We hear “more” and “better” many times throughout our business day. “We need to provide better service,” “we need more sales,” “we need to have our managers become better leaders,” “we need to increase our market share,” and so on.
“More” and “better” leave it up to the listener to decide how much more or how much better. This is a dangerous scenario. Luckily, there is a better way!
The easiest fix is with numbers. For example, “Our goal is to increase our sales from $1.5 million to $2 million by December 15.” Notice the due date.
My favourite phrase in goal setting is “By what date?” This brings clarity to the conversation and makes it possible for the other person to picture what we want to accomplish and by when.
“It’s imperative that we increase our customer satisfaction ratings from 4.5 to 4.7 out of 5.” Again, this is an objective that is crystal clear to anyone hearing it.
Instead of saying, “We need to improve our leadership skills,” try replacing it with, “Our goal this quarter is to have our managers go from a ‘telling people what to do’ approach to an environment where we establish clear objectives with our team members, set performance improvement goals together, establish action plans, and include the manager’s role as a coach.”
Each business day there are different types of conversations. A leader’s job is to influence and manage conversations.
Some conversations are in the past, others in the present or future.
Complaining, for example, is from the past, and many people unknowingly live in the past. Awareness of this phenomenon allows leaders to shift conversations from the unproductive past to a possible future.
Solving problems is from the past, while opportunity conversations are future-based. “What if we …” conversations move us toward creating our desired future.
Analyze your typical staff or project meeting. Distinguish conversations as past, present, or future. Most meetings focus mainly on the past. A genuine leader shifts conversations to the possible future and to the actions required to move forward.
Unfortunately, when most people say, “This is the way things are,” they are really saying, “This is the way I see things or believe how they are.” Perception is not always reality—except to the person perceiving it.
For example, “Our salespeople are lazy, they are not hungry enough or aggressive enough, and as a result sales are down.” This is a mixture of perception and reality that can lead to well-meaning but ill-advised actions.
“Sales are down” is a fact, but the rest is speculation at best, or prejudice at worst. A manager who believes that salespeople are lazy or unmotivated will try to artificially increase motivation, which will quickly fade away.
A better approach is to state the facts (“sales are down”) and move toward accurately describing current reality in concrete language. This leads to creating actions to move the organization out of its current “slump.”
Ask questions such as the following: Does our offering still match what our target market wants and needs? How do we know? How will we find out? Is competition increasing or staying the same? How’s our market share? Is it going up? Down? Are we selling in an expanding or shrinking market?
These types of constructive, present- and future-based conversations keep people focused on what truly matters. This is rarely achieved without guidance from an enlightened leadership that effectively manages conversations.
Dave Mather is a Performance Improvement Specialist at Dale Carnegie Business Group in Toronto.
His columns can be read at ept.ms/dave-mather
Find Dave on LinkedIn.