It was the op-ed heard ‘round the world. Or at least one that sure resonated with a lot of people.
When former Goldman Sachs employee Greg Smith took his ex-employer to task in a damning New York Times piece on March 14, he got everyone, from leaders and communications teams to the average employee, talking about the role of leaders, employee engagement, and plenty more. Depending on your side of the fence, you were probably asking one of two questions: “What would I do if one of my employees wrote something like this?” or “What would I write about my employer?”
I tackled the Goldman issue in two recent blog posts: Lessons from Wall Street: $2.15 Billion Is the Cost of Disengagement looks at the price of employee disengagement. More recently, in Goldman Sachs Execs Missing the Point, Now Looking for Employees to Blame, I called out Goldman's leadership for a lack of accountability.
What’s the lesson or learning here for your organization or you?
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Remember the ad about your brain on drugs? Picture an egg—your brain-- sizzling in the frying pan and you get the idea. The sad part is that sorry egg could also be people’s brains when they’re going through change.
It used to be that the only clues we had about what was going on in people’s brains came from injuries and surgical patients. Today, neuroscientists are able to use imaging tools that let them literally see inside people’s heads. What they’re discovering has implications in all sorts of contexts—including how we communicate about change.
If you’re a leader or a change communicator, here are a few things to know about your and other people’s brains:
- Neuroscientists have discovered that physical pain, social pain, pain of others, and imagined pain light up related areas of the brain. This implies that for many people, change is as detrimental as physical pain.
- Your brain is a competitive field where your prefrontal cortex (PFC)—the center of conscious thinking, logic, innovation and analysis-- vies for energy resources with your limbic system, where unconscious, automatic, survival responses—think fight or flight--reside. The PFC needs far more energy than the limbic system and is literally “hijacked” when the limbic system grabs resources in times of threat and change.
- Stress releases chemicals which allow the limbic system to take quick action but actually diminish your brain’s capacity to analyze and innovate. The PFC, on the other hand, functions well in the presence of “reward” chemicals, which can be stimulated by praise, support, good relationships and other positive events. It takes a lot of reward to overcome even very small amounts of stress, though, which is part of the challenge in helping people work through change.
- The brain gravitates towards efficient programmed responses—habit—which reside in the limbic system. People are guided by habit far more often than by thought. Change challenges habit and requires new responses, further triggering stress and threat.
- An organizing principle of your brain is “Minimize Pain-Seek Reward”. David Rock, a coach, author and founder of the Neuroleadership field has coined the acronym SCARF: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. When any of these are threatened, higher brain functioning shuts down. Rewards in one area, however, may be able to influence brain resources and chemistry to overcome stress in another.
So what does all this mean for communicators of change? To start, be aware that your words can cause fear and pain, which can stop people in their tracks. Your organization needs people able to use their higher thinking functions, not paralyzed by stress. When creating communications, your attention to SCARF, and a skillful use of framing and association can actually help calm people’s brains.
A reorganization, for example, can threaten someone’s status, and their sense of certainty, autonomy and fairness. As a communicator or leader you can improve the sense of relatedness between people and their managers—the most important relationship people have in most companies. Communicators can provide talking points and facilitation guides for managers that help them reinforce people’s sense of worth and value. Leaders can foster a sense of fairness through processes that are as transparent as possible.
IT and process changes threaten people’s status, certainty and autonomy because suddenly they no longer know how to do their work. Actions and communications that acknowledge how people are feeling and that manage performance expectations during the period of transition, can help them feel more certain and protect their status.
In a merger, people may have their titles changed and their responsibilities increased or diminished. If a vice-president in one system becomes a director in another, the person’s status may be threatened because of unconscious associations with the title, even though they may actually have more pay or wider responsibility. Communications that describe and leaders that acknowledge the differences in terminology and culture can help create a sense of fairness that can help people cope.
Which takes us back to that brain in the frying pan: With some insights from neuroscience, leaders and communicators can help take that brain out of the frying pan and off of the fire.
