StrategyDriven Business Communications Article

The Importance of Effective Communication Within Your Business

Picture this scenario; you have an employee on their way to a business meeting in Dubai. He’s currently in the taxi on his way to the airport, but sadly his work phone is out of battery and you have no way to contact him about the cancelled deal. He boards the plane, heads off to Dubai, and it’s only once he lands that he gets your message about the deal being cancelled.

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This example highlights just one of the many uses of an effective communications system. The ability to contact the people you need to in an urgent manner is incredibly important due to how time-consuming and money-wasting a delay in communications can be. Yet, unfortunately, there is only so much you can do with traditional systems such as emailing and messaging. If there are other business emergencies, such as a fire breaking out at the office or your business premises being burgled, then you need a quick and swift way to notify everyone within your company because every second counts.

Emergency Notifications System

Let’s pretend one of your employees has come into work early. He’s the first one at the office and he enters the premises to find that your entire office has been trashed, the computers have been stolen and the security system smashed into pieces. With no way to contact everyone in a short time span, the employee isn’t a hundred percent sure what he should do. This is just one of the many emergency notification use cases. Giving your employees the ability to make a company-wide emergency notification is a great way to alert all of the staff about a pressing issue that needs to be sorted out immediately. Instead of relying on a chain of command that they have to climb up for their message to reach someone, they can simply tell everyone in the business with a simple message.

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Building Team Efficiency

If your team are able to easily contact each other with an effective communications system, then it helps to make the team more efficient. Whether there’s an important change that needs to be made or some hardware that broke which was critical to their project, everyone in the team needs to know so that they can adjust their working schedule to either fix the hardware, prepare a replacement or work around it. If your team is unable to communicate effectively, it will lead to delays, disputes and other problems that are going to slow down your business.

Employee Management

Managers are usually quite effective at communicating with their employees, but there are going to be times when having social skills isn’t enough and you need software or technology to improve the way a manager contacts an employee. For instance, if there’s an easy way for your senior members to keep a track of their team members and record their progress, then it makes your business more productive. By having your managers communicate effectively and inform staff of their daily tasks, goals and issues, it creates a workplace that runs smoothly.

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Here’s How You Can Make Your Small Business Appear Professional

So you devised a killer product or service and now you’ve set up a business. It wasn’t easy, but you’re there. You have avoided failure thus far and are now starting to deal with clients and suppliers. Being able to do so while appearing professional is extremely important. You’ll get better deals from suppliers and your customer base will have more faith in you and what you do, meaning they’ll be more inclined to spend money with you. It can be quite tough to maintain a professional facade though, so here are some tips to help you on your way.

Use Quality Paper Materials

You’ll need all of your paper based dealings with other companies and indeed clients to appear professional. Check your invoices and make sure you’re using a good software to process them, if you are doing them yourself, make sure they’re done on a computer and look good, you don’t want to end up looking amateurish. The same applies to your payment systems, if you send cheques, use a company like http://checkomatic.com/ to ensure they look of good quality. You can really give a good impression by maintaining these good paper based materials.

Get Your Website Developed By An Expert

You could do it yourself and save some money, sure. But if you want it to appear expertly developed then getting a developer is the way to go. They will build it to your specifications and ensure it looks great. Use the same colour scheme as your logo and branding to help it tie it all together. They can ensure your website is easy to navigate and that your customers don’t get frustrated by an overly complicated website that ends up taking them through too many clicks to get them to where they need to be. You can find some great freelance web developers who can do it for quite a competitive rate. Just be sure you tell them exactly what you want before hand and if you aren’t happy with their work tell them, they can amend it as needed.

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Carry Yourself In An Appropriate Manner

If you’re the boss and the owner then you need to ensure your customers and indeed your employees respect you and take you seriously. Don’t take anything personally. It’s just business. You need to carry yourself in a way that radiates professionalism. Clients are more likely to do business with someone who appears serious. Wear a suit, speak properly, don’t be late and always fulfil orders and promises. Setting this example means your employees will follow suit, driving your business to success.

