When you see the word “speech” it may conjure up that heart stopping moment when we are ask to get up in front of the class, a group of peers, or perhaps in front of hundreds of people and give a talk. Even if you are the SME (subject matter expert,) that does not make it easier to get up in front of a bunch of folks and talk. (With lots of practice it gets easier.)
Today; that is not the topic of this particular blog. Today I would like to address how we communicate as employers or managers to our subordinates.
I could not help but notice how some managers, “ask” their subordinates to accomplish some task. Really? .. ASK?
If I were “asked” if I wanted to sweep the floor, or some other mundane task, my immediate response (possibly just in my head) would be “hell no!” If I have a choice, the choice is “let someone else do it.”
If on the other hand, I am instructed to sweep the floor (not asked,) I will grab the broom and go about sweeping the floor.
My point is, not only in verbal communication do we “Weaken our speech” with seemingly innocuous phrases like “if you don’t mind, if it is ok with you, how would you feel about, when you have time to…” and the list goes on. We in fact loose authority and run the risk of sabotaging our project, when we weaken our speech.
So when you speak as a manager, use that authority that you have been granted with that title. Do not ask how someone would feel about this or that. Tell them what and when you want this or that done, and do not give them the option of telling you how to run your department or business. When they earn the title of boss, then they can tell their subordinates how they want things done, right now, it is your turn. This of course comes with the understanding that you have done your due diligence. That you know what is going on with each part of whatever it is that you are working on; and know what each and every employee is doing.
We also do this in e-mail or other interoffice memos. The main difference with e-mail and memos is that once in writing, it is there forever, for anyone who may be copied in on it, or it gets forwarded to.
We are in fact judged by how we speak, or write. Whether it is the politically correct thing to do or not, “we do it!” We all do it! Remember that old axiom “better to keep your mouth shut and people think you a fool lest you open your mouth and remove all doubt?” Sometimes we are forced to open our mouths, so educate yourself before you reach that point.
While e-mail has become the norm as far as communication with peers and alike, many of us did not take English class too seriously, and it shows! No time like the present to learn how to craft simple e-mails. Once you “pen it” and hit that magic send button, you have no idea the life that it will take on, where it will go, and who all will read it.
I once authored a memo that went to a corporation of over 30,000 folks. There was a typo in the memo (you instead of your) and while my supervisors were no literary geniuses, and took a screw-them if they can’t take a joke attitude, I was mortified. Treat e-mails and memo’s as if they are “IED’s or road side bombs with a hair trigger.” Do not get in a hurry when writing an e-mail that may be seen by your boss, or potential boss. Spell check, read it out loud, and if you have a trusted friend, ask them to proof it. One trick that I find that works is to print it, and read it from the paper. I realize that on “earth week” that is probably not the most politically correct thing to say, but it is true! I am not one for political correctness anyway; I think we have taken it way too far. That is another topic for another blog.
When I first entered into the corporate world, which seems like yesterday; the executive dictated a letter to his secretary. She wrote it down on a steno pad, in something called “greg shorthand” and then went about the task of typing it up. She would then put the letter (draft) into his in box where he would read it, mark it up, make changes and then she would once again type it up. This process could go on all day. There was a study done once that concluded the average business letter cost about $100, back in the 70’s.
Today we have no secretary to “fix it” and make it pretty. People from the board-room to the mail room have the same e-mail, which connects not only to everyone in the corporation, but to the outside world. We no longer write many formal letters, as e-mail, text (sms) and instant message is on our desktop. Are you beginning to get a sense of how important that English class was that you slept through?
How many times have you read something that someone has written and found a typo, or a grammatical error? I frequently find them in books that have reputable publicist. What is the first thing that you do or think? Yep, we judge them. We either think that they are not very smart, or very clever, or we may even question where they went to school, or if they did.
“The pen is mightier than the sword” is not simply something for writers to gloat about (which they should not do, as most writers could probably not even lift a sword,) it is in fact a powerful tool. Unfortunately, like Damocles sword it is double edged, and is indeed hanging by a thread. Be very careful and deliberate what you write; keeping the audience and secondary audiences in mind.
I heard an impressive lady the other day who said, she speaks her opinions like they are facts! They are indeed “her facts!” She claims that she is perceived as a bitch, and I can see that. Is that wrong? Should she care how she is perceived? I for one was very impressed by her talk, and I am not easily impressed. In management we are entrusted by our superiors to get the job done, and your employees become “your tools.” While I don’t use the phrase “tool” in the pejorative manner that we hear it used today, employees are in fact implements of and end to a means. The manager uses the expertise of his or her employees, to reach an objective or several objectives. If they start asking their subordinates to do this or that, their timelines may suffer as well as the project(s) as a whole. When you give up that authority to your employees, (when you have time) you are no longer an effective manager. Your employees usually don’t have the whole picture or the sense of commitment or urgency to the project or end goal which you do! Clear task with authoritative language broken down into milestones and expectations set by you are mandatory, if you are to succeed as a manager.
If you think about it, you are actually leading and mentoring by example. Employees (not just yours) watch you. They observe more than you think, and that includes the two hour lunch, or the fact that you passed gas on your way to the bathroom. You are held to a higher standard. It is probably not fair but it is the way of the hourly vs the salaried employee. They are long gone by the time the managers day usually ends; but they are not there for that.
So instead of “how do you feel about coming to work on time” vs. “the office opens at 8, and I want you here. If you can’t do that, I will find someone who can.” Will the latter earn you the title of bitch or bastard? Who cares? When they work for you, they play by your rules, not theirs. If you worry about how your employees perceive you, than your are in the wrong line of work.
To be fair, if they have issues getting to work on time, you probably need to find someone else to do the job anyway. Conversely, if you have good employees, as I have been blessed with on so many occasions, I will go out of my way to take care of them in compensation, training, bonuses etc. While there is no need to deliberately alienate your employees, they are not your friends; and you are not theirs. At the office there is an expected decorum that must be adhered to; not only by them, but by you as well. The phrase “it is lonely at the top is not just a phrase, but can be a way of life, at least from 8 to 5.
One last piece of advice that I will share that is a little off topic, “Never under any circumstance hire anyone that you cannot fire!” I want you to go back and read that again. Read that until it sticks! Make certain that you have no sacred cows working for you. By that I simply mean, everyone; “including you” is replaceable. If you own a company and you have certain employees that you cannot live without, change it fast! No one should be held hostage by having to keep someone around because they are the boss’s kid, or they are the only one who knows this or that program or system; or they are “your friend!” The largest screw-up that I see constantly is that there is no documentation, anywhere on the systems, processes, key players, vendors etc.
If you want to see how survivable your business is, run a disaster recovery drill with non-key players or bring in temporary employees from a staffing firm that have the skill set, just not the experience with your company. Then using your “living document,” re-create your business in a hot site. If that does not go well for you, and you want to fix it, call me! http://www.guard-protect.com
Hope this helps!
-Best to you and those that you care about!