In Management, Once Is Not Enough

October 8, 2011 by  Filed under: Management 

When it comes to effective management, once is not enough!

Are you falling into the trap of telling your people only once and assuming that they will then diligently get on with your request? In the modern workplace we are all inundated with hundreds of demands from clients and customers as well as colleagues and managers. They are all competing for our attention and we constantly have to juggle priorities. How do you ensure that your requests stay at the top of the list? There is now scientific evidence to prove that effective managers say the same thing at least twice, if not more.

With or without power

Tsedal Neeley is an Assistant Professor in the Organizational Behaviour area at Harvard Business School. She recently researched the communication patterns of 13 Project Managers in six companies for more than 250 hours. What she found is the most effective managers were not complacent about communication and didn’t expect people to get it first time. They were politely persistent and used a number of different media. Managers who assumed that because they had direct power (i.e. they were a line manager) they did not need to communicate as frequently and would get frustrated by the number of deadlines missed or targets not met. They were assuming that their power was enough.

“Those without power were much more strategic, much more thoughtful about greasing the wheel” to get buy-in and to reinforce the urgency of the previous communication, Neeley says. “Managers without authority enrol others to make sense of an issue together and go for a solution.”

The managers without direct power used face to face communication at least twice up-front, this tended to require less follow up later. However, many managers in the study followed up with email and many also used text and instant messaging.

There is an old saying that I learnt back in the late 1980’s as a trainer; “say it seven times in seven different ways”. That was well before email, text and twitter! But Neeley’s research suggests that the essence of the saying holds true for modern management as well.

A more elegant way

However, there is a more elegant way of getting through to your people by understanding the direction of their below conscious motivation. Are your people more motivated by focusing on what they want or what they don’t want? According to the research into below-conscious motivation by Roger Bailey, 40% of the working population are goal-oriented or ‘Toward’. They seek out goals and targets to achieve. If they aren’t given any by management they will simply make up their own based on what they think the priorities are. Another 40% are Problem-oriented or ‘Away From’. They are driven to avoid problems and are always on the look out for what might go wrong. They are great at troubleshooting but may get distracted from the priorities. The remaining 20% have a bit of both patterns.

In order to motivate your people to achieve your requests you need to use the appropriate language and not just your own preference. If you are very ‘Toward’ you may need to express what will happen if things aren’t achieved and what problems will occur if deadlines are not met. This may seem very negative to you but it will motivate ‘Away From’ people. On the other hand if you are naturally very ‘Away From’ yourself you may need to consider articulating what will be achieved if the deadlines are met and how this will benefit the people you are communicating to. This will engage the ‘Toward’ people.

As you have probably gathered, for the people with a bit of both you need to mention both the problems that need to be avoided and the benefits that will be achieved. If in doubt mention both and know that people with the respective pattern will only hear the bits that engage them.

If you follow the above suggestion you will probably find that your message hits a deeper motivation in your people and you will have more impact, achieve better results and miss fewer deadlines and according to the research you now know it is still wise to say it more than once and in more than one media.

Identifying patterns

There are a number of ways to identify the key motivational drivers of you people by listening to the words they use or by completing questionnaires like the iWAM Profile.

Remember… Stay Curious!

With best regards

David Klaasen

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