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Write Quality Content

If you have a blog on your website, whether to improve SEO or just as a reference point for your customers then make sure it is written well. Again, you can hire a freelance writer to do this for you. The same applies to the general writing on your website and company lettering. Having spelling errors or grammatical mishaps in your text won’t put too much confidence in your potential customers.

 

The One Strategic Mistake Your Company is Likely Making

Do you know what your company’s core values are?

You know, those ten to fifteen statements that are supposed to be the guiding principles that dictate the behavior and actions of your company? The foundation from which you are supposed to be ‘Built to Last’ and help you make your most important decisions? Could you recite them out loud right now without looking them up?

I didn’t think so.

Chances are your CEO can’t either. And I think that’s pretty sad. It’s part of the reason why most companies are mediocre. Most people, like your CEO, would say that having core values in business is important. However, very few are actually living them… not because they don’t have any but because of the opposite – they have too many. People can’t remember them all and so they forget. And if you forget what your core values are then you aren’t making decisions using them.

Stop confusing people.

Steve Jobs said it best: “Marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world. It’s a very noisy world… And so we have to be really clear on what we want [the world] to know about us.” And it’s not just about marketing. It’s everything. Your core value should be the lens through which you see the world and make all important choices. By having fifteen “core” values that nobody remembers, you’re needlessly complicating things for your constituents over who you are, what decisions are best for the business, and how to talk about your company. You’re confusing your team and everyone else around you.

What’s the solution?

Get it down to One Word. Whether it’s #Innovation (3M), #Love (Starbucks), or #Health (CVS), having a single guiding value helps communicate to your team, your customers, and the world what you stand for. It also helps make the big decisions easier like being one of the first big companies to stand up for gay marriage (Starbucks, #Love) or walking away from $2 billion in annual tobacco sales because it doesn’t align with your One Word core value (CVS, #Health).

This might be painful.

If you’re at an organization that hasn’t ever really dug into what’s most important then turning those fifteen core values from a plaque on a wall to an actionable, meaningful One Word, will be difficult. People will disagree. Some may quit. Others might be asked to move on. But until companies start looking beyond the resume, beyond the skills, and start looking at do our people’s values match up with what we stand for as an organization, then all the other strategies and tactics won’t save your business.

Get your One Word right. Apply it as the operating philosophy through which your entire company is run. Give your team, customers, and investors something to actually be proud of. And watch your culture, impact, and profits soar.


About the Author

Evan Carmichael is the author of Your One Word (December 6, 2016), and he also coaches entrepreneurs for peak performance. At 19, he built then sold a biotech software company. At 22, he was helping raise $500k to $15mil. He has been interviewed or featured as an entrepreneur expert in The New York Times,The Wall St. Journal, Forbes, Mashable, and elsewhere. He now runs EvanCarmichael.com, a popular website for entrepreneurs. He speaks globally and is based in Toronto. You can find him on Twitter @EvanCarmichael.

John P. David

Three Keys to a Good Online Reputation

Headlines today are filled with cell phone videos of bad behavior, verbal attacks in the twitter-verse, and disturbing incidents of cyberbullying. In our everyday lives, disgruntled customers or employees tarnish reputations of local businesses or past employers and jobs are lost or never offered because of inappropriate social media sharing. Business owners who want to have better control of their reputation online should follow these three key pieces of advice:

How to Protect (Or Destroy) Your Reputation Online1. Build your reputational firewall

Build your online firewall. If your business could be hijacked by negative reviews and online attacks, then you need to ensure that you regularly publish your positive news and build a legacy of positive internet results. It’s tougher for negative information to take center stage in the future if there’s already a lot of positive information anchoring top search results.

Stake your claim to your name. This is really basic stuff but it merits repeating. In a crisis, it is important for your customers and the public to be able to hear your news as directly as possible from the source. Your company should have a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and a LinkedIn page if for no other reason than it verifies your company’s identity and authenticates your news.

