Effective Organizations Hold Everyone Accountable for Both Positive & Negative Results

Effective organizations know that accountability is a primary key to getting the results that are expected and therefore, success. Quite simply, people tend to focus on what is getting measured and this measurement serves to both motivate action and improve performance. To complicate matters, organizations that would not be described as "effective" also value accountability. They just don't value the same kind of accountability. Humans are hardwired with a sense of the value of accountability. From an early age, children often develop a hyper-sensitivity to justice. You might see them throw a temper tantrum over what they perceive to be "not fair." They also know what it means for someone to "get what they deserve." As we grow up and transition from the imaginary playground to our new bottom-line driven realities in the field or in the office, our language transitions as well, but the hardwiring remains. If we are not intentional, we risk missing the opportunity to become a part of an "Effective Organization" (or risk sounding childish). Our definition of accountability must mature along with us. Many people believe that accountability means to “punish” someone for failure. Punishment is only a minor part of the process and focusing on that minor part will limit your organization's exposure to the "grown up" benefits that result from a mature understanding of accountability.

So What is “Accountability” Anyway? It literally means “to account for ones actions” and therefore requires one to determine both “what” occurred (measurement) and “why” it occurred (cause). Effective organizational leaders know that the key to effective accountability is to understand “why” people do what they do and get the results that they get. Accordingly, they intentionally start the accountability process by determining “why” either success or failure occurred.

Effective organizational leaders understand that accountability is not an opportunity for “blame”, which is usually the result of someone committing the Fundamental Attribution Error, i.e., the tendency to attribute failure to personal characteristics such as motivation. They move beyond this type of error to evaluate the total context in which the person found themselves and therefore evaluate not only motivation, but also factors such as skill level, knowledge, peer and authority pressure, availability of resources or organizational systems such as policies and procedures. Only after a complete analysis has been done is causation determined and consequences delivered.

Positive & Negative Effective organizational leaders know that it is important to apply both positive and negative consequences as appropriate. They know that you strengthen desired behavior through the application of what psychologists call “reinforcement” and they use appropriate reinforcement for the level of success that has been observed. They also know that you weaken (reduce the chances of future reoccurrence) undesired behavior through the application of what psychologists refer to as “punishment” and they use appropriate punishment for the level of failure that has occurred.

"Do as I Say, Not as I Do?" Additionally, effective organizational leaders understand that they are being watched by organizational members to see if accountability is consistently applied across all organizational levels. Are they holding themselves accountable for their actions and results in the same manner that they are holding others accountable? Failure to show consistency in accountability (especially when punishment is called for) leads to a reduction in trust, morale and job satisfaction because it sends a mixed message to the organization. Leading by example helps to create trust, improved morale and job satisfaction and sets the stage for consistency throughout the organization.

What's the point?

Consistent, fair accountability, that is focused on fixing the causes of failure, is at the heart of organizational effectiveness.

4 Steps to Influence Mission "Buy-in"

How can I influence employees to "buy-in" to the mission of the organization?  As we stated in our last newsletter, the mission of an organization “is its reason for existing, its purpose, where it is headed”.  People need to know, understand and “buy-in” to the mission so that they can “get on board” and help with its accomplishment.  But how can you get them “on board”?

Average organizations assume that people are on board when they read the mission statement, so they place signs and even plaques around their facilities, on the walls in conspicuous places, so that employees are always aware of the mission.  We call this “buy-in by proclamation” and it is a strategy that a lot of managers use when giving assignments and introducing change.  However, while awareness is essential, it is not sufficient for buy-in.

The key is to “influence”, not to dictate or merely proclaim.   Influence is not related to “power” but rather to understanding and therefore requires communication of the impact of accepting the mission and the individual’s role in its accomplishment.  This requires communication of something more than the mere mission statement.  It requires communication of the relationship of the organization’s mission to the success of the organization, the individual and society in general.  We recommend following a 4-step process in communicating these relationships.

  • Articulate the importance of the mission to the success of the organization.
  • Articulate the importance of the mission to the individual team members.
  • Articulate the importance of the mission to society/customers.
  • Communicate 1, 2 and 3.

While we could discuss these steps in the abstract, it might be helpful to use a specific example, so let’s use The RAD Group’s mission statement as that example.

