FAQs With Phil: How Do I Get My Company to Rock at Communicating?

We’ve received so many questions pertaining to effective communication among teams and across all levels that it warranted its own mini-series. This last of three articles includes 10 tips to excellent communications.

 

In this Mind Your Business series, FAQs With Phil, COSE’s own Phil Stella answers some of the most frequently asked questions small business owners and employees have regarding how to communicate effectively*. 

Reaction to the last two pieces has been great. If you didn’t get a chance to read them, check out Why are Some Leaders Poor Communicators—and it’s counterpart, Why Do My Employees Stink at Communicating?. 

It looks like you enjoyed poking fun at both bosses and colleagues who were poor communicators. We concluded that many of them were hired or promoted in spite of their communication skills, rather than because of them.

And the reasons were ironically similar:

It's not on the “test.” Few organizations place written or verbal skills on the “gotta have” list when interviewing candidates for any level position, unless they’re in sales or customer-facing areas. 

 It's no big deal. Many employers don’t include written or verbal skills in their performance management system because they don’t see that much value in them.  

They didn’t learn them in school. Most high schools offer few, if any, courses in presentation or interpersonal communication skills. The same is true for many college business curricula. So, organizations must often provide their staffs verbal and written communication training to make up for that. However, as you’re probably catching on… most of them don’t.

We’ve talked a lot about the causes of the problem, but what about the solutions? What can organizations do about these scenarios? What can they do to make sure they can confidently claim, “My company rocks at communicating?” Let’s find out. 

Check out these 10 tips to creating organizations that value excellence in communication.

Excellence in Communication Tip No. 1: It starts at the top. C-level leaders must commit to creating and sustaining a culture that values and rewards effective communication.

Excellence in Communication Tip No. 2: Or, split it up among departments. If focusing on c-level leaders is too big of a challenge, given the organization’s size and scope, then ‘enlightened’ executives can focus this effort on their respective division or department. So, if the whole organization can’t embrace the goal, maybe the Finance or Manufacturing departments could.

Excellence in Communication Tip No. 3: Put it on the “test.” A key component of the process is to make sure communication competencies are “on the test.” That means adding these factors to the gotta have list for any open position, no matter the role or level. While they can’t be the most important criteria, they could be the tie-breaker between two otherwise similarly qualified candidates.

Excellence in Communication Tip No. 4: Add it to performance management reviews. Once baked into the selection process, the next step is to include them in the performance management system. If employees at all levels see that demonstrating specific workplace communication skills as a piece of their objectives, they’ll pay attention.

Excellence in Communication Tip No. 5: Make it quantifiable. If your employees’ performance evaluations include quantifiable skill improvements, they’ll pay more attention. 

Excellence in Communication Tip No. 6: Tie it into salary and promotions. If those evaluations directly impact their salary increases and readiness for advancement, they’ll really pay a lot of attention.

Excellence in Communication Tip No. 7: Readily communicate about communication. Build communication strengths and weaknesses into the ongoing performance coaching process. With each conversation, include what’s working and what still needs more work.

Excellence in Communication Tip No. 8: Create informal opportunities for feedback. Besides these formal conversations (performance reviews, etc), regularly include informal feedback on specific memos, presentations and interactions. 

Excellence in Communication Tip No. 9: Offer professional development programs. These programs can include topics such as writing, phone skills, meeting management and presentation skills. Make a commitment to empowering all employees to improve their workplace skills, including communication.

Excellence in Communication Tip No. 10: Master the skills. Work hard to be a positive model of these competencies to influence staff. Regularly ask for feedback from them on your effort and results. Walk the walk.

While improving an entire organization’s communicating competencies can be a daunting long-term challenge, simply start small with your immediate reports and watch it catch on and grow from there. Do what you can to make sure you can confidently say, "My company rocks at communicating."

Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, www.communicate-confidently.com, 440 449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, communication styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.   