Address negative info. If there’s negative information about your company posted online, you have to react in some way. Review sites generally enable companies to respond to comments, both positive and negative. Take advantage of this option. Damaging content can be removed in some cases, but simply allowing negative information to remain unchecked is typically not a good strategy.

2. Get a handle on online review sites

Review sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List and Glassdoor are growing in both popularity and authority with search engines. The more companies participate on the sites, the bigger the sites become and authority grows. The impact is building. As one review site executive said to me: “The genie is out of the bottle.” Review sites are here, they are dominating search results, and they can’t be ignored.

Claim or create your company page on the main review sites. Your company may not yet have a listing on a site like Yelp, but any customer or interested party could create one without your knowledge and certainly without your consent. Business owners should look at the main review sites and either claim their page if one has already been created or create their own listing – this will give you a small level of control.

Build out your review site listings. Across the board, executives from review sites recommend completing profiles and adding information to business listings. Up-to-date photos, videos and descriptions increase page views as well as interest from prospective customers or employees. Plain listings without images look stale as customers on review sites are typically interested in getting current information.

Engagement. Likely the biggest trend in online reviews centers on engagement. Interaction between businesses and their customers helps build the overall sense of community, and executives from review sites universally advocate for responding to both positive and negative reviews.

Don’t try to fix “crazy.” When speaking with one executive who has had tremendous success with Yelp, he mentioned that they have some very simple rules. His company will bend over backwards for his customers, but “we don’t do crazy.” Sometimes customers have outrageous expectations, and every business owner has dealt with clients who may not be “all there in the head.”

3. In case of emergency, know your options

When confronted with negative online content that hinders your business or damages your reputation, the best advice is to remain calm and make a sound assessment. While the first reaction may be to blast away at the hate blog, defamatory post, negative news article, or nasty review, we have found that it makes more sense to slow down and develop a strategy before confronting the source.

Negotiate removal. Most websites are run by legitimate businesses that have no interest in publishing false, tasteless or potentially defamatory content. Of course, some sites are run by neurotic bloggers, but the vast majority have sensible human beings at the controls. If you are dealing with negative web postings or negative articles posted on a corporate site or corporate message board, it may be possible to negotiate removal.

Suppress, push-down or bury. When you research online reputation management companies, you quickly learn that they offer a distinct service known in the industry as “suppression.” They will create new, benign web content with the hopes of pushing down or suppressing negative search results. This tactic can be very effective, but it isn’t always the best solution, or the most economical

The idea is that you flood the Internet with positive content about you or your company and work to push down, bury, or “suppress,” the negative content. Information is not removed from search results but rather pushed farther down the search result pages to a point where fewer people will see it.

Remove it using the Covert Ops of reputation management. One of the Internet’s big secrets is that digital is not necessarily forever. The common belief is that once something is posted online, it will stay there forever. Many people endure a feeling of helplessness at this thought, but options exist. Content can actually be removed from search results and sometimes entirely from cyberspace. There are folks who can make things disappear from search results. It’s a fairly exclusive thing and exactly how it works I can’t explain, but we have been able to get stories and posts completely removed from search results These tactics are not the same thing as suppression, which pushes negative information further down the search results. I’m talking about either removing or hiding negative content.

More information about protecting your online reputation is available in How to Protect (Or Destroy) Your Reputation Online (Career Press, October 2016).


About the Author

John P. DavidFor more than 25 years, John P. David has counseled businesses and executives on strategic communications and marketing issues. He has developed a specialty helping clients facing online attacks because, sadly, anyone can publish negative information online, seemingly without consequences. His strategic communications firm, David PR Group, counsels clients in the areas of marketing, reputation management, and public relations. He frequently writes about communications and strategy on The Huffington Post. Follow him at @JohnPDavid.

Sharon Drew Morgen

Questioning Questions

Decades ago I had an idea that questions could be vehicles to facilitate change in addition to eliciting answers. Convention went against me: the accepted use of questions (framing devices, biased by the Asker, that extract a defined range of answers) is built into our culture. But overlooked is their inability to extract good data or accurate answers due to the bias of the Asker; overlooked is their ability to facilitate congruent change.