“The RAD Group’s mission is to improve individual, team and organizational performance.  We seek to provide products and services that help leaders create a culture in which employees are skilled, motivated and able to serve all stakeholders - employees, investors/owners, customers and others.”

1.  Articulate the importance of the mission to the success of the organization.  This mission statement helps to guide our decision making relative to what products and services we develop.  Not all products and services fit with our mission and we only consider those that do.  Likewise, not all products and services that fit our mission are accepted or developed; only those that are deemed to contribute to both the success of our customers and the success of The RAD Group.

2.  Articulate the importance of the mission to the individual team members.  Every team member of The RAD Group understands that his/her success is in some part tied to the success of the organization.  Likewise, every team member understands how his/her performance impacts the success of every other team member and therefore, our ability to succeed as an organization.  Marketing impacts our image, research impacts the quality of the products and services that we develop and delivery impacts our reputation and impact on the performance of our customers.  The understanding of this connectedness increases the motivation of each of our team members to work toward the accomplishment of our mission.

3.  Articulate the importance of the mission to society/customers.  This may sound a bit lofty, but we need to understand that if our mission does not provide value to society, and especially our customers, that there is little or no reason to exist as an organization.  We believe that what we do provides value to our customers by improving their performance and we constantly challenge ourselves to both demonstrate and increase that value.

4.  Communicate 1, 2 and 3.  While we do attempt to communicate our mission formally through papers, speeches and marketing materials, communication does not have to only be formal.  It can be done through conversation with customers and within the organization by respectfully challenging and evaluating ideas to determine if they align with the mission.  We bring our mission statement to life, not by having it on a plaque (although we do have it on our business cards as a reminder), but rather by asking ourselves regularly if our products and services are improving the individual, team and organizational performance of our customers.  We also attempt to measure that impact to help us fine tune those products and services.

Effective Organizations Clearly Define & Communicate Mission, Goals, Values & Expectations

Last month we shared the 11 topics that will make up our 2013 Newsletter Series - Characteristics of an Effective Organization. Top Down When we talk about effective organizations, we are really talking about organizational characteristics that have been created through the decisions and actions of upper management and then passed down through the organization to become part of the organization’s culture. So when we talk about clearly defining and communicating mission, goals, values and expectations we are talking about something that must come from the top.

Mission Let’s start with “mission”. An organization’s mission is its reason for existing, its purpose, where it is “headed”. People need to know the mission so that they can “get on board” and help with its accomplishment. The mission is usually defined and then communicated through a “mission statement” that has been thought out and clearly articulated by senior management.

For example, McDonald’s stated mission “is to be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat.” That is “why” they are in business. That is where they want to “go” so to speak. That is their direction.

Goals & Values This mission is pursued through the accomplishment of a set of clearly articulated goals and the application of a set of “values” that impact decision making. For example, McDonald’s states their values as centering “on an exceptional customer experience - People, Products, Place, Price and Promotion. We are committed to continuously improving our operations and enhancing our customers’ experience”. They have additionally articulated a set of seven specific values that further clarify their overall values statement and guide the accomplishment of their mission.

McDonald's Values

  • We place the customer experience at the core of all we do.
  • We are committed to our people.
  • We believe in the McDonald’s System.
  • We operate our business ethically.
  • We give back to our communities.
  • We grow our business profitably.
  • We strive continually to improve.

Formal & Informal Cultures The mission and values statement of an organization like McDonald’s is an attempt to articulate the desired “formal” culture of the organization, but only through clear articulation of expectations and followup on achievement of those expectations can an organization have an alignment of the informal culture with the desired formal culture of the organization. To read more, see our recent blog post "You Might Not Always Get What You Want."

Expectations Effective organizations and their leaders continuously evaluate movement toward the stated mission, in light of the stated goals and values, and then communicate their expectations of team and individual performance throughout the organization. As we will discuss in future newsletters, they also hold everyone accountable for meeting expectations and understand that clarity of expectations has a direct impact on a person’s ability to be successful.

What's the point?

In effective organizations, the mission, goals, values and expectations are not mere words on a plaque on the wall. Rather, they are a way of life, understood by every team member. They are the catalyst for moving the organization toward greatness.

