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Effective Communications in Challenging Times

  1. Effective Communications in Challenging Times

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    No one can argue the fact that our industries, our communities and our nation are going through unprecedented changes. We can easily say we are experiencing severe turbulence and effectively communicating with customers, employees and stakeholders have never been more challenging. For those of us who are able to do it well will be able to project a vision for the future and map out a practical path forward. The ability to do this successfully is rooted in the difference between leading and managing.

    During periods of rapid change, our ability to adapt (and in many cases to make necessary and long overdue changes) to a situation and respond will be tested. As noted in several of my previous reflections, are the times when a leader’s ability to communicate will make the difference between success and failure, regardless of whether they are in the C-suite or on the front line of their organizations. Fostering positive and thoughtful communication, and the ability to project a vision for the future, that creates understanding is a leadership imperative during ambiguous and turbulent times.

    Effective communication is more than just a buzzword. It’s a powerful tool that impacts employee engagement, collaboration, company culture and customer relationships (and yes, I am speaking from experience). Unfortunately, according to Entrepreneur Media, one survey found that “91 percent of 1,000 employees stated their leaders lack the ability to communicate well, which can be traced back to “a lack of emotional intelligence in how business leaders and managers” interact with their employees.”

    This begs the obvious question; how do we ensure our communication resonates with our teams during such times? Admittedly, I do not have the answers, but I have been doing a tremendous amount of reading and research on the topic in the last several weeks. In a recent article I read on Entrepreneur Media, I learned of three strategies to keep in mind regardless of whether we are writing, standing up in front of employees in a town hall meeting or having an honest conversation with someone on the front lines of your business. I will be quoting directly from the article.

    1. Repeat your message more than you think you should
    When leaders communicate to the organization and their teams, they often believe the job is done once that communication is delivered. But not laboring under this misconception is especially important. Total, effective communication has only really occurred when the person receiving the message has internalized it, not just heard it.

    In order to ensure this, the messages need to be repeated several times, and preferably in multiple formats — email, video, phone calls or at all company meetings — as there may be an emotional response to the information delivered. As one study conducted by Kate Sikerbol of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada found, “Allowing employees to share stories and feelings helped them to develop a greater sense of control over the changes, improved morale, reduced absenteeism and built trust between managers and employees.”

    2. Seek feedback
    Once the initial communication has been delivered, the next challenge is to ensure that the message was understood as intended. In order to confirm this, leaders must seek feedback from their listeners. Feedback is the mechanism for determining what was heard, what was understood, what actions are happening as a result and the degree of acceptance the message has received. This allows you to move on knowing that the issue has been dealt with.

    3. Control what is repeated
    There are often instances when we know that something we say is going to be repeated. This is particularly when your point of view is asked for by a member of the organization in times of uncertainty, as your answer is likely going to be repeated to others.

    Frequently, circumstances occur when your comments or response provide the basis for subsequent direction, discussion or action. Consequently, it is important to be able to influence how others interpret and pass along what you said after they walk away from the conversation. There are four specific things you can do to that end:

    • Be proactive. Say what you think is important. It may not be the specific answer to the specific question, but it does ensure that what is repeated is what you wanted communicated.
    • Keep it short. People can’t remember everything you said, and they will select what they think is important and repeat only that, so provide your answers in brief sound bites.
    • Avoid using negatives. Many psychological studies have proven that people tend to remember negatives far better than positives. While there is a time and place to use negative examples or verbiage, in turbulent times this can detrimentally impact your ability to communicate with a trepidatious listener.
    • Make it interesting. Add interest to the conversation yourself so the listener does not distort or embellish the message to make it more interesting. You can do this by adding in an analogy, story or illustration to really bring it to life.

    Without a doubt, it can be difficult to find the “right words” to say, which can lead to us saying nothing or little to nothing to our teams. You may never find those perfect words, but we must say something. This is the job of company leaders. Therefore, intentionally focus on our communication activities so that we can effectively shape opinions, influence behavior and guide outcomes when the time comes, thereby providing the leadership clients, associates and stakeholders are looking for in times of uncertainty.

    While I know I have a great deal more to learn, I am sharing this out of direct and recent experience. These last (almost four) months have challenged me, my leadership and emotional intelligence. I have a tremendous amount of gratitude to the Cornell University Leadership Program, The California Agricultural Leadership Program and The Salinas Valley Leadership Program for providing me not only the tools but the emotional awareness to navigate these challenging times. I must also say, I am grateful to one of my employees Fran Murillo who has challenged everyone at TMD to learn more about cultural and social injustices and for nurturing the conversation within my company.

