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Seeking ‘Reality’

I recently came across a blog by Robert Fritz, author of “The Path of Least Resistance” and “The Managerial Moment of Truth”, both books containing some fabulous stuff about creating a shared reality.  And in today’s world of fake news and low trust in leaders – reality is a hot topic.

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But when Fritz wrote

Here’s a model of how I see that luxury quickly disappearing and why we need to acknowledge different perspectives to understand a whole shared reality:

Seeking Reality

We know that our interpretations are coloured by how we perceive the world based on our knowledge, experiences, personalities and motives. Therefore, what we perceive overall, both objectively and subjectively, becomes our reality.

Reality as seen by one person alone is meaningless. Reality exists between people: when they recognise things the same way, be that when they are in agreement on the same facts, the same interpreted facts, or otherwise.

Team Leaders have it tough

The ‘hero leader’ is an old-fashioned notion that is still perpetuated in places by good actors who put on that show, and by people around them who would like them to be heroes to solve their problems. Even the Nobel Prize committee is looking to award prizes to teams, not individuals because achievement is never the work of just one person.

Sure, some leaders are intrinsically better at leading than others, but it also depends on the hand they’re dealt.  As the bridge between intention and implementation, Team Leaders and Managers have it tough.  They often need to handle difficulties, such as:

  1. Team, organization and other changes within their organization
  2. Pressure from the organization to deliver results within legal, time, budgetary and other restrictions
  3. Low levels of upwards influence
  4. Less help from their peers or seniors than they might feel they need
  5. A lack of understanding or knowledge in the team
  6. A lack of training or leadership experience themselves.

But others are quick to criticize them from the side-lines before seeing the whole picture.

  •  “They don’t seem to be asking the right questions upwards.”
  • “I wonder if they really have a grasp of the requirements.”
  • “They are hiding behind tasks and processes rather than building relationships.”

These statements are hardly validated, yet can be made to sound completely justified, simply by combining a sophisticated rationale with a self-assured tone of voice:

  • “They’re just not a good fit.”
  •  “They don’t have the people-network to get the job done.”
  • “Their direct reports don’t’ look very comfortable – I don’t think it’s working out.”

 The reason I sound so sympathetic towards the Team Leader / Manager is because there are more ‘collaboration-based’ reasons for the under-performance of teams that you hear less frequently:

“Maybe the shared understanding of the role expectations wasn’t clear enough.”

  • “I think the circumstances have changed, and the requirements drifted with them.”
  • “Her team needs up-skilling before they’ll be able to deliver as we need them to.”

In addition to their own boss or sponsor, a Team Leader has their own ‘peer’ team around them too – partners from support functions, other departments, stakeholders….

The question I think we could ask more often is, how is the ‘peer’ team around this Team Leader / Manager understanding their needs and enabling them to do a great job?  Now, that would be teamwork, wouldn’t it?

On Ambiguity

For a long time I was an enemy of ambiguity.  I saw it as the opposite of clarity. Being in ambiguous situations would make me feel dis-empowered, excluded, and unequal.  I felt ambiguity the negligence of people who wanted to retain information for themselves, or who didn’t care what other people needed to make sense of things. I  felt it was toxic and I disliked the discomfort it gave me, intensely.

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I always wondered why the ability to tolerate ambiguity was referred to as a personal strength – having only ever run small businesses – surely the existence of ambiguity was an organizational weakness.

This view was reinforced as a professional organizational communicator. My learning in that capacity showed me that while there are lots of things that are unclear, there are always explanations that can allow people to understand why – so removing the ambiguity.

For example, let’s say that a company strategy is unclear. An explanation can be that while the company is seeking to grow it’s customer base, it is looking to do this through reduced pricing as well as through exploring potential partnership deals with other companies, which can’t be shared but will be, if and when the opportunity arises.

This way, you are explaining why information is not forthcoming and the circumstances under which it will be, in due course. Of course, your traditional Communications Director would be horrified to even consider such a message, but these days, companies are expected to look in the direction of potential partnerships if they seek to grow. So what if the analysts talk – it’s not exactly going to bring down the share price.

And with that message you show some kind of truth-giving, some kind of authenticity, and a respect for the people you are communicating with.  The alternative: silence, would be actually counterproductive as people seek to find their own explanations in the absence of a formal one.

However, it was only through looking at ambiguity square in the face one day, that I began to appreciate that it has an upside.

  • Sometimes ambiguity is inevitable – people don’t know it exists; people can’t take responsibility for providing an explanation; people don’t have the skills to address it; or there just are other priorities.
  • Sometimes ambiguity is your friend – it leaves doors open; it can help people form their own interpretations and shape things; it gives people time to influence things.

Take advantage of the ambiguity in the world.  Look at something and think what else it might be. ROBERT VON EOCH

At the same time, there is of course the ambiguity that comes from poor planning; the ambiguity that is used as an excuse by people who want to keep others in the dark; or the ambiguity that just happens because someone is thoughtless or plain lazy.

I’m going to refer to the ability to tolerate inevitable ambiguity as a strength from now on, accepting that not everything can, or will, land as quickly and clearly as I might like.

Internal communications – a high risk discipline

Having led organizational communication teams and projects within departments and at Head-Office level, I’m under no illusion that the ‘success’ of Internal Communications work is dependent on a number of factors.

To make internal communications campaigns succeed, these factors need to be in place:

  • top level sponsorship that is aligned, positive, and active
  • behaviours and actions of leaders, line managers and other influencers that align with organizational communication intention
  • the implementation of a rigorous planning framework that enables informed decisions on how to further align between group, functional, team and individual communication requirements alongside brand, purpose and strategy
  • good leader and line manager communications capabilities that enable these leaders to reliably contribute to communications processes
  • access to people, information, news and developments
  • sufficient time, skills and resources across the whole communications team to be able to deliver to agreed communication promises and measure the outcomes.

… and all the while, employees are awash with email. They need easy and accessible communications that make sense, opportunities to ask questions and be heard, and collaboration with colleagues and stakeholders in ways that move things forward.

I want to confess that I’ve never experienced these come together, I’ve never worked with anyone who has seen it, and I’ve never worked under an internal communications leader who insists on these factors being present.

To compensate, there is no option but to compromise: written quotes instead of video clips; safe, edited messages instead of authentic, compelling messages; broadcast emails instead of Manager to team dialogues. And it’s a risk, because poor communications breeds mistrust, disengagement, cynicism and dissent.

Bring back fewer, but more effective communications I say, centred on people to people interaction…