This blog post is part of the Next Top Credit Union Executive competition originally posted July 8, 2014.
“Communication” may seem like an overused term, but it is important in almost every moment of our life at work and home. My hope with this blog is to give you some ideas on how to frame conversations with executives, peers, and direct reports. The most important person in this whole communication topic, however, is you. Your believability in your project and your ability to make things happen—through communication—are the foundation of this competition and, frankly, in any project or innovation you bring forth in the future.
While it is important to take a rational approach when communicating your project, the words you say, the way the words are said, and your embodiment of what you say are the most important aspects of communication to remember. In basic terms, your believability is based on the following:
- 7% on the meaning of the words that are spoken;
- 38% on the way the words are said; and
- 55% on the embodiment of congruence of thoughts, words, and actions.
The challenge for many emerging and career-minded professionals is this: communication is not learnable through PowerPoint or reading a book. Rather, it comes from practice, relevant practice that is congruent to the presence you want to embody.
A couple weeks ago, our DDJ Myers worked with a new CEO and executive team and the comments we heard over and over again can be summed up like this: No matter how communication is intellectualized or rationalized, the actual practice often does not align with how individuals want to shape their leadership selves. This was a high-performing team that understood the need to practice in order to shape one’s identity as an exemplary leader, which definitely includes effective communication. With that being said, the following tips will help you organize for success in your communication during the CUES Next Top Credit Union Exec competition:
Communicating ideas to the C Suite: This is the place to be sure of your rationality behind your CUES Next Top Credit Union Executive (NTCUE) project. If you’re one of those people who take a long time to explain or communicate an idea, this is an opportunity for you to remain focused and deliberate in the delivery of your project idea. Your first couple sentences need to be strategic or business-oriented regarding the issue to be solved or opportunity to be explored. Follow up with the metric or qualitative positive improvement that your project promises. The following couple sentences should directly address actions.
Write out your communication and give it a subject title. Start without conscious development of the subject line and the entire delivery of the project idea should be a quality elevator pitch. How long does it take to get to the eighth floor in an elevator?
That’s how long your introduction should be. Once your introduction is complete, ask your C level executive what details they want you to share. This is your opportunity to describe more of the project and its impact—but don’t go overboard!
A project overview, a one- to two-page high-level summary, is a way to embody effective communication. An executive can always tell when a presenter is not prepared because there’s a lot of “ums” and “ahs” and sentence fragments. Most executives strongly appreciate a focused delivery. It helps them organize how they will listen to you and feel their time is well valued by you. Lastly, be sure you ask how frequently they want to receive report updates along the path of the competition. Communicating your ideas to an executive is great practice for presenting your project to the voters at the end of the competition. In addition, a follow-up note reviewing highlights and expressing appreciation for their listening and acknowledgment of their input goes along way as a leadership practice.
Communicating ideas to peers: Peers are rich resources who can add value to the end result of your project. Communication with peers must also be effective, so remember that real conversations override emails and that any exploration of a new idea definitely deserves face-to-face communication. Email does not do justice to conveying your productive mood, sense of engagement, and commitment to a project that ultimately will make your peers’ lives easier, especially if the project adds ease to their workload. Peers can be very busy, so find a time that works for two to four peers together. Start with simple words and clear thoughts, and be clear on what request for support you have for each individual. Be sure to acknowledge support and provide credit when and where relevant; a project that engages peers and supports the credit union in an innovative way is a win-win for everyone. Remember to acknowledge their support whether it is tactical, task-oriented, or strategic in nature, or merely words of engagement.
Communicating ideas to direct reports: Communicating to direct reports with effective and engaged practice is the true sign of an exemplary leader. Direct reports want to be successful; they want to know how they can strategically add value to the organization and I can imagine that they will want you to succeed because it will reflect on them and the credit union. You are responsible for engaging direct reports and personally connecting the project to their talents and gifts so they can be brought forward and increase their visibility within the organization. Finalists who indicate in their blog or video how the project enhanced the self-efficacy of direct reports, and engaged peers, have a strong potential to win. Here are some tips for preparing for direct report meetings. Plan ahead, plan what to say, and most importantly, plan how you will say it. The most important value you add is anticipating reactions. Gauge your pace and align it with your listeners’ expectations. Some will want you to go faster and others will want you to go slower and be more methodical. Adapt your communication so each person feels heard.
Powerful effective communication tips: To summarize this blog, here are some helpful tips to remember. No matter who you were speaking to, presenting for, or engaging with in conversation, remember to:
- Be prepared, define your goals, prepare targeted questions, and formulate a plan for gaining buy-in of your listener.
- Manage your mood. This is an important conversation so your mood needs to be present, open, and connected. If you’re moving from a chaotic day into this meeting, take a moment to center yourself and reconnect to what is important.
- Listen for questions that are not being asked, anticipate areas of resistance, and ask each person to provide input and feedback on your project.
- Be an active listener and interpreter, which requires asking open-ended questions without anticipating the answers in advance.
- Request input, ask for what is important to them, and how this project will directly impact their work flow and value to organization while being a career-enhancing move.
The most important piece of communication is to care about the project and believe in your ability to make things happen. With self-generated engagement, you’re on your way!