Just before you get out of the car, you turn to the driving instructor and ask what you need to do better next lesson, in order to eventually pass your test.
“You need to drive better,” is the reply.
“Yes, but what specifically?”
“You just need to drive better.”
“How will you be able to tell I’m driving better?”
“Well, you’ll be driving better…”
You’d be tearing your hair out, wouldn’t you?
It seems self-evident that you can’t improve your driving at the next lesson without being given specific changes to make – for example, look in your mirror more often, or keep a greater distance from the car in front.
Oh, and by the way, you also need to know that, if you don’t change, you won’t be passing your driving test any time soon.
And yet, when we ask leaders to attend programmes to improve their communication skills, very often we set the same kind of general, woolly expectations. And then don’t hold anyone to account to actually change.
“You need to have better performance conversations… You need to coach your team… You need to engage your people in change…”
It sounds a bit vague, doesn’t it? They’re certainly admirable goals, and hugely important to business efficiency. But there’s nothing concrete to implement and that makes it hard to hold leaders to account should they fail to change.
And it’s all-too-easy to blame individual leaders for being stuck in their ways when they revert to old habits. But that’s way too simplistic a view.
Ultimately, when leaders are asked to make specific change and are held to account for doing so, change not only happens – it sticks. There’s no longer any place for the old (not very funny) joke: “Oh, ignore them. They’ve been on a course. They’ll go back to normal soon.”
Achieving meaningful, long-term change doesn’t have to be complicated – but it might take courage.
Two years ago, I worked with a leadership team in a Financial Services organisation where the goal was to produce measureable improvement in the way leaders interacted with their direct reports. The specific improvements they had to make were captured in six measurable statements. The impact of not changing was that the leaders would not get their annual bonus. That focussed attention!
With a specific focus, and a clear consequence of not changing, the leaders made sure they implemented new communication habits and, two years down the line, ongoing measurement shows that those habits are still in place and having the desired impact.
In a couple of weeks’ time, I’ll give you my third tip for helping managers implement the new habits they learn about during communications programmes.
But in the meanwhile, if you would like to deliver really effective comms training to your leadership team, contact CommsMasters and let’s talk. Not only can we introduce proven communication strategies that will improve performance in your organisation, we can help you plan how to make sure new habits are embedded, long-term, too.