A Best Boss Is a Good Decision Maker & Deals Effectively with Conflict

Over the course of 2012, the world-wide media has interviewed, polled, analyzed, and dissected countless opinions and agendas with respect to the characteristics and qualifications, both desired from and previously demonstrated by, the various candidates for global leadership from Cairo to Washington and Athens to Beijing.During this same time, we, here at The RAD Group, have been broadcasting our own analysis of the characteristics we hope to see in today's leaders. Our Best Boss series has had one simple agenda and we hope you have found it valuable.

Our analysis will impact the results you are seeing wether you are a newly elected Prime Minister, a CEO, a night shift supervisor, or mom or dad. We believe that you and the other leaders in your organization can improve performance by listening to what your employees have been telling us over the last 20+ years. We asked thousands of participants in our performance management classes to describe the best boss they ever had. Though our polls are not closed, we feel confident to announce the results.

A "Best Boss":

#1 -- is a good communicator #2 -- holds himself and others accountable for results #3 -- enables success #4 -- motivates others #5 -- cares about the success of others #6 -- is honest and trustworthy #7 -- shows trust by delegating effectively #8 -- is fair and consistent #9 -- competent and knowledgeable #10 -- rewards / recognizes success #11 -- leads by example #12 -- is loyal to employees #13 -- is friendly #14 -- is a good problem solver #15 -- is a team builder #16 -- is flexible and willing to change when necessary #17 -- is a good planner / organizer and #18 -- shows respect to others.

This month we close out the series with a look at how a Best Boss:

#19 -- is a good decision maker and #20 -- deals effectively with conflict.

A Good Decision Maker

Scores of books and articles have been written on the best way to make decisions and many of the processes described include valuable assistance for decision makers. In actuality, we are all decision makers and make decisions many times each day. Some decisions are just more important than others, in that they can lead to more significant (both positive and negative) consequences.

Understand the Facts The key to good decision making is a complete (or as complete as time and information allow) understanding of the facts and potential consequences of each possible decision. Without question it involves an examination of any and all ethical consequences of the decision. For simple decisions, little or no input from others may be needed. These are the routine daily decisions that don’t require a lot of “buy-in” for execution to occur. But complex, high impact decisions are different.

As we have said several times before in previous newsletters, getting input from team members and other experts is invaluable when gathering facts, understanding consequences and making the final decision.

Recruit Help Best Bosses understand that they can’t have all of the information, knowledge and experience needed to make all important decisions, so they recruit help. They treat important decision making as a team-based problem solving exercise. Once they have gathered the relevant information, they then “pull the trigger”, make the decision and then stand behind both the decision and the team.

Prepare for the Next Decision If success follows a decision, Best Bosses share the “glory” with the team and if “failure” follows, they accept responsibility and go to work determining why the failure occurred so that it won’t happen again. In other words, they engage in team-based problem solving to correct the failure. Regardless of the outcome, how the boss responds to the results of a decision making process will dramatically impact the ability to recruit help next time, the willingness of recruits to communicate facts and consequences, and the confidence with which future decisions will be executed.

Deals Effectively with Conflict

Conflict is a naturally occurring issue anytime you have people working or living together. We define conflict as unresolved differences of opinion or perceptions regarding some issue. Conflict by definition is required for improvement and innovation to occur and is completely healthy if managed correctly.

Foster Positive Conflict Best Bosses understand the value of conflict and foster opportunities for conflict-based conversation that leads to creative improvement. Best Bosses also know that conflict can lead to reduced productivity, quality, safety, etc. and work to keep unhealthy conflict to a minimum.

Collaboration and Communication Best Bosses keep unhealthy conflict to a minimum by understanding that the best way to resolve conflict is through collaboration. Collaboration requires an understanding of the problem solving process and how to communicate by listening effectively before any decision concerning action is taken. All parties must have the opportunity to “state their positions”, but must also be “respectful” enough to listen to the other person to gain a complete understanding of their position. Best Bosses create an environment of respectful openness where disagreement is encouraged and the skills to collaboratively resolve conflict are learned by every team member.

Best Boss Bottom Line - Series Finale

We have created a name for best bosses; we call them “Facilitative Relational Leaders”. Facilitation is defined as the accomplishment of results by making it easier for other people to express their views and achieve their objectives. Relational is demonstrating respect and care for others. The skills and characteristics identified in our research are the same skills needed to facilitate and build relationships. You may have noticed that the Best Boss skills/characteristics tend to tie together and demonstration of one involves application of others. Best Bosses understand this and continuously attempt to improve in the use of each of the skills that we have been discussing. Maybe it is time for you to evaluate or re-evaluate where you stand.