What Is A Question?

Questions are biased by the expectations, assumptions, goals, unconscious beliefs and subjective experience of both the Responder and the Asker and limit responses accordingly. In other words, questions can’t extract ‘good’ data. They’re certainly not designed to lead Responders through to real change or accurate revelations. (What? Did you really say what I think I heard? offers a broad discussion of bias.) Here are the most prevalent ways we limit our Communication Partner’s responses:

Need to Know Askers pose questions to pull conscious data from the Responder because of their own ‘need to know’, data collection, or curiosity. An example (Note: all following italicized questions are posed as a mythical hairdresser seeking business) might be: Why do you wear your hair like that?

These questions risk overlooking more relevant answers that are stored beyond the parameters of the question posed – often in the unconscious.

Pull Data Askers pose questions to pull a range of implicating data considered useful to ‘make a case’ in a ploy to obtain their desired results (i.e. sales, leadership, marcom, coaching). Don’t you think it might be time to get a haircut?

These questions run a high risk of missing the full range of, or accurate, responses. Certainly they offer no route to enabling choice, decisions, or collaboration/buy-in. They encourage resistance, partial/missed answers, and lies.

Manipulate Agreement/Response Questions that direct the Responder to find a specific set of responses to fit the needs and expectations of the Asker. Can you think of a time you’ve felt ‘cool’ when you’ve had short hair? Or Have you ever thought of having your hair look like Kanye/Ozzy/Justin? Or What would it feel like to have hair like Kanye/Ozzy/Justin? Wouldn’t you say your hairstyle makes you look X?

These questions restrict possibility, cause resistance, create distrust, and encourage lying.

Doubt Directive These questions, sometimes called ‘leading questions’ are designed to cause Responders to doubt their own effectiveness, in order to create an opening for the Asker. Do you think your hairstyle works for you?

These narrow the range of possible responses, often creating some form of resistance or defensive lies; they certainly cause defensiveness and distrust.

Questions restrict responses to the Asker’s parameters, regardless of their intent or the influencer’s level of professionalism and knowledge. Potentially important, accurate data – not to mention the real possibility of facilitating change – is left on the table and instead promote lost business, failure, distrust, bad data collection, and delayed success. Decision Scientists end up gathering incomplete data that creates implementation issues; leaders and coaches push clients toward the change they perceive is needed and often miss the real change needed and possible. The fields of sales and coaching are particularly egregious.

The cost of bias and restriction is unimaginable. Here’s an especially unfortunate example of a well-respected research company that delayed the discovery of important findings due to the biases informing their research questions. I got a call from one of the founders of Challenger Sales to discuss my Buying Facilitation® model. Their research had ‘recently’ discovered that sales are lost/delayed/hampered due to the buyer’s behind-the-scenes change issues that aren’t purchase-driven and sales doesn’t address – and yay for me for figuring this out 35 years ago.

Interesting. They figured this out now? Even David Sandler called me in 1992 before he died to tell me he appreciated how far out of the box I went to find the resolution to the sales problem (He also offered to buy me out, but that’s a different story.). The data was always there. I uncovered this in 1983. But the CEB missed it because their research surveys posed biased questions that elicited data matching their expectations. Indeed, even during our conversations, my Communication Partner never got rid of his solution-placement (sales) biases and we never were able to find a way to partner.

What Is An Answer?

Used to elicit or push data, the very formulation of conventional questions restricts answers. If I ask ‘What did you have for breakfast?’ you cannot reply ‘I went to the gym yesterday.’ Every answer is restricted by the biases within the question. I’m always disappointed when I hear sellers say “Buyers are liars” or coaches say “They didn’t really want to change.” Or therapists or managers or leaders say “They’re resisting”. Askers cause the answers they get.

