Taking a Page from Artificial Intelligence’s book: Intelligent Workplace Communications – Guest Blogger, Microsoft's Robert Ford

Posted by David Grossman on Mon, Sep 10, 2018

Intelligent-communication

When I say “intelligent communications” I am not referring to the intellectual competence of a message. I’m speaking of “artificial intelligence” (AI), which is increasingly infused in all things digital – be that the (intelligent) cloud, the (intelligent) edge, or anything and everything digital in between. While I’m not an expert on AI, my take on this “intelligence” inference comes from the ability for technology to perceive its environment and mimic cognitive functions that you and I attribute to human minds, in order to successfully perform a task or achieve a goal. All of this communication is happening at real-time speed over super-fast digital networks. Intelligence is all around us and getting smarter every nanosecond. So, this begs the question: If human attention is the world’s new scarce resource, the premise of leadership communication is to connect, inspire and drive action. So, if we believe the human brain is (still) superior, then what are we doing as leaders to make sure what we communicate is as intelligent as the technology enabling it?

Smartphone-digital-assistant-600x398-858826-editedIf all of that is a bit too abstract, then think of intelligent digital assistants like Alexa, Siri and Cortana. You ask them a question or issue a command, and they respond accordingly.  A lot happens behind the scenes to enable this response. Vast amounts of cloud-enabled data is reasoned over, massive computing power is engaged, and lightning fast networks transmit your answer. The machines get smarter, and smarter by the second.    

Connect, Inspire and Drive Action

So back to leadership and communication. Wouldn’t it be great if instead of asking an intelligent digital assistant, you could ask anyone in your organization a simple question like “so what are we trying to achieve and why?” Wouldn’t it be great if that person could then respond quickly, confidently, and accurately as a result of your great leadership communication? In my experience, just getting a response other than a panicked facial expression would be progress. When you step back and look at the combined horsepower, experience, and talent you have in your organization, not communicating effectively such that every person feels connected, inspired and able to answer the question your message affords is a huge problem that leadership communication can address, if done right. 

Here are three tips to help:

1. Start with the end in mind. 

Focus on the question you want your audience to answer accurately. We know that the accuracy of the answer from a digital assistant depends very much on how you ask the question. The more ambiguous your question, the more complex your ask, and the more you ignore all that surrounding ambient noise diluting crispness, and the less predictable response you get. Too often leadership communication can come across as a stream of consciousness from a leader who feels the need (or is told) to communicate far too much all at once. The real intent of the communication is lost in detail and complexity, and the leader fails to connect, inspire or engage anyone. I know this sounds sort of obvious and is one of those common-sense kinds of reminders, but as a leader, simply before you communicate, start with the end in mind. Ask yourself, what is the question your communication needs to address quickly, confidently, and accurately? When that question is something you would feel confident asking a digital assistant – clear, simple and appreciative of the surrounding environment, you stand a great chance of connecting, inspiring and driving your audience to action. 

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2. Learn from data and trust your instincts. 

You can pretty much break every experience down into data and patterns. The premise of intelligent agents relies on data, learning and complex algorithms to predict and prescribe what happens next. I heard a very profound technologist once say that “the only things we will not be able to break down into data will be the finger prints of God!” Pretty heavy stuff, eh? Well if we continue to parallel this with how to better communicate, I would argue that we have more data available to us today to deliver brilliant leadership communication than ever before.  

We live in a connected world where everything and everyone is communicating all the time. If we combine the data from our personal experience of what we consider good and bad communication, our professional experience, and all that great academic research out there, we would probably have yottabits of data to reason over and surface how we should best communicate as leaders. Machines do this to enable their digital assistants. The question is, do we as leaders? The difference from my perspective is that we are at choice and are inherently not as inclined to reason over the institutional data we all swim in, to predict and prescribe the best way to communicate in our own unique world. The answer is out there – it has to be – but for some reason we seem reticent to look for it. What I am saying is, before you communicate, take a look at what worked before and what didn’t, learn from it and make sure you are smarter this time round. It may sound obvious, but I still see questionable communication happening … so maybe the obvious needs some sunshine on it.   

Data-patterns-012543-editedLast point on this one, if your reaction to this point on data is a hidden yawn, then just do this: trust your instincts. I would wager as a leader you know what a good communication looks like, feels like, and how it engaged you. You may not consider yourself a bonified communications professional, but as a leader you are seen by those you lead as one, and so if deep down you know what you are about to send is not something you would like to receive, then trust your instincts and re-read this blog. 

3. Mobilize your combined compute. 

Ubiquitous computing power has never been greater. We are on the cusp of quantum computing, which even when explained to me multiple times, still leaves me confused, but with the understanding that things are going to get crazy powerful and fast, so strap in and hold on! The trifecta of a clear ask, access to massive amounts of data, and powerful computing in the cloud enables a digital assistant to be intelligent and provide an accurate response. Without the computing power to process to do the pattern matching or execute complex algorithms, there would be no intelligence.  

The same could be said for humans who house a super-computer between their ears! The point here is that if you want your message to land, you need the combined leadership horsepower in your organization to land it. 

  • You have asked yourself and are now clear on what is the question you want your message to answer. 
  • You have reasoned over data to identify the best channel, form-factor, schedule etc. to predict success and have a robust communication plan.  

Now, you need to look to the greatest force of influence at your disposal – the leaders within your organization who are either going to amplify or nullify your message. These leaders are the compute power you need. These leaders will either add to the combined compute pool power or cause a system error and slow things down. You need to mobilize this compute power by ensuring that leaders throughout the organization are able to reinforce the core message whilst adding the contextual authenticity needed to engage their audience. You must invest time with those leaders to ensure they really can deliver the message with clarity, energy, and a picture of success. You need to be confident in your leader’s ability to communicate, and if you are not, then you need to address this – fast. 

Intelligent Leadership Communication

So back to leadership and communication, wouldn’t it be great if instead of asking an intelligent digital assistant, you could ask anyone in your organization a simple question like “so what are we trying to achieve and why?”, and have that person respond quickly, confidently, and accurately as a result of your great leadership communication. When you step back and look at the combined horsepower, experience, and talent you have in your organization, not communicating effectively such that every person feels connected, inspired and is able to answer the question your message affords is a huge problem that leadership communication can address, if done right.

—Robert Ford

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About the Author

Robert Ford is Senior Director of Core Services Engineering for Microsoft. He tells the Microsoft IT story to customers and partners by showcasing how Microsoft does IT.


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Tags: Guest Bloggers, Internal Communication

    About leadercommunicator blog

    Leadership and communications expert, David Grossman shares high-level tips on leadership effectiveness, internal communications, employee engagement, and a variety of other topics on the minds of leaders and communicators.

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