Change Management for Communications Consultants IABC/BC Meeting - May 31, 2017, Vancouver, BC

Join the IABC/BC Independent Communicators Special Interest Group on May 31, 2017 for our last meeting of the IABC programming year.

Consulting and freelance communicators are often involved in projects that involve organizational change initiatives. Whether you’re facilitating a process change or full-scale merger, you need to have a sensitive approach and a well-considered plan.

At this interactive session, we’ll learn and share some of our best experiences in communicating and managing organizational change initiatives.

Members: FREE
Non-members: $20

The IABC/BC Independent Communicators Special Interest Group (SIG) is open to communication professionals who work as self-employed freelancers or in a consulting role.

Registration for this event is limited to 16 participants. Please visit the IABC/BC website to sign up or contact SIG chair Natasha Chetty of Bellwether Strategies with any questions.

Humble Marketing Oxymoron or Appealing Alternative?

What would happen if you pared your firm’s marketing activities down to the essentials that matter? I’ve spoken with a lot of professionals lately who feel pressured to keep up with a constant stream of promotion.

In response, some are opting to take a more humble approach. They don’t want to downplay their capabilities, but they’d like to feel more at ease with the style in which they communicate them.

If this platform sounds appealing, here are a few ways to get started.

  1. First, determine if it makes business sense for your particular firm. Does it align with what your target clients, referral sources and employees expect? How? Some stakeholders want to see all your firm news all the time, others don’t.
    • If you have an aggressive growth strategy, your marketing and communications need to reflect it.
    • If you want to become more selective, it could make sense to focus intensely on a few messages and communication channels.
  2. Then, make it a strategy that guides deliberate marketing and communication choices. Then go for it. Say “no” everything else.
  3. Try prioritizing social listening to find out what clients are talking about. Posting endless streams of announcements on your site and social media profiles without ever engaging in market or industry conversations is not humble; it just adds to the noise competing for reader attention.
    • A listening strategy helps you learn the issues and problems that vex target audiences, and then make an informed contribution or propose a solution at the right time.
  4. Be seen in all the right places. It’s possible to be visible without appearing grandiose. Try techniques that place you directly in front of your target markets.
    • Speaking engagements or media interviews as a subject matter expert are good starting points.
    • Involvement in industry initiatives such as research studies also works; it demonstrates a collaborative approach and often generates early-market information that can be a competitive advantage.
  5. Emphasize how you learn and earn capabilities more than awards and accolades. It shows that you’re focused on continuously generating quality results for the clients who keep your firm afloat.

One way to gauge whether a more humble marketing approach is right for your firm is to decide what you are emotionally committed to as an organization. Is there a central purpose or goal that everyone can support? If so, any efforts to convey it have a good chance of being perceived as authentic and a good chance of persuading clients that you’re the right provider to help them.

Why Face Time Matters More than Ever

No, not the Face Time app on your iPhone, “face time” as in one-on-one meetings with direct reports and others in your organization.

As firms relentlessly pursue efficiency by automating processes, collecting loads of data and creating “lean” teams, more of us are deliberately disengaging from our work.

And we often blame management when things don’t improve. Bad management, to be exact. A 2014 Gallup poll shows that companies fail to hire proper management 82% of the time. Ouch.

What exactly makes a “good” manager? Harvard Business Review recently published a summary of research done in studies of knowledge-based businesses. The researchers found that effective managers:

  • Lead by example when it comes to working hours
  • Ensure even allocation of work among team members
  • Maintain large networks across the firm
  • Prioritize one-on-one meetings with direct reports
  • Are engaged with their own work

Of all these practices, more frequent one-on-one meetings with direct reports could be the easiest way to improve management. They are time consuming and relatively expensive, but they could also be the most rewarding.

Whether you’re a managing partner, practice group leader or administrator responsible for getting work done through others, you can find creative ways to prioritize conversations with direct reports. Schedule meetings with standing agendas. Connect the agendas to operational plans and firm values. Gather feedback and listen for what your reports are and aren’t saying.

This is what will help you make the most out of data and process improvements (including automation).  Facilitate conversations to uncover and connect  insights, and then leverage them into value that you can communicate to clients and propel your team forward. It cannot be done any other way in a professional firm.

Some corporate clients now refuse to pay outside counsel for time spent in conversation with firm colleagues regarding their legal matters. And some lawyers are using this as an excuse to bow out of important internal conversations.