  1. Because we enter conversations with an agenda, intuition, directive, etc., the answers we receive are partial at best, inaccurate at worst, and potentially cause resistance, sabotage, and disregard.
  2. There are unknown facts, feelings, historic data, goals, etc. that lie within the Responder’s unconscious that hold real answers and cannot be found using merely the curiosity of the Asker.
  3. By approaching situations with bias, Askers can only successfully connect with those whose conscious biases align with their own, leaving behind many who could change, or connect when their unconscious data is recognized. And conventional questions cannot get to the unconscious.
  4. Because influencers are unaware of how their particular bias restricts an answer, they have no concept if there are different answers possible, and often move forward with bad data.

So why does it matter if we’re biasing our questions? It matters because we are missing accurate results; it matters because our questions instill resistance; it matters because we’re missing opportunities to serve and support change.

When sellers ask leading questions to manipulate prospects, or coaches ask influencing questions to generate action, we’re coaxing our Communication Partner in a direction that, as we now recognize, is often biased. Imagine if we could reconfigure questions to elicit accurate data for researchers or marcom folks; or enable buyers to take quick action from ads, cold calls or large purchases; or help coaching clients change behaviors congruently and quickly; or encourage buy-in during software implementations. I’m suggesting questions can facilitate real change.

What Is Change?

Our brain stores data rather haphazardly in our unconscious, making it difficult to find what we need when we need it, and making resistance prevalent when it seems our Status Quo is being threatened. But over the last decades, I have mapped the sequence of systemic change. Following this route, I’ve designed a way to use questions as directional devices to pull relevant data in the proper sequence so we can lead Responders through their own internal, congruent, change process and avoid resistance. Not only does this broaden the range of successful results, but it enables quicker decisions and buy-in – not to mentiontruly offer a Servant Leader, win/win communication. Let’s look at what’s keeping us wedded to our Status Quo and how questions can enable change.

All of us are a ‘system’ of subjectivity collected during our lifetime: unique rules, values, habits, history, goals, experience, etc. that operates consensually to create and maintain our Status Quo; it resides in our unconscious and defines our Status Quo. Without it, we wouldn’t have criteria for any choices, or actions, or habits whatsoever. Our system is hard wired to keep us who we are (Systems Congruence).

To learn something new, to do something different or learn a new behavior, to buy something, to take vitamins or get a divorce or use new software or be willing to forgive a friend, the Status Quo must buy in to change from within – an inside job. Information pulled or pushed – regardless of the intent, or relationship, or efficacy – will be resisted.

For congruent change to occur – even a small one – appropriate elements within our Status Quo must buy into, and have prepared for, a possibly disruptive addition (idea, product, etc.). But since the process is internal, idiosyncratic, and unconscious, our biased questions cause the system to defend itself and we succeed only with those folks whose unconscious biases and beliefs mirror our own.

  1. People hear each other through their own biases. You ask biased questions, receive biased answers, and hit pay dirt only when your biases match. Everyone else will ignore, resist, misunderstand, mishear, act out, sabotage, forget, ignore, etc.
  2. Due to their biased and restricting nature, your questions will not facilitate those who are not ready, willing, or able to manage internal change congruently regardless of the wisdom of your comments or their efficacy.
  3. Without the Responder being ready, willing, and able to change, ACCORDING TO THEIR OWN CRITERIA AND SYSTEMS RULES, they cannot buy, accept, adopt, or change in any way.

To manage congruent change, align the Status Quo, and enable the steps to achieve buy-in – I’ve developed Facilitative Questions that work comfortably with conventional questions and lead Responders to:

  • find their own answers hidden within their unconscious,
  • retrieve complete, relevant, accurate answers at the right time, in the right order to
  • traverse the sequenced steps to congruent, systemic change/excellence, while
  • avoiding restriction and resistance and
  • include their own values and subjective experience.

It’s possible to help folks make internal changes and find their own brand of excellence.

