalize it?
Once we’ve gone through the important labor of creating and clarifying our team’s essential core, we unfortunately see so many leaders merely publish it to their team in some isolated, grand reveal. They may publish it through a speech, memo, email, or something. They may hang it on a poster or paint it on their team’s work area wall. But then that’s it; it ends after that “grand” reveal and introduction. The issue is, though, that no one’s mind was ever changed by a single speech, lecture, email, or memo. They certainly won’t remember it after just one either. As the opening questions allude to, this requires repetition.
It takes us a comparatively short amount of time to cultivate our team’s core and then clarify it. It may take you and select leaders within your organization a few days, weeks, or even months. But once codified, we must now enter the long journey of sustaining that core – for years and years.
Leaders create and clarify the team’s essential core. But, once established, they must anchor it every day by communicating it in a variety of ways to make it relevant and, in fact, essential. The role of leader is synonymous with “Chief Reminding Officer” – reinforcing to everyone on the team who we are, what we do, and why we do it…always and in all ways.
In concluding this Organizational Clarity Series, we explore how leaders can communicate the team’s essential core. Once we’ve done the work of building that core and clarifying it, we must now bring it to life on consistent and compelling ways…always and in all ways.
Two Leader Attitudes
This idea of communicating the core is predicated on two leader attitudes which we first must explore: Urgency and frequency.
Urgency. We must inspire a genuine and legitimate urgency around our team’s essential core because it is a matter of life or death for our team. Referencing back to the research shared in Part 1 about the systemic problem we face, we must recognize that our team will not survive let alone succeed if we are not anchored to our team’s defined identity – our essential core. Leader’s foster and communicate urgency within the team. We must show everyone that our team’s core is not merely the most important thing…it’s the only thing.
To be clear though, when I say urgency, I don’t mean busyness or immediacy. I mean emphasis. As we endeavor to communicate our team’s core, we must do so with urgency (emphasis) that this is the only thing that truly matters for our team; everything we do is connected back to and sourced from this defined core. This is what will provide clarity in who we are, what we do, and why we do it in order to sustain real team viability.
Frequency. As I alluded to in the opening questions of this article, one single speech, email, or memo is not going to drive understanding and internalization of our core across the team. Go to the bottom of this article and read the ending quote about culture. I’m not asserting that our people don’t care. Rather, I am saying that we are fighting many forces of confusion and distraction that surround our people every day. Like the below quote suggests, we must go to battle every day to ensure our people are clear on our team’s identity, mission (task), and purpose.
Bottom line on frequency is this: No one’s mind was ever changed by a single exposure to information. Also, no one ever left a job or a company because their boss overcommunicated the team’s vision and how their work connected to that. So, leaders need to talk about the team’s core. And talk about it more. And more. It must saturate everything we say and do to communicate and reinforce it across our team.
So, when you feel that you are sick and tired of communicating your team’s core, know that you are likely about halfway there. Get back out there and let’s keep talking about it.
It’s All About the Touchpoints
“It is a component of socializing your people – if you’re not doing it, someone else probably is and likely not in the ways you want.”
In looking how to achieve this engaging and consistent communication of the core, I encourage you to consider it as a model of touchpoints as shown below.
The goal of communicating our team’s core is to maximize the number of high-quality touchpoints that our team members and stakeholders experience on a daily basis. If we can saturate their routine experiences with deliberate messages of and connections to what truly matters most on our team, we build clear, committed, and inspired people.
Communicating the core anchors it to our DNA and connects it to our team’s routine on a daily daily basis. We achieve this through a variety of behaviors that fall under two main anchoring mechanisms: embedding and reinforcing. Communicating this goes well beyond mere verbal communication. As you will see below, we can communicate through activities, behaviors, systems, and more.