On a simplistic level, this might be a mistake. It doesn’t just inhibit strong firm management; it inhibits strong matter management by limiting growth of the collective intellectual capital that comprises a firm’s competitive advantage (presumably why the firm is hired to begin with). It it doesn’t encourage delegation where appropriate, either, which often costs clients more in the end.

Prioritizing one-on-one or in person meetings is a good idea, regardless of whether your clients will compensate you directly for it or whether you’ll receive any external recognition for it.  It could also make your firm management happier too:  visible leaders are often perceived as more credible leaders. When your firm is ready to launch development initiatives, you’ll have an easier time convincing people to cooperate.

An abbreviated version of this post was published on the Canadian legal blog slaw.ca on December 28, 2016.

To Share or Not to Share: Consider These Questions Before Posting on Social Media

The flurry of social media activity during and after the recent U.S. presidential election has prompted a lot of us to reconsider how Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn activities reflect individual reputation.about-6-in-10-americans-get-news-from-social-media

Then there were the reports of fake news – sensational and otherwise – designed to sway public opinions. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been slow to recognize the responsibility associated with the fact that two-thirds of users of his site get news from it (and that some of it is blatantly false, defamatory or hate-filled) even though it isn’t a traditional media outlet.

Ninety-nine percent the news that comes across my social media feeds meets my expectations of professional communication. But recently, some of it has been surprising. I don’t know whether to attribute it to algorithms or to decisions made by individuals.

Which has made me reconsider my own criteria for professional posts. I use LinkedIn and Twitter for work, but leave Facebook strictly for friends and family. I also work alone, so I don’t exactly have a social media policy.

It boils down to three priorities:

  1. Is it newsworthy? The noise on Twitter and LinkedIn feeds often feels chaotic to my introvert mind. If the information isn’t unique or fresh, I won’t share it. And, as with any news posted on any media, it needs to be factual.
  1. Is it helpful? If it can be used to genuinely help one of my connections, it makes the cut. If it is a pithy quote in a pretty picture or if I say “so what” after reading a LinkedIn article, it doesn’t. I also prefer to share information with some amount of depth.
  1. Does it further my brand? Social media activity should reflect professional values and identity as much as any other communications. It’s worthwhile to convey “who I am” through the information that I share and the people I engage with.

My social network tends to be sceptical of professionals who reveal too much personal information. Most of them manage risk for a living and are somewhat conservative by nature; they have specific expectations of what I will share or recommend.

If I am going to surprise my connections with a post, I’d rather it be one that adds a relatable, respectable dimension to my brand than one that would cause them to question my judgment.

Delivering Feedback Fairly and Constructively

In my last blog post, I discussed how professionals can constructively process tough feedback they have received and the consequences of avoiding colleagues who deliver it.

But what if you’re the messenger? Leaders can’t avoid difficult conversations. Those who do it well build firm cultures where people feel safe to speak up and feel motivated to improve, all for the sake of their clients.

Before delivering the feedback…

  • Check your bias. We’re often drawn to evidence that confirms what we might already believe, such as generalizations about the employee’s age ( boomers or millennials) or past experience. We also tend to be tougher on others than we are on ourselves.
  • Confirm facts without creating drama. What happened and what was the consequence? People might construct their own narrative, extrapolate or anchor their opinions unless you emphasize that this is a situation that can – and should – be overcome.
  • Gather background information. Does the feedback align with any management systems, such as performance reviews or productivity metrics?
  • Set up a meeting with your colleague, but don’t cause unnecessary alarm. Tough criticism is best delivered face to face, in a well-considered conversation.

As you speak…

  • Ask, don’t tell. Yes, it’s important that the mistake(s) be corrected, but it’s also important to draw out defensiveness by learning the employee’s perspective, checking assumptions and building trust. Collaborating to find a path forward will feel a lot safer for everyone.
  • Look for small ways to improve that could deliver long-term results, and determine how meaningful they are to everyone involved.
  • Check for understanding. Your colleague might not be able to articulate his interpretation of the feedback in the moment, either because you’ve observed a behaviour or attitude he may have thought he was masking or because he is embarrassed. Can he acknowledge someone else’s interpretation of the situation being discussed? It indicates empathy, if not understanding.

Afterwards…

  • Follow up. Don’t dust your hands off and walk away, thinking your job is done. It isn’t. Leaders earn a lot more respect if they ask the employee what his or her perspective is on the feedback after some time has passed, and if both you and the employee can implement strategies to prevent a similar situation in the future.

