strategic communication

“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow.” – Lawrence Clark Powell

Archive for the tag “leadership”

The Power of a Leader’s Vision

Job seekers are finding that the culture of a workplace is extremely important. I am not just talking about employee relations and fun events, rather I am stressing the importance of how the company views leaders. Glassdoor is a website and app that provides reviews for companies nationwide. I downloaded the app and am able to search jobs and companies in any city. Once I find a company, I am taken to a Glassdoor page that gives it an overall rating out of 5 stars. The rating is compiled of anonymous reviews that share experiences. Each review includes a rating on recommendation, positive/negative outlook, and opinion of CEO.

Glassdoor2

The highest ranking companies have consistent positive outlooks of the CEO. Review titles are usually “Great place to work!” “Great Executives!” “Opportunity for growth!” The places where employees are encouraged to work hard and grow into new opportunities are the most appealing. The upward mobility is a result of a productive environment instilled by leaders upholding the company’s values. The leaders of the company have a vision for their purpose, and they know how to motivate all employees to continue working hard. A leader’s vision that is shared by all employees makes all the difference when evaluating a workplace.

Leadership is an interesting concept in that anyone can have the qualities of a leader. Sure, there are some who seem to be “born to lead” with natural confidence and enthusiasm for success. However, there is not some cookie-cutter mold that every leader must follow. While it is important to have skill sets with management qualities (organization, planning, working with budgets), a leader should have behavioral qualities that encourage a company to constantly grow and improve.  For example, leaders in communications understand that technology and social media have changed the way companies share information to their audiences. Those who are hesitant to adopt a social media platform or use mobile media are falling behind. Leaders look to the future with confidence, and reassure the team that it is worth it to make changes for the better of the company.

One of the most admirable traits of a leader’s vision is the fact that it is driven by motivation. Leaders do not give up and do not distract themselves from the ultimate goal. In a world where many people are instructed to make “safe” decisions or choose a “stable lifestyle” instead of taking a chance, it is easy to give up on a dream. A leader never loses sight of the final destination, rather, he/she reroutes the direction to get there. Wendy Kopp founded one of the most well-known, valuable organizations, Teach for America, during a time when no one would have dreamed successful college graduates would want to work in lower income level parts of the country. Her perseverance lead to the success of the organization, and it inspired associates to work to make a difference in the lives of others.

Actions matter

Actions matter

Benjamin Zander announced that when he finished his TED Talk, everyone in the building would have a better understanding and love for classical music. He made it a point to express he had no doubt in his mind it would work, claiming that visions can be realized if the leader and team both believe it. His example: “What if Martin Luther King, Jr. said ‘I have a dream! Although I’m not sure they’ll be up to it…” really stood out because MLK Jr. was out to do the impossible. There were so many odds against him, yet he never faltered in front of the crowd. He knew that if he wanted his dream realized, he had to believe it would be realized and he would take every chance he got to achieve it. The support from the crowds helped his cause because they trusted him and admired his vision. It didn’t matter how hard the road was as long as they had something to hope for.

Everyone has a passion for something. Some people are passionate about writing or theatre, and want to share their stories with the world. Others want to do a good job in their work, perhaps because they really enjoy the purpose their work or because they really enjoy taking care of their loved ones. Those who follow their passions without failure are the leaders. How they handle negative outcomes or intense pressure makes all the difference in the quality of leadership. What I am figuring out as I continue life after undergrad is that the field you work in is so important.  Working in a field that you are interested in, that excites you, and ignites a passion in you will make you work harder. You will find that every action you make will ultimately work toward reaching success, and you will want others to succeed alongside you.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

Now that we are all feeling inspired, let’s put this leadership vision in a work setting. Think about the goal of the organization and how each work task gets the team one step closer to that goal. Ensure each employee is properly trained in their position. Encourage everyone to keep putting all of their efforts into their work by reminding them of their purpose. Customer satisfaction cannot happen if the right kind and number of products are not available, if a customer service representative is rude, or if public information isn’t updated. Be someone who thinks strategically about what each department of an organization brings to the company as a whole. Open the floor to new ideas from everyone. What is working well and what can be improved?

Leaders should trust that their leadership is effective enough to continue without their presence. If employees are trained on what they need to do and educated on why they need to do it, a leader won’t have to breathe over each person’s shoulder to ensure everything is working. Jerry Porras discusses visionary companies: those that are high performing and have endured over the years. Visionary companies are known to make an impact on human culture. He brings up the fact that leaders make companies great while they are present and this greatness last even when they are gone. The leader that builds an organization on all things it needs to be successful is ultimately the most effective leader.

Leaders work for a cause greater than themselves. It is not all about glory and self-fulfillment. Having a vision is a powerful tool for a leader because it encourages hard work and dedication. Leaders that encourage their team with motivation, open discussions, and a positive work environment will drive organizations to lasting success.