A Best Boss Is Competent and Knowledgeable & Rewards/Recognizes Success

This month marks a milestone in this series, as we are now half-way through the Top 20 Characteristics of a ‘Best Boss.‘ That makes this a great time to remind you where we derived this list and offer a suggestion to help you get the most out of this resource. We compiled the data for our Top 20 over the last 30 years by asking students in our performance management courses to describe the best boss they ever had. A consistent leadership image emerged with only minor variation from decade to decade or continent to continent. We call this image the “Facilitative-Relational Leader.” If you grow in likeness to this image, this “Best Boss” we have been describing, our experience tells us that you will create an environment that produces deeper employee engagement and predictable attainment of team and personal objectives.

Consider using the topics we have already explored to engage your team in an ongoing discussion about the leadership characteristics they value most. Helping them develop into the kind of leaders they already instinctively admire will demonstrate your interest in their long-term success and go a long way toward developing the leader you will need to replace you when it is time for your next promotion.

Now back to the list. A ‘Best Boss‘ is:

#1 -- is a good communicator

#2 -- holds himself and others accountable for results

#3 -- enables success

#4 -- motivates others

#5 -- cares about the success of others

#6 -- is honest and trustworthy

#7 -- shows trust by delegating effectively and

#8 -- is fair and consistent.

This month we will look at:

#9 -- competent and knowledgeable and

#10 -- rewards / recognizes success.

Competent & Knowledgeable

What does it mean to say that best bosses are competent and knowledgeable? Competent and knowledgeable in what? Does it mean that they are competent in every task under their supervision? Does it mean that they are competent and knowledgeable about how to oversee the actions and results of others? Does it mean that they know enough about the tasks under their purview to assist in setting objectives and evaluating results?

Oversight not Execution

When we challenged our class participants to define competence and knowledge, they consistently said that their best bosses understood the results that were needed, had knowledge of the skills required to achieve those results, and were good at overseeing the execution of those tasks.

Best Bosses are not necessarily those who are the best at execution of each task. As a matter of fact, those who are the best executors are more likely to micromanage because they “know the best way to do it”.

As you move up in supervision/management, the breadth of activities under your control increases. As this happens, your ability to have total competence and knowledge of every activity decreases.

Find the Right Talent

Knowledge of the desired results leads best bosses to locate the talent and competencies needed for success.

Best bosses understand what results must be achieved and what skills are needed to achieve them. They know how to evaluate the skills of their employees so as to match skill sets with objectives and they know how to communicate expectations to others so that employees can achieve results.

Rewards / Recognizes Success

Best Bosses understand the importance of skilled, motivated employees in the quest for great results. They also understand the connection between rewards/recognition and those results.

They understand that rewards, while potentially motivating, are not just to make people “feel good”, but rather are an integral part of the process of strengthening desired action and results.

The Feedback Loop

Decades ago, psychologists scientifically demonstrated what animal trainers and parents have known for centuries, that positive feedback following an action increases the chances that the action will occur again in the future. In other words, the action will become stronger when followed by reward.

Best Bosses understand this principle and look for opportunities to allow employees to be successful. They then follow that success with positive feedback, either in the form of a reward or simply recognition for the success.

The Right Recognition

They also know that the reward should fit the situation. Simple accomplishments such as completing a task successfully and on time might only receive a “good job....thanks!”

Providing a suggestion that saves the company significant amounts of money might require a financial reward to be effective. Best Bosses know the difference and apply the positive consequences effectively.

Five Simple Rules for Effective Use of Reward/Recognition:

Do it publicly when possible, but not in a way that embarrasses the person. Make it appropriate to the accomplishment. Focus on the action/result and not the person. Provide the positive feedback as soon after the completion of the task as possible. Be genuine and sincere. Following these five rules can help you create a workplace where employees are learning new, stronger skills and increasing their motivation to use those skills all at the same time.

Best Boss Bottom Line

By all means, strive for competence, but know your role while you are doing it. As a supervisor, the key is not to know how to do it yourself, but instead to know how to get the results that you need from your team. If you understand the role that rewards and recognition play in motivating performance, your “out of the trenches” competence will embolden your team and provide you plenty of opportunities to recognize their performance.

