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Confusion, Ambiguity, Tension and the Bottom Line

by Colleen Bevenour
Bob’s team wasn’t performing well; in fact, they were dead last in the nation in sales. “I need help on execution,” he says. “My team just can’t seem to do what I ask them to do. We have meetings and they seem to understand what we need to do. But they don’t actually do anything. They keep coming to me for more information, more ‘clarity.’ I don’t know how to be any clearer. Our sales are dragging, and the special projects I assigned aren’t getting done. We have a problem with execution.”

Bob did have a problem with execution, the core of which was a problem with communication.

Communication impacts many facets of how a company operates. But to what extent does poor communication directly impact the bottom line? Fortune and the Hay Group found the office climate accounts for up to 25 percent of the variance in performance.

We evaluated Bob’s execution challenges and diagnosed three symptoms his team were consistently manifesting, which pointed to specific communication problems :

Symptom #1: Confusion
While the company Bob worked for was highly profitable and had products in a growing market, they managed by fire drill. Urgent yet tactical requests came from the home office, distracting Bob and his team weekly if not daily. Lack of clarity on priorities prevented progress on important projects and sales strategies. The constant shifts in focus reduced productivity and slowed the team’s ability to capture time-sensitive market opportunities. While Bob couldn’t change the company’s approach to management, he could change his.

Bob adopted a method called The Focus Four to bring complete clarity to his team. He identified four major strategies that would remain the primary focus of his team throughout the year, regardless of what the home office thought was urgent.

Symptom #2: Ambiguity
Bob assigned team members to lead major projects telling them it was a sign of his strong belief in their abilities. He assumed that they knew how to implement because they were smart, talented professionals. The problem was that they assumed the same thing and implemented what they thought was important, often working counter to what Bob intended. Key deliverables were either late or never delivered, little progress was made and this contributed to their poor sales results.

I used an analogy of a football team with Bob since he had played in college. “Imagine your team on the field in a deep fog. The quarterback knows he’s the leader on the field. He’s calling plays but the team just fumbles around making no progress toward the end zone. In fact, sometimes they drive toward the wrong goalpost. The problem is that with the fog they can’t see the end zone. They can only see the next yard line and beyond that, they need the coach’s help to know where to go next. Lack of clarity (the fog) on what’s important (reaching the end zone) makes it impossible to achieve your goals (score a touchdown).”

To enhance his clarity, Bob began to provide highly structured information for every project:
• The results he expected from the project and his vision of success
• Major deliverables and when they were due
• Important stakeholders with whom the team would need to communicate and the type of support to expect from them

Symptom # 3: Tension
Bob held annual expectations meetings with each team member to discuss sales goals and special assignments. He also had a weekly conference call to discuss how things were going. However, the company’s management by fire drill put constant demands on his time forcing Bob to shift his schedule almost daily. The team was frustrated because he was unavailable when they needed guidance. Team member retention became a risk and productivity was dramatically impacted.

To fix this problem, Bob and his team developed a visual operating plan that incorporated a list of key steps project leaders needed to take to produce the deliverables. This visual plan became the foundation for their Friday calls, which were now structured as accountability meetings versus update meetings. Rather than pointing fingers, the discussion focused on how they could overcome the challenges. This approach improved communication between Bob and his team and ultimately execution of their Focus Four.

Communication is at the root of many problems that impact results in a business. Improving communication can have a dramatic impact on your results. For Bob, it meant moving from last to first in one year, recognition and awards for all of them and promotions in many cases.

Colleen Bevenour is a Principal of Synchron8, Inc.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 6, Issue 2 (February, 2016).
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