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Are We Losing Our Ability to Communicate?

Today we have more power and control at our fingertips than ever before.  We send texts from crowded conference halls, emails from 30,000 feet in the air and hold meetings in our shorts and t-shirts while having our morning coffee.  However, executives consistently complain that communications between colleagues, customers and media have declined.  It is frequently blamed on a workforce generation gap, “those Millennials!”.  But the real root cause is companies have not consistently provided development for employees’ communication skills.

Yes, it is true there is an increased abundance of tools to communicate – from text, phone calls and streaming video to chat, IM and social media.  And, workforce generations do communicate differently.  However, this is merely an issue of understanding your audience.  Above all, one fundamental holds true:  foundations of excellent communications are rooted in training, development and practice.  Every day and every minute you are communicating, even as you read this article.

Research shows that communication development is linked to tangible and measurable results in performance.  From boardroom to sales desk, effective communication determines the signing of a deal, the closing of a sale and the retention of a customer.  Whether electronic, written or verbal, communication is a skill which needs to be practiced and developed.

This article shows effective communications development directly linked to individual and company performance in a variety of scenarios:

Woman Executive  Women in leadership have the greatest challenge in their role.  They have multiple audiences, including peers, direct reports, C-suite executives or a board of directors.  Women leaders we have worked with have often said they “walk a tightrope every day to not be perceived as too timid or too bitchy” (their exact words not ours).  Understandably so!  They want to be successful and often struggle with this internal battle of, “how am I perceived?”  Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook captured the phrase “Lean In” in her book.  But when do you “lean in” and how much, how often, etc.?   This is often the struggle women leaders face from board meetings and high stakes talks to communications within their department.  The most important aspect of coaching women in leadership roles is not to change their own personal style but to shape it.  These women got to where they are because they worked hard and excelled in their field.  The goal here is to polish the gem so it can shine.   In many cases, addressing body language is key whether one on one meetings or town-hall presentations.  In addition, tone of voice is addressed. Women execs learn to share a confident opinion that is strong and not pushy.

In developing key communication skills, companies experience a 45% promotion rate of women. There is a 100% increase in the women employee retention rate of those participating in their communications development at their companies.

Young Rising Star  “I don’t understand these kids today”.   Remember your parents often making that statement?   Executives find themselves saying the same thing.   Millennials, Gen-X, Gen-Y, etc. have the expectation of being promoted fast or else they move on.  Their style of communication is often silence.  They are probably the first generations to break off a relationship via text message.  They love the veil of technology and avoid confrontation or bad news.  When they don’t have an answer or have to give bad news, like turning down a job offer, they choose to remain silent and not communicate at all.  Although discouraging, these people are the future leaders of our businesses and will transform the culture of the organization.  Therefore, it is important to help them develop their communication skills.

Common pitfalls with these generations are being too short in communications causing ambiguity, not being responsive (imagine that in this day of technology), and avoiding verbal communication.  This group needs “scenario” development, because they are young, and lack the experiences a more seasoned professional would have. They need to be placed in scenarios and see the perception on the other end.  They also need to confront their fear of presenting in front of a group.  Presenting brings out their personality and forces them to shaping their verbal communication skills.  This practice instills confidence and often helps to break down stereotypes.

When these generational future leaders receive this type of development, we have seen the turnover rate of employees drop significantly.   This reduces and saves on recruiting costs and on-boarding.  We have also experienced their annual performance reviews improve as well.  So rather than dismissing this segment of employee base as a generational gap, progressive companies are tackling it head on with development.

Technical Guru All companies have them!  They are the silent genius in either technology, engineering or operations.  These people have incredible potential but are often hindered by their lack of desire to communicate and lead.  They often lose their audience by being too technical. Their lack of practice offering simple explanations to complex problems can shut down their audience. A common technique to conquer this learning curve is story telling.   Introverted and highly technical people begin to blossom in their communications skills when they can convert that knowledge to a relatable story.  Often these people are brought into sales presentations where complexity, dialect or soft volume make them hard to follow.  This is further complicated in a conference call.

Along with the story-telling technique, the added skills of voice projection, articulation and eye contact help capture and hold the listener.  When technical people develop their communication skills, there is an increase in closure rate of technical sales, an increase in promotions of technical staff, and an increase in performance review scores.

Job-Hopping Salesperson  Attracting and retaining solid sales people is an achievable goal and the bedrock for company growth.   Although sales turnover is directly impacted by compensation plans, it is also affected by the tools and skills companies use to equip their sales people.  Sales people are the face of the company. Great communicators can help the company grow, acting as an ambassador of the brand.  Poor communicators often find themselves hopping from job to job and hurting the reputation of the company.

Listening is a significant part of effective sales communication. Emotion-based empathy, understanding and active listening come across in a salesperson’s tone, approach, responsiveness, and body language.   Effective selling is not just about great presentations.  It is about showing what value your company can provide to the needs of your customer.

If a company is exhibiting high turnover in their sales staff, they need to look at a variety of factors from compensation to recruiting.   But more importantly are you providing the training and development necessary to help them become successful.   Solid communications development of verbal, written, digital and nonverbal is critical in providing a consistent face to the customer.  This development also becomes more deeply personal to the employee as they recognize how the company is invested in their employees’ self-development.

After working with a number of sales teams from B2B to B2C, we have measured performance gains in the sales teams’ efforts.  These include a 37% increase in deal closure rates, 45% reduction in sales staff turnover and a 15% increase in average deal/sale size.

Data Driven CFO  CFO’s by nature are detailed orientated, data driven and, often, introverted as well.  The CFO is the trusted guardian of the company’s financial position and the one to whom investors look for confidence.  If a CFO’s tone on investor calls is questionable, investors and analysts get wary and begin to speculate.  When surveying board members, they all unanimously stated they want their CFO to exhibit confidence even under stressful and difficult times.  They claim without this trait they lose trust.  Imagine hiring a personal trainer who turns up looking tired and out of shape, wearing jeans and a t-shirt to the gym.  You will immediately question your decision of hiring them to train you.

Given that many investor calls and presentations occur via web-ex or conference call, the CFO is only heard and not seen.   Their tone and voice must be crisp and confident.  Their answers need to be concise and to the point and if a question cannot be answered they need to respond with a comforting tone that follow-up will be taken.   If a CFO pauses too much or too long, they lose the confidence of their audience.  CFO’s who cannot effectively communicate in both verbal and written context or do not present themselves with authority and confidence in presentations will find their career short lived.

 

After working with multiple CFO’s on their tone and presentation style, we have received increased feedback from investors, analysts and board members.   This has also yielded tangible career opportunities by seeing 18% of CFO’s – who worked on their communication style – promoted to CEO by the board.  Being data driven does not mean one cannot communicate and lead with confidence.

In conclusion, are we losing our ability to communicate?  The answer is yes, if we don’t continually develop our skills to mesh with our style in this ever-changing world.

Alice Rutkowski is the Vice President of Executive Coaching and Communications Development for SAGIN.   Alice has worked with a number of Fortune 500 companies to develop their teams and leadership through custom tailored approaches in communications development.

SAGIN is a boutique professional services firm with offerings in consulting, people development, executive recruiting and technology deployment. Our firm focuses on creating solutions which deliver tangible results.  We are different!  You can reach us at www.saginllc.comn or +1.312.281.0290

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