4 Keys to Effective Delegation

As a supervisor, one of the ways that you get your job done, and manage your time more effectively is to delegate to your employees.  Delegating requires trust in their ability to get the results that you expect.  Here are four keys to making sure you delegate effectively.

  1. Identify the competencies required to accomplish the task.  This sounds simple, but how many times do we actually do a task analysis before making an assignment.  We know the result that we want, but many times we don’t take the time to really determine how we want that result achieved.  Understanding what competencies are needed for success is critical before you can do what comes next.
  2. Assess your employees relative to the task competencies.  An honest comparison of employee skills/competencies against task requirements will help you determine whether you can delegate or whether you need to provide additional support to the employee, including training.
  3. Communicate your expectations clearly.  When giving an assignment, there are 6-points that need to be understood by the employee:  What, Who, When, Where, Why and How.  If you are delegating to an employee who has the requisite competencies, then probably all you will need to communicate is “What result you need”.  If this is a special situation then you will need to communicate those aspects of the task that make this special, e.g., when you need it done.  Going over every detail of “How” is certainly not needed if the person is truly competent in this task and doing so would be seen as “micro-managing” due to lack of trust.
  4. Give appropriate feedback once the task is done.  Feedback is obviously dependent on result, but don’t forget to give positive feedback for success (maybe a simple “thank you”).  If failure occurs, then take the time to determine why so that you can make sure that failure doesn’t occur again.

A Best Boss Enables Success

In this series, we are looking at the list of Top 20 “Best Boss” Characteristics. So far we have seen that a Best Boss: #1 -- Is a Good Communicator

#2 -- Holds Himself and Others Accountable for Results.

Now let’s examine #3 -- A “Best Boss” Enables Success.

Defining Success

To understand how a Best Boss enables or creates the conditions for success, we must first describe what we mean by success. For our purpose, success and failure are measures of performance against clearly communicated expectations or standards.

This means we will need to look closely at what drives performance and how best to give feedback that will sustain excellent performance or make necessary improvement more likely.

Performance = Motivation + Ability

Ability and motivation are inextricably tied together and are both required for success. Best Bosses understand that:

Ability contributes to motivation through increased confidence Intrinsic (internal) motivation increases as self esteem (confidence) grows.

The Role of Motivation

Confident employees are more likely to show initiative and to achieve desired results, so what should a Best Boss do to build confidence in his or her employees?

First off, recognize these two steps for building self esteem:

Successful accomplishment of something meaningful to the individual Recognition for that accomplishment from a significant person. Bosses are significant to employees, so Best Bosses “engineer” situations that allow employees to be challenged (meaningful) but successful (accomplishment) and then follow that accomplishment with appropriate positive feedback (recognition by a significant person).

The Role of Ability

Delegation and training are tied directly to ability. Best bosses know the skill (ability) level of each employee and either provide...

Appropriate delegation to those who are able, or Training (usually on-the-job) for those who need more development. Best Bosses are constantly looking for new opportunities to provide meaningful challenges to employees, but are also aware that employees need success for development of self esteem and the motivation that comes with it. They use delegation and training to create an environment that enables success.

The Contribution of Feedback

After delegating or training, Best Bosses follow-up with the employee to ensure that the plan is continuing to work. The feedback the employee receives in that moment is going to impact their immediate performance and also their future performance.

Feedback for Meeting or Exceeding Expectations

If performance meets or exceeds expectations, Best Bosses give appropriate, positive feedback (a form of extrinsic motivation) to increase the chances that the same good performance will occur again in the future.

Feedback for Not Meeting Expectations

If performance is below expectations, Best Bosses re-direct to get performance back on track and reduce the chances of failure in the future.

Best bosses never set employees up for failure, but when failure occurs, they use it as an opportunity to evaluate what caused the failure without immediately blaming the person for the failure.

Best bosses don’t assume that failure is always the result of poor motivation, but take the time to look for other factors such as knowledge, skill, support, pressure from others, etc. Once they find the real reason behind the failure, they work with (re-direct) the employee to develop a plan for eliminating the failure in the future.

Best Boss Bottom Line

The work place is not a feel-good, kids’ sports league where everyone gets a trophy for showing up. In reality, success and failure in the performance of our jobs have real consequences. That is why Best Bosses are intentional about creating the conditions where their employees can be successful. They understand how motivation and ability impact performance and they use appropriate feedback to influence future performance.

