We’ve Made It Clear! No, You Haven’t!

Listen for it. They’re all saying it.

Our rancorous politicians try to persuade us and each other that they’ve made perfectly clear what they haven’t. By saying, “We’ve made it clear,” they expect us to believe it.

But we humble citizens know whether they’ve made something clear or not.  We’re pretty good at understanding reality.

“We’ve made it clear,” is a persuasion tactic that communicates: “If you don’t believe what we’ve said, then you must be simple minded. Because we’ve been clear.  (Huh?)

Business leaders sometimes do the same thing. One told me: “We must have told them (the employees), a hundred times. I can’t understand why they don’t get it. Sometimes I think they don’t want to understand it.”  That was from an otherwise reasonably intelligent senior leader. Saying things like that gives me reason to believe that he isn’t otherwise reasonably intelligent.

Why might employees hear something said a hundred times and still not “get it?” Could it be that what is being said is (OMG!) inconsistent with what’s being done?

Could it be that these leaders:

  • Talk about cutting costs but spend lavishly on themselves?
  • Give town hall speeches about becoming nimble but require ridiculous approvals to get miniscule tasks done?
  • Champion quality but create reward systems that promote productivity?
  • Stress collaboration but always ask how “your department” is doing?

Say/do gaps bedevil a lot of leaders who under-appreciate how much their actions communicate what’s important and what isn’t.   So how do you as a leader avoid say/do gaps in such a way that you can credibly say: “We’ve made it clear”?

First, invest time identifying the strategic story you want to communicate.

  • What do you want employees to understand about their relationship with the organization?
  • What’s the big picture, the business case for change?
  • Specifically, what are you trying to become and what’s your plan to get there?
  • What do people need to do to execute the plan?
  • What resources do they have to execute successfully and why is it in their best interests that the organization win–the old what’s-in-it-for-me?”

Second, (the more challenging part), make a list of all the actions that you, your leadership team and the organization need to take to reinforce what you plan to say. That list should get folded into your operating plan. It’s the way you will conduct business from now on, so the words and actions will be the same.

One Leader’s Story
Here’s how one of our clients did this. The head of a large distribution center was having quality problems because productivity was being overemphasized by the leadership team – especially at the front line. Getting product in and out the door was paramount, regardless of any damage to the condition of these products.

The distribution center leader and her team made a list of all the actions that were needed to reinforce what they were saying about the importance of quality, productivity and safety.  In effect, she and her team created a plan that said: When we say quality, productivity and safety are of equal importance, here are the actions we will take to communicate that and mean it.

That action list included adjusting multiple systems and processes to emphasize the three key goals. They modified their incentive plan, improved recruiting and training, created a new employee orientation, re-designed the way work got done, and installed a new communication and continuous improvement process.

With the say and do now aligned, quality went up 65%. Productivity rose 16%. Safety remained where it was at zero accidents.

When business leaders and our politicians walk the talk, with their say and do consistent, we can believe them when they say, “We’ve made it clear.”

Until then, they (and we) will continue to suffer from the say/do gap eroding their credibility and results.

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