“The worst leader is one who is despised.
Next, one who is feared.
Next best is a leader who is loved.
When the best leader works, people are hardly
aware he/she exists.
When the work is done, people say,
‘Amazing. We did it all by ourselves!’”
-Lao Tse; Tao te Ching

Working from the Inside Out

When thinking of a company organizational chart, it is similar to this:

organization-chart

All positions ultimately lead up to an executive member. The executive is considered the leader of the company because that role is in charge of most of the important decisions that affect the good of the company. However, a leader is not simply someone who is in charge of making decisions. A leader cannot lead without a team, and to maintain a team, a leader must know how to communicate with every individual. A leader must work well with colleagues, subordinates, and those outside of the organization. Leaders in all organizations, whether it be business, nonprofit, or a government agency, need to know how to communicate internally in order to communicate their messages externally. Employees who have experience with efficient communication in the office will be able to use these strategies when working with outside clients to ensure satisfactory customer service. Outside relations are a reflection of inside environments.

When managing a company or organization, it is crucial that associates are satisfied with their work. Obviously there will always be some sort of issue or complaint depending on the day, but employees should be content with coming to work each day. If there is an ongoing issue that prohibits work, and no one feels they can turn to anyone for help, the problem only increases in its burden. Leaders need to be attainable and willing to step in when necessary. Dr. John Klein discusses types of work cultures in his essay. A “dehumanizing culture” is one where employees are considered lazy and ineffective in the workplace. Their feedback to their superiors is either ignored or never brought up for fear of punishment. How productive can that culture actually be?

Possible solutions of fixing a dehumanizing cultures include opening the door to any and all employee feedback. No leader is so great that he or she does not need advice every once in a while, and good leaders will understand that. It is the leader’s responsibility that the office runs smoothly, and part of that responsibility is to take in account all employee viewpoints. Department meetings should be more than just “any questions or concerns?” Instead, a department could try out new methods of conducting meetings each week. Perhaps one member of the team will lead the meetings each week. This would give each associate a chance to discuss any feedback in a supportive setting. This method would give each employee more experience with leading, and would allow everyone to see what works well and what could be improved.

messagefeedback

Leanne Glenny observes that in terms of government communications, “communication is no longer recognized as an act performed by one entity upon another. Participants are not considered as passive bystanders as their interpretations lead to the creation of meaning.” The idea of two-way communication is applied to all groups and is especially key in internal communications. A constant dialogue should be active in all workplaces to ensure all employees are on the same page.

Consider the following scenario:

A team in a company conducts an audit to see if each hired employee has all important paperwork completed and on file. The audit shows that there are key documents missing from a number of employees in both the main office and offices in the field, including some executives. These employees must be notified they have to complete these documents in a timely manner, but it is important for identities to be discreet in terms of privacy. The resolution is to send out an e-mail explaining the procedure to complete the paperwork, but to blind copy (Bcc) each employee on it so no one can see who else has received it. The e-mail is proofed, approved, and sent to the select employees. It only takes a minute for people to respond. Responses include “Was this meant to be sent to me?” “Was I supposed to be bcc’d on this?” “What was wrong with my paperwork in the first place?” “Can you explain further?”

email-

What seemed like a simple solution actually created a whirlwind of confusion. There were good intentions behind the method of the e-mail, but the message was not correctly conveyed. The team must get together to work out how to better explain not only the content of the e-mail, but why they chose to blind copy everyone on it. A brief meeting results in a to-the-point explanation that is e-mailed to the employees, using bcc again to protect identity. The reason that new paperwork was required was explained as well as how the blind copy e-mail was the most efficient and discreet way to reach everyone. Again, people respond, but this time with varying forms of “Thank you for the clarification.” The team had to work through two solutions in order to solve the initial problem, but the result showed that everyone had a mutual understanding on what needed to be done. This process will also require a number of follow-up e-mails until each employee has completed the paperwork. Communication takes work!

During my internship there were times when e-mails or phone calls were sufficient for certain tasks, and other times when it was best to physically go to another employee’s office. Interpersonal communication is a great strategy to connect with employees, if done correctly. Advantages of interpersonal communications include being able to fully explain instructions and providing immediate clarification if needed. Many times e-mails may unintentionally convey the wrong message or tone. It is important to remember that when communicating face-to-face with others, vulnerabilities such as facial expressions or body language may hinder the meaning. The best way to have effective interpersonal communication is for both parties to share a mutual respect for each other and the organization. A relaxed environment in which employees are listening with intent to understand by maintaining eye contact and having a pleasant attitude will promote effective communication. Offices are busy, but when working with people it is important to create opportunities to treat them like people.

Imagine if every conversation could be this pleasant

Imagine if every conversation could be this pleasant

Communication makes all the difference in completing tasks, and the more communication that takes place, the more a company will improve as a whole.

A quote to leave you with that was sent to me from an expert communicator and leader:

“Make a careful list of the things done to you that you absolutely hated, that demotivated you. never do those to others…ever. Now, make a careful list of the things that motivated and inspired you. Do those with others…always…without fail.”  -Dee Hock.