A "Best Boss" Holds Himself and Others Accountable for Results

To start this series we asked you to evaluate yourself against the list of Top 20 “Best Boss” Characteristics. Let’s look in more detail at #2 -- A “Best Boss” Holds Himself and Others Accountable for Results.

People often associate accountability with negative consequences, but in our definition there can be either positive or negative consequences that follow action. It is important to notice that a Best Boss doesn’t just hold employees accountable for results, but also himself.

This is what we mean by accountability:

An examination of the facts/reasons underlying a specific event/result (accounting) Then application of appropriate consequences for the actions and results.

Accounting for Results

Many bosses (not Best Bosses) assume that failure (and success) is determined by the person’s motivation and they then “hold them accountable” by trying to motivate them to perform better in the future. Remember, motivation is only one aspect of the individual and may have nothing to do with the results observed.

Best Bosses understand that people don’t try to fail and that performance and the results that follow don’t happen in a vacuum. This means that results need to be evaluated and understood in light of a complex environment that includes Others, Surroundings, Sytems, and Self.

We have used the term local rationality in some of our other articles to describe why it makes sense for a person to do something that may not seem logical to someone (including the boss) who is either observing performance or evaluating the result after the fact.

Best Bosses begin with the “account” component of accountability and gather all of the facts/reasons why the person's actions made sense in the moment. They ask questions to evaluate each of the contextual components (self, others, surroundings, systems) that might have impacted the person's actions and led to the results observed.

Once they determine why the person performed this way, then they can develop a plan (we call it the “Fix”) to help the person succeed in the future.

Applying Consequences

Here is where the consequence part of accountability comes into play.

The purpose of a consequence is to either:

Weaken an unwanted behavior through negative consequences or Strengthen a desired behavior through positive consequences. Best Bosses understand this and apply consequences accordingly.


When success occurs Best Bosses apply appropriate positive consequences. This may involve a simple “thank you” for the result, or it may involve some form of public commendation or reward. This should be determined for each result as appropriate.


When failure occurs, the form of negative consequence should also fit. Many times the process of accounting and determining a fix will be consequence enough to change performance in the future. If failure continues, then some form of formal discipline may be required. This should be determined in concert with your organizations policies and with guidance from internal Human Resource professionals. As we will discuss later on in the Top 20, Best Bosses are also fair and consistent, so make sure that the consequences you apply are both fair and consistent.

Best Boss Bottom Line

Finally, Best Bosses also hold themselves accountable for results. They are constantly evaluating the impact of what they do on those around them and on the organization. They question themselves to determine the impact that various contextual factors are having on their own performance and adjusting decisions as appropriate. If they fail, they are quick to admit that failure, determine why and step up to the consequences. When success occurs they are usually also quick to pass the positive consequences on to their time we listed the Top 20 “Best Boss” characteristics and asked you to evaluate yourself against the list.

A "Best Boss" is an Excellent Communicator

Last time we listed the Top 20 “Best Boss” characteristics and asked you to evaluate yourself against the list. Now let’s look at #1 -- a “Best Boss” is an Excellent Communicator.

By excellent communicator we mean that “Best Bosses”:

(1) Send clear, understandable messages to others (2) Listen to understand the meaning behind the messages sent by others.

So, how do they do it?

Communication Roles

It is helpful to think about effective communication in terms of roles.


The talker is attempting to communicate some intended meaning to the listener with:

(1) What is said (words) (2) How it is said (tone of voice, body language, etc).

What is said

Best bosses use words that are easily understood by the listener or are effectively defined to allow for understanding. They don’t leave room for misunderstanding because they know that misunderstanding can lead to failure.

How it is said

Best Bosses know that how you say something may be even more important than the words that are actually used. The way words are said communicates much of the intent of the message.

Interpretation of intent can impact motivation, so Best Bosses try to help the listener interpret by:

- Showing energy - Maintaining appropriate eye contact - Using appropriate facial expressions.


Excellent communicators take the time to listen so that they completely understand others. This is especially true when:

- Helping another person solve a problem - Giving an assignment.

Best Bosses want to make certain that their instructions have been clearly understood so that the employee has the best opportunity to succeed. They don’t make the assumption that all of the message got through to the listener.

