Welcome to the new issue of Global Leader. My July newsletter spotlighted the 10 most costly sins of managing across cultures and suggested ways to avoid these expensive blunders. Here we offer another tool for leading and coaching your colleagues to produce breakthrough results: the Communication = Results Pyramid. The New Year is rapidly approaching; it is a good time for reflecting how you might do things differently next year. How can you take your leadership and accomplishments to a whole new level? We at Swiss Consulting Group think that building mastery in communication is one of the highest-leverage investments that will separate you from the pack. Swiss Consulting Group is the rare company that concentrates both on soft and hard skills - according to our clients, an unbeatable combination in today's world.
Imagine for a moment that everything in life is communication - simply speaking and listening. Communication is the medium of leaders; it's the water in which they swim. There are few issues today that cannot be solved through full communication. Consider the corruption scandals at Enron, Anderson, or most recently Putnam; the leadership challenges at the New York Stock Exchange; intelligence failures at the FBI; or political issues in the Middle East. Better communication between the operators of the electrical grids could have prevented even the August blackout that affected some 50 million households in Canada and the Northeastern United States, an investigating commission announced last week. "What we have here is a failure to communicate," said the commission's chairman and Michigan's top utility regulator, Peter Lark. The commission's report stated: "Representatives from all four organizations were involved in discussions regarding the disturbances, yet no one entity was able to see the whole picture and put the pieces of the puzzle together."
But the issues don't have to be big. Competent communication can tackle day-to-day management issues: getting your boss to listen, resolving interpersonal struggles in your team, or empowering a colleague to try a new approach in solving a problem.
So what is the Communication = Results Pyramid? It's about knowing the building blocks of effective leadership - leadership that gets results. Our clients' experience has shown that without systematically completing each level of the Pyramid, you cannot build substantial - or sustainable - accomplishments.
Whether you start a new job or take on any new challenge, you have to build the ground floor of Relationship first. This may sound trivial, but so many managers think that it's enough to have a few beers, or they bypass the relationship level altogether and get right down to business. One of our coaching clients became a regional team leader and was seen by his new colleagues as inexperienced and untested, so before doing anything else, he had to build trust and credibility and partnership with key colleagues. In Relationship you ask, "Who are we?" You have to be genuinely interested in the other person: who are they? Where do they come from (and I don't just mean their birthplace)? The ground rule is that the deeper the foundation of your Relationship, the higher you can build the Pyramid of accomplishment. Without at least some basic trust, you cannot build a meaningful accomplishment-a point easily lost on most of the Western world in which the court system has largely replaced a system of trust based on Relationship.
Once you have built a solid partnership, the second floor is Vision. Here you ask, "What are we here for? What is possible? What do we want?" Communications to create Vision should avoid censorship or evaluation of ideas (these belong to the next level). Pretty much anything is possible at this stage. It is here that you ask people, and yourself, to think outside the box. But the key is that Vision must be shared: when I coached the government and civil society of Haiti for the UN Development Programme this year, officials from diverse government agencies needed to build a common vision for reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS in Haiti. Once they shared the Vision, they were ready to move forward.
When John F. Kennedy stated in 1961 that the US would put a man on the moon by the end of 1960's, he sparked the drive and energy of the country, still hurting from falling behind the Soviet Union in the space race. Without this vision, the United States wouldn't have achieved the astonishing accomplishments of the Apollo program. Vision was necessary, but not sufficient. Standing on the foundation of Relationship and inspired by a common vision, Kennedy needed to move into the realm of Strategy. This was where all the skeptics and nay-sayers came in and asked tough questions like: What could go wrong? To get at Strategy, you ask: "How will we get it done?" You think your project through from the end result: budgets, timelines, who does what when, and what comes after the project to assure sustainability. Some cultures excel at Strategy (for instance detail-oriented Germans or Swiss - believe me, I know!) and frankly won't commit to a Vision unless and until the How is clear to them. But any successful endeavor, regardless of your culture, needs a strong and shared Strategy. Nike's slogan "Just Do It" espoused action above all, but "just doing it" without Strategy can backfire.
Only when the planning is complete and your team is clear on the How, is it time to move into Action. Here you make commitments and requests, and every word you say is geared toward catalyzing action. A team of executives at a large multinational energy company was clear on its Vision and Strategy, but each executive needed to make powerful promises to each other, and then requests of other key players in the company, to catalyze concerted action. Another coaching client at a multinational bank wanted to use her financial skills to make a difference for women in the Middle East, so she needed to make bold promises to, and requests of, her managers.
Of course communication does not always happen in the linear fashion suggested by the Pyramid. It is quite possible to create a powerful partnership that allows you to jump straight into Action. It is even possible to start an interaction with someone you don't even know by requesting an action right away, but I don't recommend it. In general, it is unwise to skip a level before you move on to the next one.
I trust these pointers will be useful to you and your colleagues. Feel free to send it on to others. Best wishes for the holiday season, and may the New Year bring you the accomplishments you want and need. Sincerely,
Thomas D. Zweifel