By Tim Hayes
“The most basic state of mind that leaders need to understand is the will of their constituencies: their will to work, their will to live, their will to revolt, their will to follow you.”
So says Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup, in a recent interview in the Gallup Management Journal. His main point for today’s leaders comes down to a basic premise – that Six Sigma, lean manufacturing, process improvements, quality circles, and the rest of the inwardly focused production efficiency tools have pretty much been internalized. They have been perfected and are now expected. They are not differentiators any longer – they are the price of admission to the competitive ballgame.
Instead, Clifton says that true leaders in the marketplace of 2010 and beyond must recognize and act upon two new premises – that human decision-making is more emotional than rational, and that leaders must understand the minds of their employees, customers, regulators, and investors. The ones who do can use that knowledge to create real economic growth, more new jobs, and emerge as true differentiated organizations.
Based on these insightful observations, I see leadership communications playing a pivotal role. Story telling, relating the organization’s macro vision to the audience’s micro viewpoint, will be a key component in appealing to the mind of a leader’s constituencies. Perhaps put in a more pedestrian and cynical statement, everything needs to come down to the baseline question asked by employees, customers, and other groups: “What’s in it for me?” Or, phrased in a more positive light, leaders must answer their constituencies’ request: “Help me to care.”
In employee training modules I’ve written for a service industry, for example, every lesson centered around personal behaviors, along with an explanation of how and why those behaviors benefit both employee and customer. These were not designed as dry lectures, but as interactive stories where the employees being trained could feel and experience the effects of on-the-job behaviors – and thereby not only retain the information mentally, but apply those lessons emotionally on a practical basis with their real-life customers. Customer satisfaction ratings have been on a steady upward track ever since.
Some years ago I worked in support of a non-profit hospital foundation. All outreach communications to active and potential donors centered on two ideas – first, how the donor personally benefits from making a gift (through building up lives of people in less-fortunate situations), and second, by telling stories of specific outcomes achieved on behalf of children, the infirmed, and families through such donations. We never talked about the foundation itself – only about how the lives of donors and recipients got happier and healthier. Within three years, donations went up more than 200 percent.
In the end, it’s the performance of people that make the real difference. But clear communication of a leader’s vision – acting on Clifton’s observation that understanding the minds of constituencies is the only way to differentiate today – is essential in helping that performance come to its fullest fruition.
Copyright 2009 Tim Hayes Consulting