Step into a Leader’s Shoes

Building on last week’s topic of the diffusion of innovations, this week’s topic is on interpersonal communication and opinion leaders.There are certain steps each new idea goes through before it reaches a wide audience. These steps involve interactions not only within an organization, but with outside consumers as well. Why do some products trend more than others? How do companies keep their customers interested? Communication is an extremely large factor in elevating public interest, and there is much behind the scenes work in getting the right information out there.

Word of mouth (WOM) communication is a powerful tool for in sales. In fact, Okazaki states in his study using the social influence model that as much as “67% of sales of consumer goods are based on personal information sources.” WOM was increased with the Internet sensation, but has now reached a new level through mobile devices. Consumers can take these mobile devices anywhere, so what better strategy than to have mobile advertisements and information readily available to anyone, anywhere?

Ford embraced mobile WOM by rewarded active social media users with a free Ford Fiesta. It is safe to say that receiving a free car will get a customer to talk about a company’s product. However, it is important for a company to do more than a one social media campaign. A company cannot just have one big social media event and think it will stay relevant in this fast-paced world. Starbucks has succeeded in the art of social media posts that continually impact the in-store experience. They have revamped their pages to invite customers to share their ideas, as well as to announce in-store promotions on each of these sites. The pages are thriving on the idea of a social culture and influence: friends will go to the coffee shop together; an individual will go to see live music or attend a special event knowing people will be there.

Today was my last day as an intern at the Shoe Carnival corporate office. To say the past five months have been a learning experience would be an understatement. Working in the corporate office allowed me to see how everything in each department comes together to ensure success in the stores. Shoe Carnival has mastered the art of interpersonal influence by supporting the community and participating in nationwide charities. The company is also run by opinion leaders, those who aren’t afraid to try out the next big thing, or those who have a strong influence on others.

Simon Sinek’s TED Talk discusses the attributes that make a great leader. Throughout the talk he repeats the idea that “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Shoe Carnival’s leaders are more than willing to try something new to improve their stores and give families more opportunities for affordable merchandise. Their stores are expanding to states they have never inhibited before, and their advertisements have recently reached a national level. Their Instagram account is updated weekly along with fresh Facebook posts. They have also adopted better shipping techniques to ensure customers will get their products in a timely matter. The biggest change seen in the stores is the increased amount of higher quality brands over the past year. Many were concerned introducing higher-priced brands would take away from the affordable, family values, but they found a way to bring higher end brands to more affordable prices. The company is truly thinking from the inside out by focusing on the purpose of their shoe sales, and not just the fact that they have products.

An Instagram post showing off a variety of boot choices and inviting users to talk about what they like

An Instagram post showing off a variety of boot choices and inviting users to talk about what they like best. 

Shoe Carnival is known to be a family-friendly store, and the company takes pride in its family values. How do customers know about these values? When you enter a Shoe Carnival store you will see a basketball shooting game for children/teens to play. Each store features a person on a microphone that announces deals and a wheel for customers to spin to receive additional savings. This fun atmosphere is directed towards families and makes their shopping experience more enjoyable. I have friends who have never set foot in a store, and when I told them about the Mic Person and the spinning wheel, they said they had to see it. Even something as small as describing an atmosphere of a place allows interpersonal communication to influence someone’s decision to enter a store.

wheel

The company also engages in a variety of community events. Shoe Carnival supports charities that are centered on families and children. For example, in Evansville, IN, where the corporate office is located, there is an organization called CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), which provides guardian ad litems for foster children. Each year Shoe Carnival hosts a Walk the Runway event where they have school aged children modeling the latest fashion trends in shoes. Shoe Carnival employees volunteer to run the show and handle the silent auction and donation tables. Their logo is posted on the volunteers’ t-shirts and on banners throughout the event.

This year an incredible thing happened. Once the show was over, an auctioneer came onto the runway to offer a testimony and ask for donations starting at $1,000 and counting down. A man in the crowd suddenly raised his hand to speak, so the auctioneer handed him the microphone. This man began to talk about how he’s been shopping at Shoe Carnival for years and felt they always had the best prices and deals. His story ended with the following sentence: “Over the years I’ve probably saved up $10,000 by shopping the deals at Shoe Carnival. If Shoe Carnival supports this organization, it must be good, so tonight I would like to donate $10,000 to CASA.”

You can imagine the chills that ran throughout the building and the jaws that dropped! This man felt grateful to Shoe Carnival and passed his gratefulness onto a valued, non-for-profit organization. This also inspired even more people to donate, and CASA is proud to report they shot past their donation goals. CASA took time to post on their Facebook page to thank Shoe Carnival for being the title sponsor. All of this attention and WOM posting has made Shoe Carnival’s reputation stronger. Once again, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

walk1

Shoe Carnival shows leadership in the world of family-friendly retail through the store environment, merchandise, marketing, and by WOM from community events. Businesses that aren’t afraid to try new strategies and participate in the community will consistently attract valuable customers.

Post Navigation