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Talk to Your Team This Way to Engage and Inspire Ownership

Updated on May 13, 2017
Real C Browne profile image

Charles currently serves as an Executive Adviser to engineering and technology firms helping smart professionals become successful leaders.

Creating Messages That Inspire and Empower

People who respond immediately and positively to their leadership do so because they have pertinent reasons for doing so. The message has context for them in their role and in the larger strategy.

Effective leadership communications may be short and direct, but they're also given in relation to where the organization has been, where it's going, and how it will get there.

Specifically, engaging and mobilizing team members is about tailoring your message to specific groups so they will understand how they fit into the larger picture. Truly inspiring communications will call colleagues to action on something bigger than themselves.

In today's article I'm going to challenge you to come up with a set of simple statements that, when combined into a larger message, will engage and inspire action in your direct report. In total there are nine core messages that you will need to communicate with your team. Together they become the communication foundation upon which you and your team will build an ongoing two-way conversation that empowers and energizes.

It's important to note that the only way this communication strategy is effective is if it is utilized to establish a two-way conversation. If you're looking for a Jedi mind trick to invoke mindless obedience you're looking in the wrong place. If, instead, you're looking to free yourself from constant helicopter management and organizational firefighting I think you'll find the following very useful.

Nine Core Messages

As I mentioned there are nine core messages that need to be answered for a subordinate to buy-in to your request and feel empowered to take action on your message.

Answer each of these questions for your team and not only will they understand the what and how of what you're relaying, they'll understand why their participation is vital to success. Never under estimate the power of being needed, it's a very powerful motivator.

  1. History/Closure - first and foremost establish common ground by clearly defining where you've been (as a team) and what's been achieved. Then address what needs to be cleaned up or corrected before the team can move forward. Finally, this is also the time to acknowledge accomplishments. Ex. "I can't believe that just two years ago we were a team of four trying to close a $50,000 deal, now we're a team of 35 managing $20M in projects and capital. Before I tell you where we're going I want to celebrate our accomplishments and then let's talk about what recently went wrong and figure out what we can learn from the experience, then put it behind us..."
  2. Vision - Unveil the inspirational destination and solicit input on how the team would creatively build on this vision. Ex. "In three years we will be famous for developing new technologies in our field to solve it's most pressing problems. We will be known worldwide for our pioneering approach and transforming our industry. The market will not only want our products, but model our processes and view each member of this team as an innovator and industry leader. Now, how does this vision sound to you? How would you build on it? What would you change? What sounds most exciting to you?"
  3. Mission - This is where you present the reason why you do what you do. Remember that it must be a compelling enough reason to get you out of bed in the morning. Ex. "We're here to solve problems people once thought impossible. It's what drives everything we do. Is that a compelling enough mission for you?"
  4. Values - This is the box within which you will operate to achieve your goals. This is 'who' your organization will be as they work together. Challenge each member to compare these organizational principles to their own. Ex. "We are all about integrity, safety, innovation and production. We will work around the clock to solve the tough problems. How do your values fit with these?"
  5. Strategies and initiatives - Present your solution in broad terms. Give a direction and (currently) available resources, but solicit for details. As a leader 'how' should be left to the determination of your team trusting that 'how' will align with the previous standards. Ex. "Our strategy will be to develop new technologies, attract top talent and expand to an international market while continuing to meet our commitments."
  6. Objectives - Define acceptable performance, internally, for customers, for shareholders, and for the community. If it's part of your value system there should be a metric to clearly define and measure it. Ex. "Our goals are: hire 5 new researchers by July, complete working prototype by September, present at the industry trade show in October, establish logistical resources by November, and bring to market no later than December."
  7. Commitment - Establish your reason for setting this goal and ask how they fit into your aspirations for the team and how each member fits into all you've presented. Ex. "Jane, tell me why you joined our group? Does this sound like it aligns with your career goals and what you'd hoped to accomplish with us?"
  8. Accountability and roles - Make your assignments and set goals for each member of the team while explaining how it contributes to the larger goal. Ex. "Given your interest in and experience with developing high performing teams I need you to head the project team's individual assignments and resource distribution. Our ability to execute on schedule is paramount to our success. What specific questions do you have?"
  9. Support - Communicating all the specifics and itemizing the tasks does not absolve a leader from involvement. A leader's role will always be to remove obstacles and measure task progress against the larger goal. Additionally, even if you worked your way up through the ranks, the ranks have changed, you may be unaware of new requirements or challenges in today's environment. Ex. "What do you need to accomplish these goals from the company and from me specifically? How often should we meet?"

Possible Leadership Pitfalls

Lack of specificity is the most common mistake leaders make when presenting a message. They believe that since they work with a bright, talented, experienced team that everyone knows their part. In day-to-day operations that may be very true, but when changing or even adjusting course do not overlook the necessity to give precise goals and accountability measures to each team member lest they not know what to do next.

The lack of providing the big picture can be just as damaging since people will act on their specific assignments, but when faced with challenges or milestones they're frozen until you loop back around and provide the next set of instructions. Without knowing the big picture of how they fit in and why they should care they'll feel like mindless, unskilled labor blindly carrying out orders and soon settle in to doing just that, nothing more.

Lack of continued support will communicate to the team that they can just wait this initiative out and it'll quietly go away. Without your continuing, interested and vested support small individual failures will permeate the team and the overall goal will never be achieved.

Ignoring the past is the silent killer to most organizations - especially technical ones. Leaders who fail to remind people where they've been, acknowledge significant sacrifice and clear up past issues are slowly poisoning their organization with resentment and burn-out. Teams who experience this type of leadership feel under-appreciated, under-valued and eventually move on.

Your Leadership Challenge

Given the framework for successful messaging and the pitfalls of ignoring each category, you're now prepared to inspire and mobilize even the most disheartened organization. Let tomorrow's message be the first of your new organization and start working together.

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