Do you Validate?

Really good communicators always “validate” that the message is clear. They don’t just ask “Do you understand?”. Most of the time the listener will say “yes” whether they really understand or not. They might think they understand or they may know they don’t and don’t want to look foolish in the moment.

Best Bosses may say something like:

“I want to make sure that we have covered everything so can you review for me what you are going to do, please?”

This simple question will communicate respect and either:

- Validate understanding or - Clarify what the employee didn’t hear or didn’t understand.

Best Bosses want to make sure that they are not inferring that the listener has failed but rather to communicate that their primary desire is success for the listener.

Tools for Listening

“Best Bosses” attempt to understand the real meaning behind what others are saying by:

(1) Showing interest through appropriate eye contact, posture, facial expression, and other aspects of body language. (2) Not interrupting the speaker to judge what they are saying, but only to ask clarifying questions. (3) Paraphrasing to better understand and also to communicate a desire to understand exactly what the person is saying and, when appropriate, why they are saying it. Using empathic reflection to gain understanding of emotions that could be part of the talkers message.

In other words, “Best Bosses” and good listeners in general do what is necessary to respectfully understand the meaning and the intent underlying the talker’s message.

The “Best Boss” Bottom Line

Through the use of these communication skills “Best Bosses” attempt to facilitate discussions rather than dominate them. This leads to greater success for their employees and more caring relationships with those around them.

Managing From a Distance

Have you ever called a direct report on the phone and given him precise instructions, only to find later that he did not follow through on what you requested? Or have you endured a “30-minute” video conference meeting that lasted two hours, only to close with no resolution? If so, then welcome to the exciting world of remote communication and management. Virtually anywhere you can find people communicating and managing from a distance.  You can also find missed information, poor accountability, a lack of follow-through and a good deal of frustration.

Advances in communication technologies over the past decade have had a significant impact on the oil and gas industry. To date, however, most of us have been slow to acknowledge that effective remote management requires not only communication technologies but also a special set of skills and an understanding of how communication works when it is conducted through teleconferencing, videoconferencing, e-mail and the like.

The oil and gas industry is trying to resolve this problem by training employees to recognize and respond to the challenges of communicating and managing remotely.

Remote communication carries many inherent challenges, not the least of which is the challenge of accurately conveying the intent of your message. The little ways that you communicate your intent in face-to-face communication are often so subtle and habitual that you are not even aware of them. A slight twist of the lip transforms a harmless comment into a sarcastic criticism. A momentary glance in one direction indicates the object to which you are referring. But when communication takes place over telephone or e-mail, these critical expressions aren’t there.

All too often, we go about our business communicating as normal, unaware that an essential part of our message will never reach our audience. And we wonder why that direct report failed to do exactly what we told him over the phone.

Are we doomed to sacrifice the clarity of our messages for the operational benefits of managing from a distance? Fortunately, the answer is no, but it will require specialized training, which can pass on lessons learned by observing some of the best remote communicators and identifying best practices. For example, when the best communicators need to clarify the intent of their words while communicating from a distance, they take care to state in sufficient detail why they are saying what they are saying.

The value of this best practice was made apparent during a classroom exercise to teach participants how to communicate effectively using e-mail. Each participant was given one piece of a larger problem, then told to communicate with one another to solve the whole problem. The catch, however, was that they could not speak; rather, they had to use pens and sticky notes to communicate.

One participant, after finishing her portion of the problem, approached her co-worker and scribbled the note, “What’s your problem?” to which the co-worker responded with an offended expression on his face.

“Nothing! What’s your problem!” Obviously, the intent of the original message was not conveyed. If she had written instead, “What’s your problem? I would like to see how it fits with the one I’m working on,” the co-worker would have understood her intent. Explaining why you are saying what you are saying is one of many things that the “best” do when communicating remotely.

Clearly, there are many other challenges and best practices that must be addressed during training to bring about the desired results. In general, a three-part solution is recommended when training people to handle the challenges of remote communication: (1) provide personnel with a clear understanding of the way that face-to-face communication works so that they can (2) identify the specific barriers posed by the remote communication media that they use daily, which sets the stage for them to (3) acquire the appropriate skills that will allow them to overcome those barriers.

This approach not only enables employees to diagnose problems that arise in their daily communications, it also equips them with skills to overcome those problems quickly and effectively.