Neesa Sweet is a coach, communicator, facilitator and consultant in change, engagement, learning and leadership. Formerly Director of Learning and Development for the Sun-Times, she consults to organizations in a wide range of industries. Neesa’s approach is influenced by research in neuroscience, linguistics and complexity science. She is a Results Certified Coach from the Neuroleadership Institute, and is certified in several assessments including Polarity Management, Myers-Briggs and HBDI. She taught Narrative for Business at the University of Chicago Graham School and is a Master Practitioner of NLP. Her company, the Braided River Group, is named for rivers which run below glaciers, creating channels around obstacles as they flow. So, too, she says, effective companies merge their vision and direction with the flexibility they need to succeed.
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A new poll shows Goldman Sachs’s workplace reputation has taken a nose-dive. Again. This time, the scores are worse than during the financial crisis—according to the YouGov BrandIndex, a daily brand consumer perception index. YouGov BrandIndex poll 5,000 consumers daily and asks, “Would you be proud or embarrassed to work for this brand?”
The index scores financial institutions on a scale from 100 to -100, with 0 being a neutral score—Goldman’s current score is -36, falling well below that of its competitors, who don’t often drop far below the neutral mark.
As I mentioned in a recent post about Goldman, corporate values, including critical behaviors and daily actions, are meaningless if leaders don’t act as role models.
The "moment of truth" for employees happens every day when employees see leaders acting in ways that either support the organization's values, or don't. Their actions speak louder than any words can.
If Goldman’s leaders want to improve their brand reputation—and avoid more disasters, similar to Greg Smith’s New York Times tell-all op-ed—they need to take an inside-out approach, stop playing the blame game, and fix what's wrong in their culture, starting at the top.
What are your thoughts on what Goldman leaders need to do differently?
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Here’s part two of email suggestions and tips to help you communicate better:
Never send an email when you’re upset—Take a step away from your computer and consider how to best resolve an issue.
Don’t hide behind email—It feels so easy to avoid difficult conversations by sending an email, but research shows that conflict escalates quicker and lasts longer over email.
Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone—Email is not always the right vehicle. You should never give bad news over email. Complex information is best addressed in a face-to-face conversation; nuance is often missed over email.
Use the CC field as an FYI—The CC field says this is an FYI and you are not expected to take action. CC your manager when you want him or her to know you’ve taken an action.
Use the BCC field for large groups of recipients—Don’t advertise people’s email address.
Use “Reply All” only when appropriate—Use sparingly. If everyone on the chain doesn’t need to see your response why fill up their inbox?
Take care when sending large files—Check with your recipient in advance to see how they would like to receive the file.
Avoid sarcasm or tongue-in-cheek humor—Email doesn’t convey the meaning behind these types of statements.
Which of these email tips – if implemented – could make a significant difference for you and those you email?
Did you miss Tips to Improve Your Email E-tiquette, Part 1? Read it now.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse at Goldman Sachs, it looks as if the blame game is starting. After last week’s 2.15 billion loss in market value, Goldman Sachs is now reportedly reviewing internal emails for the word “muppet” and other ways in which employees referred to clients in less-than-positive ways, according to Reuters. This move comes after a senior leader resigned and shared his thoughts about Goldman in an op-ed in the New York Times. It was a shot that was heard around the world.
The company said in a conference call with partners this week said that it was taking the employee’s claims seriously. Last week, in a post on the Goldman website, the company said the employee’s assertions didn’t represent the values of the organization. The post and the reports of this week’s conference call stops short of any acknowledgement of issues within the culture, and what the company is doing to correct them.
It seems as if the company is looking for employees to blame instead of senior execs looking at themselves in the mirror, asking whether there’s an issue or not. According to reports from inside and outside the company, the employee’s assertions were clearly not an isolated case.
How is it that the senior-most leaders at Goldman don’t think they might have an issue?