*If you have a question for Phil, please send him an email at Phil@communicate-confidently.com

 
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  • Next up: Progress Made to Close the Digital Divide, but the Need is Still Huge: Here’s How You Can Help

    Progress Made to Close the Digital Divide, but the Need is Still Huge: Here’s How You Can Help

     

    There is some good news to share about Greater Cleveland’s digital divide: Since last August, the Cleveland-area corporate community has donated more than 6,000 computers to PCs for People for low-income families. These donations have allowed students to learn remotely, seniors to attend e-health conferences with their caregivers, and many more to work from home or find employment.

    However, the need is still huge. Currently, PCs for People has a waiting list of families in need of a home computer. At the same time, there has been a decline in PC donations over the past few months. We do not want to lose the momentum that we have generated since August. Our community has made progress, but if we are going to help close the digital divide, we cannot stop now.

    Please continue to donate your used computers and electronic devices to PCs for People. If you have not donated, and your business is interested in partnering with PCs for People, please contact Bryan Mauk, Executive Director of PCs for People Cleveland, at bmauk@pcsforpeople.org. Or if you prefer to make a cash donation, please contribute to the Greater Cleveland Digital Equity Fund at clevelandfoundation.org/DigitalEquity.

    Together we can continue to maximize our impact and work to eliminate the inequalities that are exacerbated by our region’s digital divide, but we must keep up the work.

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  • Next up: 3 Things to Know: Returning to the Office

    3 Things to Know: Returning to the Office

     

    With a decrease in the number of cases, a better understanding about all things COVID-19, and more people being vaccinated, a return to working in the office is either already here or on the horizon for many businesses.

    If you are in the process of or are considering moving from remote to in-person work for your team, check out these things we think you should know as you make the transition.

    First thing to know: You need a plan.

    You might think you can just pick up where you left off when your team was last in the office over a year ago. But a lot has happened since then—and a lot has changed. There is a greater awareness of germs and cleanliness for sure, but there’s also an increased understanding of which types of jobs could be conducted in person and which types of jobs need to be conducted face to face.

    Putting a plan in place should start with a thorough analysis and consideration of the needs and desires of your team, your customers, and other people and businesses your business does business with. Use these guidelines as you work on your plan to transition from remote to in-person working.

    Second thing to know: Keep a good work-life balance.

    One of the lessons coming out of COVID for many workers is that a good work-life balance is important. When people are back to in-person working, it means they spend more time getting ready for and commuting to work and less time with family. It also means certain logistics that were temporarily solved by remote working—including situations with childcare, pet care, and transportation—now mean additional stress for your employees. Being sensitive to these issues and finding ways to help ease the transition will be a win-win for your team and your business.

    If you are interested in creating more ways to support a good work-life balance for your team, check out these 10 ideas.

    Third thing to know: It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

    All businesses are different, and not all workers have the same needs and desires. There is no longer a one-size-fits-all approach to working arrangements and schedules. Perhaps a mix of in-person and remote working makes the most sense.

    If a hybrid option might be the best choice for your business, check out this recent webinar: The Transition from Remote to Hybrid Working Environments. Learn about industry trends related to in-person and hybrid working as well as the right communication systems for your needs.

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  • Next up: Small Business Administration Updates: EIDL and PPP

    Small Business Administration Updates: EIDL and PPP

     

    EIDL Updates

    Starting the week of April 6, 2021, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is raising the loan limit for the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. Applicants can now receive a maximum loan amount of $500,000. The lending limit will also be increased to up to 24-months of economic injury. Businesses that have already received the EIDL do not need to submit a request for an increase; SBA will reach out directly via email and provide more details about how they can request an increase. Any new loan applications and any loans in process when the new loan limits are implemented will automatically be considered for the increased limits. You can learn more here.

    The SBA also announced extended deferment periods for all disaster loans until 2022. The agency will extend the first payment due date for disaster loans made in 2020 to 24-months from the date of the note and 18-months from the date of the note for all loans made in calendar year 2021. Click here to learn more.

