Want Something? Ask For It

When I watched and listened to Brene Brown updating us on her work and research into vulnerability last year, she said something in her closing remarks that stuck with me:

I ask for what I need. This feels inherently vulnerable, and do it.’

I know where she is coming from. Maybe it’s a typically reserved Brit thing – but I’m often rubbish at asking for something – simply and clearly. Are you?

I frequently see people frustrated at work by an unwillingness to ask for what they need. Complaining about shortages of resources, unhappy that Doug won’t do as he’s damn well told, stuff like that. And often – when you push back, it transpires that the complaint is voiced before any direct request to fix the shortage, and the unhappiness has manifested itself before Doug’s been asked for whatever it is he won’t do.

When I see these frustrations being played, out, I will say, ‘have you asked Doug?’ And usually the reply (accompanied by some beautiful staring at your shoes action) comes, ‘weeeeellll, no – not exactly.’ We’ve all been there, it’s often easier to blame someone and/or something than it is to take action.

This notion of asking for what we need stuck with me so firmly, I included it in Stop Doing Dumb Things.

Want Something? Ask for it

It’s a card that really challenges me – and often they are the ones I like the best.

I’m in Manchester this morning enjoying the fine weather and getting ready to travel home after running an Art for Work’s Sake workshop yesterday afternoon, and enjoying some lovely company at an HR tweet up last night.

Previously when I’ve run open courses, I’ve put together the offer, stuck it on Eventbrite and waved it about on social media. A few people always generously share the news – and often, not much more happens. It was Meg Peppin who suggested that this time – I approach things much more specifically. So this time, in addition to what I usually do, I contacted people who have been to previous workshops and people I thought might be interested. I didn’t mass mail folks, I wrote little personal notes, lots of them. In the notes I asked if people wanted to come along and would they please help spread the word. The response was significant, generous and lovely. People shared the news widely and encouragingly, and many wrote back to me with all kinds of support. Thank you to everyone who came and took part yesterday, and to the many people whose support helped to make yesterday a lot of useful fun, thank you too.

On reflection – I clearly grafted a lot harder to make this session work than I’ve done previously, that’s important learning too. And having a clear message, with a clear request makes a huge difference.

So the next time you hear colleagues moaning that Doug hasn’t done whatever it is he’s supposed to have done, test them out with ‘Want Something? Ask for it.’ And if I can be of use to you – well you know what to do…

Happy Friday – have a great weekend.

The Value of Communication

I love hearing from Steve Browne. We follow each other on Twitter and Facebook, I’m on his HR Net list and I also get his occasional HR Round Table updates. All these different connections allow dialogue at different levels. Earlier this week I received the latest HR Round Table from Steve, which is all about communication. As always Steve encouraged me to share what I read with you, so I’d like to do just that. At first I began to edit Steve’s notes until I realised they have a flow to them, and the more I tried to edit, the clunkier the flow became. So – I stopped editing in favour of sharing the whole piece. I really enjoyed reading this and I hope there’s something in here for you too.

The Value of Communication 

The group discussed three things:

1)    What are the common obstacles and excuses regarding communication in companies?

2)    How do we value/elevate communication throughout our organisations?

3)    Why should we do this?

What are the common obstacles and excuses regarding communication in companies?

  • We’re too busy

This answer came so fast that it nearly bowled Steve over.  The “too busy” mantra is honestly like a plague.  You can’t quantify it and people can make themselves busy doing just about anything.  Busyness is a crutch that needs to be eliminated !!

  • Poor timing

Timing is a critical factor to effective communication.  Some people blurt things out just to make sure they’re heard.  They don’t consider the art of timing something so that it actually gets through to others and sticks.  Make sure to take note of this.  Timing is something that has to be practiced to be effective as well.

  • I only talk to people that “matter”

This is so self-centred it drips with ickiness !!  Steve shared a story that he loves to hear when vendors say, “I’d like to talk to the ‘decision maker’, “and Steve responds, “I just did.”   ALL people matter in an organisation.  If you try this kind of creepy approach, you need to be called on it because it’s unnecessary self-righteousness that has no place in a company’s culture.