What are they waiting for to acknowledge they have an issue, and move swiftly with actions to help address the cultural issues and their issues with clients?
This is a leadership litmus test, and so far, the execs at Goldman have failed miserably.
The problem with blame is that it’s often a smoke screen for the real issue or problem, which doesn’t get solved. The execs might get immediate gratification, which is a trap. Said another way, focusing on blame distracts you from the real solution, and from valuable lessons.
Maybe that’s what the Goldman execs want. I would encourage them to stop looking for someone to blame, admit that they might have created the problem, and fix the issue.
There’s a lesson here for leaders everywhere. Are you guilty of playing the blame game?
Photo Credit: Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs Lloyd C. Blankfein talks during a business roundtable event at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington February 14, 2012. Reuters/Larry Downing
A business colleague and friend recently had her second child and sent along pictures of her new son. Adorable. I’m thrilled for them, and was excited to see the pictures.
There were dozens of us on the email, and at the end of the email she said this:
“As an inbox courtesy, please do not reply all, but rather reply to me directly if you like. Thanks so much.”
Brilliant. I didn’t get one email from someone who hit “reply all.”
How much time might we save if others added this simple request when emailing a group of people? Or, if we just didn’t use reply all except when it’s absolutely, positively necessary, which is rare.
Email abuses are everywhere. This is one small but helpful step that can make a significant difference.
I hope this suggestion might give birth to others you have. Please share what’s working with you.
What other great solutions have you found to reduce the flurry of emails in your in box?
In the spirit of using email better, and helping others use email better, below are tips anyone can implement to avoid the abuses and fix bad habits. Here’s the first of two parts:
Keep your message simple and clear—Edit unnecessary words to focus your recipient on what’s most important. Short sentences and bullet points make your message easier to read on a computer screen, and a smartphone.
Answer all questions, be proactive—Avoid wasted time with back and forth emails. Answer all questions posed to you, and proactively answer your recipients’ likely next questions.
Respond quickly—Email is built for speed. Respond within 24 hours; if it will take longer to respond, let the sender know you received his or her email and are working on it.
Use polite greetings and closings—Please and thank you go a long way in conveying a positive tone.
Use proper spelling, grammar and punctuation—Be professional and show you care. Always use spellcheck and proofread your emails.
Do not use all caps—Did you mistake the meaning of that statement because I didn’t put NOT in all caps? No? Neither will your recipient.
Don’t use special formatting, backgrounds, colored text or emoticons—Many feel they’re unprofessional.
Double check for correct email addresses and attachments—Avoid being embarrassed or disseminating proprietary information.
Be clear in the subject line—Avoid having your emails ignored by briefly explaining the content of your message.
Which of these email tips, if implemented, could make a significant difference for you and those you email?
Has email taken over your life? Download the free ebook The Definitive Guide to Taming the Email Monster!
Greg Smith launched a great deal of discussion and debate this week with his public resignation from Goldman Sachs on Wednesday through the op-ed column of the New York Times. His claims: a “toxic” environment where Goldman leaders belittle clients and use them as pawns in self-serving revenue-generating schemes.
Goldman leaders posted a reply on the company website on Wednesday in which they denounce Mr. Smith’s claims. From where I sit, something doesn’t add up. Why would one employee take such drastic measures to call out an employer and risk his own reputation if he didn’t feel there was a serious problem at hand?
In my experience with thousands of employees from sizable corporations, such as Goldman, across the country, I have seen this sort of disconnect play out in many ways. It comes down to the fact that actions speak louder than words. Corporate missions, visions and values are terribly important tools for guiding the implementation of business strategies, however, they are meaningless if leaders don’t role model them day-in and day-out for employees.
Even Goldman CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, stated in 2010 that there were suspicions then that “something is broken” within the renown financial institution. Goldman’s website statement on Wednesday would have had significantly greater credibility in my view if they had outlined steps they have taken over the past years to change the Goldman-first mentality.
