Work relationships are becoming flatter, looser, wider, and faster. By 2020, flexible labor will represent 20 percent of the workforce, with work becoming more project-based. Nearly 50 percent of managers now spend half their work week working remotely.
All of this means it’s more difficult than ever to keep employees and colleagues aligned.
Advances in technology have enabled 24/7 communication, but often at the cost of the quality of that communication. And the results can be significant: more than half of mergers and acquisitions fail to accomplish their objectives, 60 percent of joint ventures fail, and 50 percent of all corporate initiatives are held back by employees losing interest and attention. CEOs do have the ability, however, to break through communication barriers and advance their goals through the use of strategic persuasion.
It’s not easy — but it’s possible if they remember these four steps.
The most important action a CEO can first take is to slow down and consider the task before them. This may seem obvious, but it’s an easy step to skip when business leaders are so busy with the day-to-day functions of the business, or they are eager to get moving on a project.
Conflict arises because of several barriers that members of a team intrinsically bring to the table. Employees and colleagues possess different beliefs, interests, styles, and levels of trust. It’s key that CEOs take a moment to ask themselves how, exactly, are they going to work through those barriers — and how are they going to turn those barriers into assets?
CEOs must think about and recognize where the other person, team, or work group is coming from. This could take a few minutes or much, much longer. But it will be worth it.
More than 2,000 years ago, Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero said, “If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my words.” This remains just as true today.
Having already slowed down to consider any barriers that may arise, a manger should now be better prepared to connect with his or her team. They are ready to meet team members where they are.
One strategy consultant we know learned the importance of this step the hard way. While presenting a study to humans’ rights organization, he immediately heard some grumbling in the crowd. By the third slide, audience members were shouting and throwing paper at him. Following the presentation, he pulled a member of the crowd aside and asked what he had done wrong.
“You referred to the people we work with as customers,” the man explained. “We don’t have customers. We work with prisoners. We work with activists.”
One wrong word cost the consultant the attention and support of the people he was trying to reach. When trying to connect with another person, the small details matter.
When communicating, it’s important to keep things simple.
Simple ideas are often the most persuasive. A CEO doesn’t have to share every single detail. In fact, that would be overwhelming. Instead, a leader should ask themselves, “what does my team need to know?” Use that as the orienting question to drive conversations forward.
It’s also important to remember that communication is not simply about just sharing facts and numbers. As Nobel laureate — and expert on decision-making — Daniel Kahneman once said, “No one ever made a decision because of a number.”
People need a story. They need to be brought along and given a context that is informed by their own understanding of a situation, as well as the understanding of those they are working with. Strategic persuasion is about using communication to create a shared context in which to move forward together as a team.
Every conversation should end with a discussion about what’s next. Every person in that discussion should be able to answer the question: What are we going to do now?
Is the team ready to move forward together and take action? And what does the answer to that question mean at a practical level? If these questions cannot be answered—if the CEO senses that people are not ready to take action — then it’s time to go back to step one and start the entire process over.