  • People are intimidated

I love when Sr. Managers say that they don’t intimidate people.  You may think that, but people truly may be anxious to talk with others in the organisation if they work in different levels of the company.  Don’t blow this off or tell people that you’re accessible.  If you have to explain it – you aren’t.  Show that you are accessible through your behaviour and you’ll see communication channels open up more readily.

  • Technology

Now, don’t jump ahead on this.  The comment wasn’t for/against technology.  The fact is that you can communicate just as poorly using technology as you can in person.  Be aware of this and show people how to easily utilise technology forums vs. being critical and saying that people don’t “get it.”

  • Silos

Ah, the dreaded silo.  It permeates every organisation and is a true boulder when it comes to communication.  A silo may think communication is going great within its own confines, but it rarely gets outside of its own domain.

  • Insincerity

Wow !!  This was great to hear because too often throughout organisations you’ll hear catch phrase after catch phrase to make sure you’re saying what you’re supposed to say without communicating at all.  When people aren’t genuine, communication has no chance to be effective.

  • Cultural Differences

This is a reality and shouldn’t be an obstacle.  HR has to really push through on this to show the value of our differences as people instead of letting cultures, backgrounds, gender, etc. become a hindrance.  Note that this ISN’T a program !!  It’s how your company culture should be naturally !!

  • Too much noise

This item has much more credence than being too busy.  We are bombarded by constant stimuli and messaging from a myriad of sources all day.  This isn’t a work issue. It’s a life issue.  It’s hard to discern and cut through the noise to pay attention to messages that really need to be heard and acted upon.

How do we value/elevate communication throughout our organisations?

  • Tell people your processes

We need to quit thinking that people are just going to “get it” when it comes to communication throughout an organisation. Taking the time to explain how to communicate, who to get information to, and when to do it would make you more progressive than 99% of all companies out there.  Anytime we can give people clarity on how communication works in your company will only lead to stronger and more long lasting results.

  • Set the table

This is a true opportunity area for HR !!  Define how communication brings things together in your organisation and weave it through your culture.  Great communication should be the norm and not the exception.  However, the environment to do so needs to be intentionally established.  Attack the assumed culture in your company and make it open.

  • Go to people instead of having them come to you

Radical isn’t it?  Sitting and waiting for communication to appear never works.  It never has.  By being the person who initiates communication, you can get things moving.  This also addresses communication avoidance in your company.  Be the person who steps into the gap to make communication happen.  Quit waiting !!

  • Focus on relationships vs. drive by’s

When you truly foster relationships, communication becomes more clear because people get to know each other.  Too often, we shoot messages at each other just to get them out.  Yes, this takes time, but it’s time that is well worth the investment.

  • Leadership sets the tone

Here is one instance where Sr. Management leading the way is essential.  They can make communication valued by their actions and expectations.  In fact, if they choose not to do this, then poor communication is sure to be the model the company suffers through.  HR can lead in this as well by coaching Sr. Management on the value of making communication shine.  It’s a great way to be strategic !!

  • Don’t be dull

It’s amazing that this is so challenging for people.  Seriously, have YOU read what you write? We think that being engaging and entertaining in corporate communication is unnecessary and a waste of time.  The opposite is actually true.  Most communication in companies goes unheeded or unread. So, why follow the norm of the boring memo or the e-mail limited to 10 words or less?  This doesn’t mean to write novels to express yourself.  It means be creative.  Draw people in to get your message across.  It works !!

Why should we do this?

This should have been the first question.  You see, most companies follow the model of: What, How and Why (in that order).  We focus on the “what” and it is a vicious cul-de-sac of endless and useless communication.

We don’t focus on the “why” of communication, or many things in our companies honestly.  Steve referenced a TED talk by Simon Sinek here that shows you that companies who focus on their “why” are more successful in all they do.

The answer in this section needs to go back to your company because each culture and environment is different.  You need to step up, be intentional and take the steps to make communication valued in your company!!

Johnny Rotten or Beethoven?