Leaders can not adopt, “Do as I say, not as I do” mentalities. In the case of Greg Smith, he clearly was not on board with the actions of his leaders, which ended up costing the company $2.15 billion in market share in one day. A dear price to pay for disengagement.
If one of your employees were to write an op-ed about your company, what would it say?
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What makes the biggest difference for bosses? Being more planful and purposeful in their communications.
It can take as little as 5 minutes to think through the following to communicate more effectively:
- Outcome – What do you want to accomplish at the highest-level? What’s the business outcome you seek? Define it as specifically as you can.
- Audience – Are you communicating to an individual or group? What is your relationship? What perspective might they have and what information do they need? The more you know the better you are able to influence the audience. In the end, what do you want them to do?
- Messages – Think about the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of what you are communicating. Adult learners want to know the “what” first and then the “why.” Be sure to explain your intention and be direct in a caring way, especially when addressing difficult issues.
- Tactics – Is the message best delivered face-to-face, one-on-one, through e-mail or in another way? Consider the limitations and possible impact of each option. Important topics deserve face-to-face communication, or at least voice-to-voice communication.
- Measurement – How will you evaluate how well your message is being received? Body language or verbal response? Other feedback mechanisms? One way is by analyzing questions employees ask—if they are looking forward and asking how a new situation might work, your message is getting through. If they are challenging your assumptions or want to take a step back, you could do a better job communicating.
Which of the steps—if you were to improve on—would have the greatest impact on how you communicate and lead?
Want to get caught up on your Improve the Workplace Diet for 2012? Read the first post in the new series, and last month's post on sharing expectations.
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Last month I wrote about the latest trend happening around the world – companies of all sizes, in all sectors, taking new steps to curb the overuse and abuse of work emails. The issue has garnered national news attention as employees and leaders struggle to successfully effectively manage technology in their work and personal lives.
Now, new research from Cisco shows the once unthinkable value young professionals and tomorrow’s workers around the world place on technology. As younger members of the workforce become more and more connected, the implications for leaders are huge – getting work done as efficiently as possible, providing a work-life balance, and meeting the needs of employees.
Among the most telling headlines, the research shows:
- 33% of college students and young professionals believe the Internet is as important as air, water, food and shelter
- 45% of young professionals said they would take a low-paying job with more flexibility on social media access, mobility, and mobile device choices than a higher-paying one with less flexibility
- 62% of young professionals said they could not live without the Internet
- 58% of young professionals said a mobile device is the most important technology in their lives
The findings also show the importance of a host of technological considerations when it comes to maintaining a healthy work-life balance for employees, and a productive workforce for leaders.
- 70% of young professionals “friended” managers or co-workers on Facebook
- 68% of young professionals on Twitter follow their managers or co-workers
- 84% of college students said they face online interruptions at least once an hour while doing projects or homework
In my recent e-book on taming the email monster, I asked if leaders have data that’s helping build a better understanding of what employees think when it comes to email, and how to improve what’s getting in the way.
With these findings, and the challenges leaders are already facing, what are you doing to build a productive workforce in your organization?
The following is an excerpt from McDonald’s Executive Vice President and Worldwide Chief Restaurant Officer Jeff Stratton’s Foreword to the newly-released, 2nd edition of You Can’t Not Communicate.
Communication Must be Purposeful and Inclusive
I first realized the importance of communication early in my McDonald’s career when I was assigned to lead field operations in the Detroit region. Having started as a crew member in 1973, I had risen through the ranks and managed mostly by directing people to get the job done. When it came time to lead a sizable team, I had a rude awakening. My very direct style didn’t work very well for some folks.
I thought communication meant telling people what to do. Over time, I realized that the only way to get things done is through people. And the best way to do that is by motivating, engaging, and inspiring individuals. No one likes being told what to do, including me. Effective communication requires influence, and being purposeful in how you communicate.
