There is a critical but largely ignored aspect of leadership success, the conversations that leaders have that are designed to engage, enthuse, direct and motivate their work colleagues to deliver improved results. The quality of conversation in an organisation is an accurate barometer to the quality of the thinking and the quality of the work that gets done and in this short article I suggest there are 5 ‘radical action conversations’ that leaders should have that hold the key to sustainable success.
Let me start by defining some terms. By ‘radical’ I mean conversations that go to the root, core, essence and heart or whatever it is we are talking about. Far too many conversations in organisations are vague, superficial and simply skim over the topic leaving assumptions unsaid, actions unclear and confusion abounds. Such conversations consume valuable face time and create work but add little value and usually have to be repeated several times as the participants scramble around for clarity. By ‘action’ here I mean conversations that drive accountability and convert intentions into decisive follow through. “What specifically are we going to do as a result of the conversation we have just had?” Is a great summary question not often used at the end of a conversation, however if it where, I suggest it will yield some interesting answers. And finally by ‘conversations’ I mean the entire cascade of dialogue and human interaction that results from a particular topic being discussed throughout the entire organisation.
The first conversation leaders need to consider is ‘The Strategic Conversation’ and is the toughest one to have. The aim of this conversation is to create a compelling future vision for the organisation, function or department, one that talks to the head and to the heart of everyone in the organisation and helps create clarity of direction and most importantly a sense of priority. To lead this conversation requires real authenticity and a degree of courage, as well as the capacity to imagine a bright future. It is a necessary conversation for leaders to have if your organisation is to become future-proof and not get stuck in the operational realities of day-to-day work.
The second most important conversation to have is ‘The Customer Conversation’. Existing customers can be a real source of insight into how your organisation is performing and will give you valuable knowledge about why they buy, what they want and how they feel about your products and services. The explosion of web-based customer surveys have their place but do not come close to the insights that can be garnered from an open conversation with customers. Leaders need to be in close personal contact with customers and should amplify the comments they make – both good and bad -throughout the organisation as it reminds everyone that the work they do is really all about serving the people who ultimately pay their salary.
‘The Execution Conversation’ is critical for leaders to create a clear line of sight between their strategic intent and the reality of operational performance. Keeping people focused on the strategic destination and linking the work that they do to the outcomes that are being delivered keeps everyone alive to the chance of improvement. Once direction is set and success clarified then everyone needs to know how the work they do is important and where they fit into the ‘big picture’. This is the key role of the execution conversation and when done well can align scarce improvement resource and focus it into areas that really matter.
Potentially the most ‘fluffy’ of the 5 key conversations leaders can have is ‘The Cultural Conversation’. To give it some substance for the pragmatists it is all about the way we do things around here. In my consultancy experience I often ask what frustrates people the most about working in their environment and this usually yields a litany of relatively trivial rituals and practises that sap energy and distract people from doing the work they want to do. Most of these can be changed but never seem to get addressed and removing such obstacles and ‘frustration factors’ in people’s lives at work can pay huge dividends and is really worth doing. Once these frustrations are removed then talking seriously about what kind of place we want to work in and how can we make it so can be a hugely motivating discussion for people to participate in and can yield disproportionate results in terms of productivity improvements.
The final conversation is the most common ‘The Effectiveness Conversation’ where leaders spotlight current performance and examine the gap between this and the desired results. This conversation comes in many forms and the most productive form focuses on the future not the past. It is a tautology to say that your organisation is perfectly tuned to give you the results you are getting at the moment so if you want better results then something has to change. The effectiveness conversation is designed to discover what and how? It should be approached with a large degree of humility and curiosity – if what you had to change is so obvious then it is pretty likely someone will already have changed it, so leaders should enter these conversations with a series of very open questions and keep any judgement to an absolute minimum. A real challenge when the gap between existing performance and desired results gets too big…
Take stock of the conversations you are having and focus on those that deliver real value to you and your organisation. The quality of the conversations you are having are a mark of the quality of the relationships you have and in my experience no performance challenge can transcend the quality of relationships that exist between the people aiming to deliver the challenge.
Radical Action Conversations cut to the very core of the adaptive challenge all organisations face. Done well, they amplify potential, enable leaders to tap organisational assets and in short they are the difference that makes the difference. If you are looking for better quality results, you need better quality actions. Such actions are derived from better quality ideas and opportunities which in turn are delivered by better quality conversations.
If you would like some help having these conversations in your organisation then please get in touch and we can have a conversation about how I can help.