Last week I picked up on a tweet from someone via a conference which said ‘Social HAS to loose the anarchist tag – will never go mainstream otherwise. Need to move from punk rock to classical. #e20s’

I thought this a somewhat narrow minded view so I retweeted and said so. Shortly after I received a reply saying ‘You’re welcome to your opinion #e20s’, and perhaps rather bluntly I replied ‘Ta – I don’t particularly welcome yours, punk and classical, we can have both’. In quick succession I then received ‘I’ve no problem with challenge or criticism Doug. I’ve dished out enough of both! #e20s’, followed by ‘I don’t particularly enjoy being hashtagged all the time though’ and finally, ‘I just find the hashtags a bit #naff and #petty Doug’.

I tried to respond with ‘If you can’t stand the tweet heat – stay out of the kitchen’, but the person had blocked me, so I couldn’t. Of course we’re free to follow, unfollow and block whoever we choose and I couldn’t help but feel the final response and subsequent and immediate blocking of me was perhaps, in the tweeters own words, a bit ‘#naff and #petty’.

Definitions of Anarchy

Leaving aside our squabble, I think anarchy sometimes gets a bad rap. As well as being ‘A state of disorder due to absence or nonrecognition of authority’ it is also defined as ‘Absence of Government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal’, and I’m sure you’ll find other definitions out there too. There are times when people question how much help Government is (regardless of its political hue), and despite all the challenges the concept of absolute freedom of the individual does at times have an allure to it, doesn’t it?

Of course there is an element of rebellion about social media. I expect Starbucks would rather people hadn’t hijacked their #SpreadTheCheer Twitter wall at the Natural History Museum and tweeted ‘Pay your fucking taxes’ right across it, but the mood of the day turned against them, and they got a taste of a ‘State of disorder’. I think this is more a case of recognising that you don’t own and control hashtags and the responses to them once they’re out there, rather than outright anarchy.

Starbucks Pay Your Fucking Taxes

I found a few other examples of the Dark Side of social media (you’ll doubtless have plenty more), which I shared recently at the Workplace Trends Social Media for Business Conference. This was an interesting opportunity for me as in the main; I have a very positive experience of social media. Nevertheless I went searching for the dark side, and I found myself in the sewer soon enough.

I found plenty of examples of disjointed organisations proudly displaying their silo mentality for all to see, including a fine one courtesy of Qantas. As Qantas launched their #QantasLuxury competition to win a pair of Qantas pyjamas, what their marketing department failed to consider was their current public image following the decision taken to ground the entire fleet during an industrial dispute. The online furore that followed was of Qantas’ own making, and you can’t help but feel that a bit of good old fashioned talking between departments beforehand could have saved a lot of embarrassment.

We delved into the tragic tale of Sandy Hook from the perspective of Ryan Lanza. Ryan Lanza, estranged brother of the gunman Adam Lanza was incorrectly named as the killer by CNN News. Fox and CBS quickly followed suit while Ryan continued to work at his desk in New York City, until his social media feeds lit up with false accusations and his world changed.

We then considered Mary Beard, the sometimes controversial Cambridge Don who was vilified on social media following an appearance on BBC Question Time. In this case – the attacks were more about her appearance rather than her intellect, and I wondered, if Mary had been male, would such a thing have happened? As she reflected in an interview with The Independent, Mary Beard said:

“I think we’re still in the process of learning how to deal with all that. I suppose I feel, perhaps naively, optimistic that we’re just not yet quite clear about the rules of how you communicate online publicly. If you do respond, and say quite calmly, ‘I don’t think I actually said that,’ quite often you get a real response.”

Is she right? Watch this space.

My journey took me to some dark places for sure, and in summary this is what I was reminded of:

  • You don’t own hashtags so use them by all means – at your own risk
  • Despite the open nature of social media we see loads of businesses still completely siloed inside. When is business going to understand that it’s all about the conversation – not just in silos, but across and beyond the organisational boundaries?
  • Check your facts

People can be and are hugely irresponsible at times, and they certainly don’t need social media to achieve that.

Perhaps more importantly – there was a brief aside to the squabble I referenced earlier when another contributor said (re: punk v classical), ‘how about New Romantic?’ How about it indeed. In fact – why not a bit of each and every musical genre (except maybe Phil Collins)? If the culture of social can’t be an inclusive, broad church, then it’s not a culture, it’s a cult.