Over the past 30 years, I’ve seen McDonald’s evolve from an entirely “get it done” culture to one dependent on influence and inclusion. How we work together matters—getting the right things done right, in the right way, at the right time.
As leaders, we need to create a sense of community where employees feel welcome and connected, and know they’re part of something special where they can make a true difference. It means we need to connect in a real way with people.
When we think about what we’ll say and how we’ll say it, we need to consider how it will impact the last hired employee, the ones we don’t know yet, and those we will influence in the future. We need to be willing to accept that everything we do, everything we say, everything we don’t do and everything we don’t say speaks volumes.
I’ve truly learned that you can’t not communicate. The work behind purposeful communication is well worth it when you see the kind of impact we can have on individuals, our teams, and our business.
Jeff Stratton, Executive Vice President and Worldwide Chief Restaurant Officer, McDonald’s Corporation
Jeff Stratton serves as McDonald’s Executive Vice President and Worldwide Chief Restaurant Officer. He oversees all the corporate functional areas that make up the Restaurant Solutions Group, including Global Restaurant Measurement, Innovation, Safety and Security, Worldwide Equipment Systems, Concept and Design, Worldwide Operations, and Worldwide Training, Learning & Development. His Restaurant Solutions Group influences more than 31,000 McDonald’s restaurant locations around the world.
With more than 35 years of work experience with the McDonald’s system, Stratton has managed various aspects of restaurant operations in the field as well as in McDonald’s home office in Oak Brook, Il.
- David Grossman
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You know when you think you’re not saying anything because you’re literally not saying anything? Hard truth here… It doesn’t work that way. The ever-present reality is that even a lack of communication is a kind of communication. And sometimes saying nothing is worse than saying something.
It comes down to this: If you’re always communicating something—even when you think you’re not—doesn’t it make more sense to be mindful of communication at all times? To take charge of it, own it, plan for it, and ensure that people are hearing, interpreting, and understanding the way you want them to?
That was the simple logic that inspired me, in the summer of 2009, to sit down and start writing the very first pages of the original You Can’t NOT Communicate.
Now, more than two years later and two books later, I’m really excited to announce the next step: The new 2nd edition of You Can’t NOT Communicate, filled with even more helpful resources for leadercommunicators.
You Can’t NOT Communicate, 2nd edition features:
- A new foreword by Jeff Stratton, Executive Vice President and Worldwide Chief Restaurant Officer of McDonald’s Corporation. Stratton focuses on the importance of good communication to everything McDonald’s does, from motivating employees to offering outstanding customer service.
- Expanded content. I look in depth at the business of (and business case for) communicating, and guide CEOs through the process of communicating their strategic plan to achieve their ideal outcomes.
You Can’t NOT Communicate doesn’t demand your undivided attention or a significant block of dedicated time. Each book is designed to be an accessible, easy reference guide. I encourage you to get straight to the issues that are challenging you now, or give yourself a course in communications over the course of several weeks or months, as you advance on your path to becoming a great leadercommunicator.
I hope you’ll dive into this new edition (and partner it with You Can’t NOT Communicate 2, which offers even more solutions developed and practiced on the front lines of America’s most successful companies), and share your thoughts and responses with me.
How have you grown as a leadercommunicator? What issues continue to challenge you? Where could you use even more direction? Your questions might just be the inspiration for You Can’t NOT Communicate 3.
- David Grossman
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I find great joy in helping our clients, and am regularly reminded that the challenges and opportunities we face are more similar than different. We’re privileged at The Grossman Group to have lots of experiences to draw on to help our clients be more effective and efficient, and make a real difference for their organizations.
It’s with our intention of helping more that leads me to want to take my blog to the next level. That means more frequent posts from me, an even wider mix of content and approaches, more guest posts, and generally just more solutions that work. Don't get me wrong. I’m not interested in more for the sake of more. I’m interested in more for the sake of better. I want to make the blog more valuable to you, more relevant to current events and trends, and something that all of you see as a must-read.
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