    As always, I am open to feedback, comments, discussion on this topic as well as things I could improve to make these reflections more meaningful for you.

    Best,
    Nicholas Pasculli


     

  2. Cutting Marketing – Does this make sense?

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    It has been three weeks since the last sharing of my thoughts on subjects that impact our business and personal lives. Today I am focusing on an insightful article I just recently read titled “Is it time to Slow Your Marketing?

    I have touched on a similar topic several weeks ago, and since we as a nation are starting to open up again in an attempt to get back to “normal” (whatever that means), it is worth diving deeper into the subject matter. That being said, let me provide you a little context in an effort to clarify my approach to this subject. I consider myself not only a marketing professional but an educator as well. Having taught the subject for about 14 years at Hartnell College and having spoken at numerous industry events on various aspects of marketing. The thoughts expressed in this reflection are based on numerous case studies, grounded in science and my professional experience.

    Many business people are somewhat dismissive when it comes to marketing; thinking it is perhaps an optional tactical function of their businesses rather than looking at it as a science (a social science to be exact) and a critical function in the overall strategy of an organization. Perhaps marketers ourselves have hurt our profession because of what I call a “window dressing approach” to marketing. Meaning, just make it pretty and people will buy. This could not be further from the truth. Albert Einstein once said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” He, as you know, was a scientist. Marketing by its scientific nature is creative and creativity is intelligent. Thus having a solid marketing strategy is simply the SMART thing to do in every situation and circumstance.

    So going back to the question; Cutting Marketing – Does this make sense? The answer is an emphatic NO. During challenging times like we are in, it is instinctive to pull back certain business activities and sadly marketing is usually one of the first things business people cut. This is a counter intuitive reaction. Something that is strategically integral to the success of your business is not something that should be on the chopping block. What you change is your approach and messaging, and not the budget. Scott Bennett, senior account manager at MultiView said, “While you are trying to keep your business’ head above water, pulling advertising is like throwing away your life line.” As far as I am concerned as a professional and educator, he couldn’t be more right.

    In these multidimensional crazy times we are in, it is critical to get past the misguided fear and misplaced judgement and look forward with your marketing strategy while thinking about how what you are doing contributes to the stability (and sustainability) of your organization. “Advertisers should not be hiding during these hard times,” said Frank Rosenstern, platform manager at MultiView. “They need to be showing value, acting responsibly, and doing right by their employees and the communities they serve.” This is yet another important topic I shared with you several weeks ago. He added, “conveying this type of message shows their target audience they care about the world, their employees, and most of all their customers.” The most important you can do as a business leader is to convey a message to your target audience that you are still here and that your business or organization will continue to be here for your customers and community. “Without sounding callously optimistic.”

    As with the other articles I have written, I always provide some tangible takeaways and encourage you to look at how you can implement them in your organizations, given the current climate.

    Things you ought not change

    • Your mission – it is not a wise idea to change your mission, it is an ideal time to look at how you reach that mission.
    • Your work ethic/customer service/dependability – your reputation also proceeds, so you simply cannot stop providing value to your customers. We all want to maintain a happy, satisfied and loyal customer base.
    • Your Ad Spend – every professional I know would advise a client not to hit the pause button or cancel your advertising campaigns altogether. Rather, if you decide to make a change, re-allocating to other areas that support your strategic objectives is the wiser choice, ie: digital marketing or customer retention marketing.

    Thing you should change

    • Your marketing allocations – with so many people stuck at home, you need to adjust your strategy to meet your audience where they are at. If you need ideas let me know.
    • Your message – OMG this is critical! If there ever was a time to communicate and embrace empathy in your marketing, NOW is the time. By doing this you are not just supporting your brands, products or services, you are also quelling fear and spreading hope.
    • Your outlook – If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change. Think about resiliency and focus on now with an eye to the future. Saint Junipero Serra was famous for saying, “Always look forward, never back.”
    • Your visibility – In times of crisis, your customers need to see you! It is imperative that you keep your name out there, your message and your values updated and maintain that top of mind position in your customers minds.

    Times like these call for courage to advance versus retreat. Refocus your marketing efforts and strategy, stay the course, and don’t make decisions that will allow your competitors into your space and you become a distant memory to those you worked so hard to serve.

    Happy Marketing – there are better days ahead!
    Nicholas M. Pasculli