    PPP Updates

    This week, President Biden signed an extension for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The deadline to apply for a PPP loan has been extended from March 31, 2021 to May 31, 2021. The law also extends authorization of loans to June 30, 2021 to give the SBA additional time to process applications. In late February, the Biden Administration announced several additional changes to the program, including allowing sole proprietors, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals to receive more financial support and eliminating exclusionary restrictions on PPP access for small business owners with prior non-fraud felony convictions or with student loan debt delinquency. You can learn more about these changes here.

    To view all SBA guidelines about the PPP, click here.

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  • Next up: Shining an Outside Light on Your Business

    Shining an Outside Light on Your Business

     

    Whether you’re starting a business, are established in your vertical or at the mature end of the business cycle, you and your business need the insights and experience of a diverse team of financial advisors. A well-structured financial advisory team brings fresh perspective, professional expertise and puts the business’s success top of mind. While an owner may rely on their banker for financial guidance, a CPA, attorney and an industry expert will play pivotal roles on the advisory team. In highly specialized or high growth industries, additional advisors should be considered as temporary or permanent members of the advisory team. 

    This team of outside professionals provides ongoing insights into industry, markets and business strategies more objectively than those working inside a business. This outsider view gives a broader scope to strategy development, issues identification and problem-solving solutions. While each member of the team has a specific area of professional expertise, together they give a full view of where a business is today and how to grow in the future. 

    Kurt Kappa, chief lending officer at First Federal Lakewood, says, “Having the right team of outside financial advisors gives business owners a more wholistic view into their business, their industry and their finances. A trusted team can advise on operations, finances, legal matters and industry and market trends to allow the business owner to stay on course or make necessary adjustments to be successful.”

    Building the Strongest Advisory Team

    Above all, the most important ingredient in an advisory relationship is trust. The business owner must trust the team completely and believe that the team members have the business’s best interests at heart. The advisory team must trust the business owner’s intentions and abilities.  This trust does not mean that differences of opinions will not arise or that the business owner will always take the advice of the advisors. It means instead that opinions and advice are offered and considered thoughtfully and respectfully. 

    To build the financial advisory team, the business owner should self-assess their own strengths and weaknesses before beginning the process of identifying and selecting candidates and advisory team members. Perhaps operations is a strength but understanding tax implications of growth is a weakness. Once the required skill sets are identified, the business owner can reach out to their network, other financial resources and trusted contacts for recommendations on individuals to fill specific roles on the advisory team. This groundwork enables the business owner to leverage what’s working and source team members who can work to leverage the owner’s strengths while closing gaps with supplemental knowledge and skills. Having a clear view of what’s needed makes the process more efficient and focused.

    Time upfront is worth the investment. Taking the time to identify and interview each potential member will ensure clear expectations are set, the right people have the acumen and personalities to work together with each other and the business owner effectively.  The result is a team aligned with the business’s mission and goals.

    Utilizing the Team

    Once the financial advisory team is in place, it’s time to tap into their individual and collective expertise. An ideal advisory team’s diverse skill sets empower the business owner to rely on each individual to provide analysis and counsel in their field. While there may be some cross-over, each will most likely gravitate to what they know best. 

    While one-on-one meetings or even casual conversations will address specific issues or answer certain questions, harnessing the real power of the team involves group discussions and meetings. The frequency is dependent on business needs but some formalized scheduling should occur to allow everyone to participate. Topics may include business development reporting, internal company changes, financial results, pending legal issues or updates on industry, market and regulatory news.  It’s the group who will together dig deeper into results and uncover solutions to drive the business’s strategy forward. 

    From time to time, topics or issues out of the advisory team’s expertise may arise. For example, during the pandemic, many businesses found additional health and safety expertise and the ability to understand and act on pandemic-related relief programs invaluable to running their operations. Outside advisors added to the advisory team on a temporary basis helped fill these gaps.  