Embedding. These type of communication mechanisms are team-based and team-wide. They are things deliberately injected and built in to how the team operates. While leaders are likely the ones to embed these mechanisms, they are not leader-centric; these do not require direct involvement of a leader. These are shared activities across the team. Examples of embedding mechanisms include:
- Physical Artifacts: How we arrange and decorate our team’s operating area or office sends a message to everyone who enters that space. Is our message deliberate in showing them “this is who we are, what we believe, and why we do what we do?” Though simple designs like posters and painting words on a wall may seem remedial, it’s an important first step.
- Meeting Agenda Item: How many meetings do we participate on a weekly basis? Can we use those numerous, routine events as opportunities to remind our team about and re-engage with our core? I challenge you to add it as an agenda item to your meetings; spark a quick conversation around it. It’s a small way to stimulate thinking and energy around it.
- Assessments: Whether developmental (360 feedback) or performance (evaluation), what are we assessing our people against to give them a mark of where they stand? Do our assessment metrics include our team’s core, such as in demonstrating our values? I encourage you to inject your core as the metric (or at least a metric) that you assess your people against. Remember, it’s the only thing, not just the most important thing.
- Celebrating Commitment: When we celebrate our people for performance or achievement, we can use that as an opportunity to connect their behavior to living out a component of our team’s core. For example, a previous team that I had the opportunity to lead a few years ago would celebrate a team member every Friday for a noteworthy achievement. We eventually adjusted this activity to focus on telling a story to the whole team of how that person’s behavior supported one of our specific team values. It connected routine actions to our team’s core and also provided everyone a role model on what living out that value looks like.
Reinforcement. While embedding mechanisms are activities that share responsibility and engagement across the team, reinforcing ones are leader centric. These are the specific leader behaviors that we routinely enact as the Chief Reminding Officer. Several examples include:
- Role-Modeling: Leaders must not be above the “law.” If we are not demonstrating our core in our personal words and actions, it is a nonstarter. Role-modeling is the essential first step to leader development and change. For example, if your team’s core includes a commitment to and/or passion for service, yet the leader enjoys numerous perks and luxuries not afforded to the rest of the team or stakeholders, we are not role-modeling. Nothing else in this part of the series will help to compensate for a lack of leader role-modeling.
- LBWA Conversations: Leaders must demonstrate presence. One of our favorite ways to achieve that is through routine Leadership by Wandering Around During these casual conversations with your people, deliberately inject questions and comments regarding your team’s core. Ask them what the core means to them. Or, if they struggle to have clarity around the core, use this as a great opportunity to communicate perspective on it. Small, intimate moments like this iterated over time with people across the team can begin to have huge impacts on the collective knowledge and attitude on our team’s essential core.
- Your Emails: Use specific language in the dozens of emails you likely send each day. Be deliberate in leveraging language, tones, and ideas from our team’s core as a way to turn a mundane, unengaging communication tool into a powerful reinforcement mechanism.
- Sensing Engagements: Leaders keep a pulse on the team. A great way to do that is by conducting routine “sensing” engagements or “pulse check” conversations with sub-sections of the team. Consider getting a select population of peers from the team (say department managers or the junior sales representatives) to have a transparent conversation about the team, our core, and how we are doing living it out each day. Small group sessions like this can be a terrific way to source rich feedback. These can be sensitive events, though, so be careful to be open and receptive to all feedback offered; be in receive mode, not arguing or getting defensive and thus responding with “let me tell you how it really is…”.
Remember, creating and clarifying the core is the short-form work; that will take you and your team a relatively short amount of time to create (days, weeks, months). Communicating that core to keep it alive, relevant, and the only thing for years is the long-form work that is critical for leaders. To explore our role as Chief Reminding Officer more, I encourage you to check out these other resources:
- Leadership is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say—and What You Don’t, by L. David Marquet
- The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, by Daniel Coyle
- Herding Tigers: Be the Leader That Creative People Need, by Todd Henry
“This is a matter of culture; we must go to battle every day to preserve it and make it relevant to our people.”
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