Facilitative Questions

Facilitative Questions (FQs) employ a new skill set that is built upon systems thinking: listening for systems (i.e. no bias) and Servant Leadership. Even on a cold call or in content marketing, sellers can enable buyers down their route to change and buy-in; coaches can lead clients through their own unique change without resistance; leaders can get buy-in immediately; change implementations won’t get resistance; advertisers and marketers can create action.

Using specific words, in a very specific sequence, it’s possible to pose questions that are free of bias, need or manipulation and guide congruent change.

Facilitative Question Not information gathering, pull, or manipulative, FQs are guiding/directional tools, like a GPS system. Like a GPS they don’t need the details of travel – what you’re wearing, what function you’re attending – to dictate two left turns. They lead Responders congruently, without any bias, from where they’re at to Excellence. How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle?

This question is a guiding mechanism to efficiently enable a route through the Responder’s largely unconscious path to congruent change.

Here’s the big idea: using questions directed to help Others efficiently recognize their own route to Excellence, and change as appropriate vs. using questions to seek answers that benefit the Asker. This shift in focus alone creates an automatic trust.

An example is a question we designed for Wachovia to increase sales and appointments. Instead of seeking prospects for an appointment to pitch new products (i.e. using appointments as a sales tool), we designed questions to immediately facilitate discovery of need, taking into account most small businesses already have a banking relationship. After trialing a few different FQs, our opening question became: How would you know when it’s time to consider adding new banking partners, for those times your current bank can’t give you what you need? This question shifted the response to 100 prospecting calls from 10 appointments and 2 closes over 11 months, to 37 invites to meet from the prospect, and 29 closes over 3 months. Facilitative Questions helped the right prospects engage immediately.

When used with coaching clients, buyers, negotiation partners, advertisements, or even teenagers, these questions create action within the Responder, causing them to recognize internal incongruences and deficiencies, and be guided through their own options. (Because these questions aren’t natural to us, I’ve designed a tool and program to teach the ‘How’ of formulating them.).

The responses to FQs are quite different from conventional questions. So when answering How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle?, the Responder is directed by word use, word placement, and an understanding of systems, to think of time, history, people, ego, comparisons, family. Instead of pulling data, you’re directing to, guiding through, and opening the appropriate change ‘boxes’ within the Responder’s unconscious Status Quo. It’s possible Responders will ultimately get to their answers without Facilitative Questions, but using them, it’s possible to help Responders organize their change criteria very quickly accurately. Using Facilitative Questions, we must:

  1. Enter with a blank brain, as a neutral navigator, servant leader, with a goal to facilitate change.
  2. Trust our Communication Partners have their own answers.
  3. Stay away from information gathering or data sharing/gathering until they are needed at the end.
  4. Focus on helping the Other define, recognize, and understand their system so they can discover where it’s broken.
  5. Put aside ego, intuition, assumptions, and ‘need to know.’ We’ll never understand another’s subjective experience; we can later add our knowledge.
  6. Listen for systems, not content.

FQs enable congruent, systemic, change. I recognize this is not the conventional use of questions, but we have a choice: we can either facilitate a Responder’s path down their own unique route and travel with them as Change Facilitators – ready with our ideas, solutions, directions as they discover a need we can support – or use conventional, biased questions that limit possibility. For change to occur, people must go through these change steps anyway; we’re just making it more efficient for them as we connect through our desire to truly Serve. We can assist, or wait to find those who have already completed the journey. They must do it anyway: it might as well be with us.

I welcome opportunities to put Facilitative Questions into the world. Formulating them requires a new skill set that avoids any bias (Listening for Systems, for example). But they add an extra dimension to helping us all serve each other.


About the Author

Sharon Drew MorgenSharon Drew Morgen is a visionary, original thinker, and thought leader in change management and decision facilitation. She works as a coach, trainer, speaker, and consultant, and has authored 9 books including the New York Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity. Morgen developed the Buying Facilitation® method (www.sharondrewmorgen.com) in 1985 to facilitate change decisions, notably to help buyers buy and help leaders and coaches affect permanent change. Her newest book What? www.didihearyou.com explains how to close the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She can be reached at [email protected]