    “While a core advisory team is critical, businesses can often benefit from additional outside opinions and views,” said Kappa. “Inviting a specialized expert to participate on an ad hoc basis can enrich the board’s ability to more quickly address changing needs.” 

    Evolving the Team 

    As the business evolves, the team of advisors may change to meet business needs. Some advisors focus on a particular size or type of business such as start-ups or rapidly expanding businesses. For example, perhaps a local one-person accounting practice worked well in the beginning phase of the business, but a larger firm is needed as the business grows organically or by merger and acquisition. During a mid-cycle phase, the business may require more specialized advice for lending and legal options. At the other end of the business life cycle, management may need to begin planning exit strategies and need the advice of a more sophisticated advisor to create and implement a workable plan. 

    “Having an effective advisory team over time is a process,” said Kappa. “While consistency allows advisors to really get to know the business and it’s great to engage those who meet your needs where you are, those needs can and probably will change over time.” 

    Measuring Success

    From organization to acquisition and everything in between, the financial advisory team engages with the business owner, industry experts and each other to shine outside light on the business. Even when it seems to business owners that another hour in the day can’t be found to meet, discuss and learn, relying on a financial advisory team will make the business stronger in the longer term.

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  • Next up: FAQs with Phil: Should I use a laser pointer for my slides?

    FAQs with Phil: Should I use a laser pointer for my slides?

    Our resident communications expert Phil Stella answers the question, Do laser pointers still have a place in presentations?

     

    In this Mind Your Business series, FAQs With Phil, COSE’s own Phil Stella answers some of the most frequently asked questions small business owners have regarding how to communicate effectively*. 

    Q. Should I use a laser pointer for my slides?
    A.  Don't let the technology tail wag the presenter dog.

    As a person who has given many, many presentations over the years, I have some opinions about using laser pointers—as you might expect I would. For decades I have seen presentation technology change and evolve—yet the laser pointer is still here. 

    Let me walk you through why I don’t care for the laser pointer, but also how you can use it more effectively if you do feel the need to use one. 

    One major downside of the pointer is the need to look at the screen when using it. I regularly rant about not turning your back on the audience to read a slide to them. Using the laser pointer has the same effect. When you’re turned around looking at the screen and directing the laser pointer, you’ve immediately lost eye contact. Eye contact during a presentation is so important for many reasons, and they all have to do with establishing audience connection. If you can’t look your audience members in the eyes, they will be less engaged—no question. And you won’t know who is paying attention, or if there appear to be questions or concerns from attendees. Without facing your audience, you can’t read the room. And they will think you’re just another presenter, not caring to establish a connection or become invested in your listeners’ experience. 

    Another less serious and more amusing result is the likelihood that a jittery hand would make the red dot jump around like a buzzing bee. Talk about magnifying your nervousness so everyone can see it more clearly! It not only means you’ve lost a connection with your audience from lack of eye contact, but you’ve just provided them with a huge distraction.

    If a slide with a chart or graph is so complicated that you really need the pointer to help the audience understand it, then it really must be a terrible slide. If you have so much copy on a slide that you need to highlight certain parts, you have too much copy on the slide. And needing to use the pointer, points that out. You would be better off if you invested time to create more effective slides and animate or zoom in for emphasis or clarity.

    With all of that being said, if you must use a laser pointer, use it wisely. Practice with it so when you point things out on the screen, you look at it in silence as much as possible. This will minimize loss of eye contact. You can then turn back around after pointing to the portion of your slide you’re referring to and reengage with the audience as you continue your talk.

    Additionally, it’s good practice to just leave the pointer on the podium or table when not in use so it doesn’t otherwise limit gestures and become something to play with. The last thing you need is to have less eye contact, a buzzing bee laser pointer, and something in your hands that you fiddle with as you’re talking.

    So, I hope you get my point about avoiding this evil little device as much as possible. It only weakens your image and reduces your credibility.

    Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, www.communicate-confidently.com, 440 449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, communication styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.

    *If you have a question for Phil, please send him an email at Phil@communicate-confidently.com

     
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