Dialogs: What They Are, and How to Optimize Them
Jim Cardwell’s Connection With Leaders Recap – December 15, 2009
We finished 2009’s Connect With Leaders Webinar Series this month by talking about Dialogs – what they are and how to optimize them. Here’s a quick summary of what was discussed. (Or to listen to a recording of the webinar, go to this link: http://www.connectionsonline.net/docs/2009-12-15-Ed-web-dial ogs.wmv )
Dialogs are highly interactive, team-based, open and collaborative. Information bounces around the room; it does not all go through the leader. Dialogs drive problem identification, discovery and problem-solving. They build team pride – they show that the organization is progressing and that individuals are making a difference. Peers have high expectations regarding individual preparation and performance. Dangling items are captured, and there is follow though.
Dialogs bring people and functions together to discuss progress-to-plan. They provide a forum for reinforced accountability. They create a team-based conversation around what people need to do to keep those functions moving successfully forward. Of equal importance, they celebrate success and problem-solve any shortfalls. They also build organization pride and productivity. And the ringmaster who drives this pride and productivity is the leader.
Leadership characteristics that drive this productivity include:
- Creating a sense of Purpose (leaders create an emotional feeling that “we are doing something special here”)
- Using 80-20 thinking, establishing a few meaningful Goals (narrowing the list to the most important goals that will have the biggest impact)
- Providing on-going Feedback (clarifying expectations; managing by walking around; creating a relationship of “no surprises”)
- Providing Support (being there for people – from both a resource and an emotional standpoint)
- Ensuring timely Recognition and Reward (consistently recognizing and reinforcing achievements in a timely fashion)
- Building a sense of Team (setting an expectation that it takes everyone in the organization to make it work)
This is where Connections Online shines. It builds Top-Down Performance Alignment through a clear sense of purpose and aligned goals. Then it creates a system of ongoing, bottom-up feedback loops, where business strategy is linked to individual behavior through feedback, support, recognition, and a sense of team.
Meetings are not dialogs
One thing we have to make clear: Ordinary meetings are not dialogs.
Typical management team meetings involve people sitting around a table updating others on their functions. People present what they want to. It can be somewhat random, self-serving and boring. All communication goes through the leader. There is a one-way monolog of information; the agenda is unfocused; the reporting is informal; there is typically no pressure on individual accountability; and the follow-up actions are seldom captured.
High-performance organizations, however, have moved beyond a dependence on traditional meetings. They drive productivity and motivation through dialogs.
To truly make these interactive gatherings hum with activity, there must be an emotional commitment created by the group’s leaders – they need to make the dialogs a place where employees derive pride, enjoyment, inspiration and meaning from the work they are doing. Studies have shown that where there is a strong emotional commitment, engaged employees apply four times the extra discretionary effort. The boss stimulates an environment of emotional commitment to the task at hand.
Building emotional commitment means engaging and focusing staff on achieving the BHAG (the 5-year goal the company is shooting for). It also means connecting each individual’s work with the organization’s strategy; collaboratively managing performance expectations in an ongoing fashion; and reinforcing accountability.
High emotional commitment involves individual employees too. They need to keep their day-to-day work aligned with the overall direction of the business; they need self-discipline; they need to practice the organization’s core values, and they need an internal drive for organizational success. In short, they need to act in the best interest of the overall business.
General dialog tips
In Connections Online, the dialogs start at the Individual and Project levels. This information rolls up though the Department and Metric Dialogs, and it all culminates in the monthly Organization Dialog.
For effective dialogs (in a general sense) ensure your staff understands your performance expectations and their impact. Clarify the non-negotiables in the dialog process (such as setting a standard that the dialogs must occur every month). As a leader, stay focused on core goals and build the organization’s capabilities. Consistently use the Dialog Agendas for clear expectations, and pre-think any material issues that are pending – and adjust your dialog time allocations accordingly.
Although sometimes difficult, it is also important for leaders to be open to the ideas and concerns of others. Letting people actively interact and talk ensures all ideas are on the table. A truly collaborative environment will build ownership, engagement and trust.
Specific dialog tips:
- Set expectation standards for Players and Coaches that outline what is expected of each before, during and after the dialog
- Use the dialog template in Connections to prepare for Individual Dialogs each month
- Use Management-by-walking-around (MBWA) for alignment, coaching, support, teamwork and recognition
- Have an Internal Connections Consulting Team member sit in – especially with new teams or leaders (for consistency)
- Set standards for updating projects at least every two weeks
- MBWA (and surf Connections)
- Meet as a project team at least twice a month for coordination, problem-solving and outcomes management
- Use a Project Dialog Day, where all project teams meet on the day before the monthly Organization Dialog (you’ll be surprised about how much better the updates are)
- Metric Owners need to meet with their “metric families” at least monthly (a metric family would include all the Owners of the various Financial Metrics, for example)
- Come to the Metric Dialog prepared with insights, questions, and solutions
- During the Metric Dialog “listen and think” cross-functionality – move beyond silo thinking
- Identify the key messages that need to be shared in the Organization Dialog (and load them into Connections)
- Simplify the core message – keep your strategy simple, understandable and easily communicated (your Focus box needs to be about a half-page long)
- Create an impassioned feeling in your team that the BHAG is BIG, and it will take all of us to
- MBWA (and surf)
- Ask the leaders in the room to take talking points back to their departments
- Follow up to see that these messages are getting through
For teams to ultimately benefit from dialogs, they need to have consistent structure, predictable processes, clearly reinforced performance standards, effective leadership, and highly engaged participation.
That’s it for the 2009 Educational Webinar series. We certainly appreciate your attendance and participation this past year and we look forward to providing you with more insightful and helpful information in 2010. And good luck with your dialogs!