There are as many management resources on providing feedback as there are situations that require it. If you’d like to learn more, two of the best I’ve found are Humble Inquiry by Edgar Schein and Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, a Seattle based consultant who has worked with CEOs and executives at major corporations for several decades.

Take the Sting Out of Tough Feedback Learning to Embrace Constructive Criticism

“You have a tendency to step on people’s toes when you’re leading a team. Instead of engaging them, you run them over in your efforts to get the job done.” Delivered from a manager at my first job as a lifeguard, the feedback disconfirmed every perception I had of my fledgling leadership skills.

It stung. But my supervisor was right, and she was right to tell me. She pointed out how people reacted to my behaviour and how it affected my performance. I was 16 and I really wanted the job, which meant I couldn’t avoid her. So I adapted.

A recent post on hbr.org mentioned that when faced with feedback that is more negative than one’s own self-perception, employees are 44% more likely to drop a relationship with a colleague. The statistics are slightly better if the employee must continue working closely with the person providing the feedback, but he or she can still disengage from the relationship in subtle ways.

I often see similar situations in law firms. Feedback is given on someone’s performance of a specific task – writing an opinion letter or interviewing a client. The feedback is repudiated. Avoidance ensues (“I’ll do it myself next time.”) Working relationships dwindle, if not disintegrate.

At best, two solitudes will find a way to coexist. At worst, firms implode. Clients are denied access to the full intellectual capital of the firm, innovation is stifled and employees are left feeling like children caught in the middle of a dysfunctional family.

The author of the hbr.org post, Francesca Gino, says that employees do this because “disconfirming feedback threatens their own views of their skills and accomplishments…and people tend to focus on the positive aspects of their character, personality and behaviour and discount the negative ones.”

How to deal with tough feedback

  • Don’t wait for it to be offered: ask for it instead. Has a colleague been avoiding you since you worked together on something? Do you suspect why? Take the high road and ask them. That said, make your questions about your work product and your approach to the task.
  • Express your disappointment, not your anger, when someone’s perception is different than you’ve previously heard or than you believe. You don’t know the other person’s experience and you don’t know their bias. They might not know yours, either.
  • Ask what you could have done differently and why that might be a better strategy from your colleagues’ or clients’ perspective.
  • Resist the urge to personalize the feedback. You might not respect the person who provided it, nevermind like him or her. But insinuating that their perception stems from immaturity, limited information or mean spiritedness is fruitless (and probably unprofessional).

Thirty years after hearing the feedback from my first supervisor, I still try to keep it in mind (with varying degrees of success). I have since been in work situations where I’ve heard fair criticism that has been delivered well and not so well. It’s the former scenario that has made the biggest impact in helping me improve.

Do you need to deliver some tough feedback? Contact me to discuss your proposed approach (or wait for next week’s post for some pointers…).

Keepin’ it Real: Implementing a Firm-Wide LPM Initiative, Part 2

Last week, Carl Herstein, Chief Value Partner at Honigman LLP discussed his experience in developing and implementing a firm-wide legal project management (LPM) program at his firm. The conversation continues with a candid discussion of the pricing of legal services, how it relates to project management and what clients really think of firm initiatives in this regard.

Q. How would you describe the relationship between pricing, collections, AFAs and LPM at your firm? Read more

Keepin’ it Real: Implementing a Firm-Wide LPM Program, Part 1

Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, a 300-lawyer business law firm in the U.S. mid-west launched a firm-wide legal project management (LPM) initiative in 2011. They deliberately chose not to publicize the program – until recently.

Carl W. Herstein is Honigman’s Detroit-based Chief Value Partner. In this two-part blog series, Carl discusses the decision to “keep it real”. His experience exemplifies the commitment, forethought and resources required as law firms consider similar programs. Read more

More than a Google Search: 4 Questions to Assess Your Reputation

When I ask young professionals how they plan on building their reputations, the answers that I usually hear range from “do whatever I’m told” to “don’t screw up” to “incessantly self-promote”. Of course, there’s more to it than that.

A reputation rests on:

  1. The esteem in which you are held
  2. The respect people have for you
  3. Your perceived level of trustworthiness
  4. The admiration that stakeholders have for your character

Read more

IABC/BC Independent Communicators Special Interest Group Meeting

Join the discussion! The IABC Independent Communicators Special Interest Group will meet in Vancouver on April 26th to discuss strategies for managing freelance finances. Natasha Chetty, principal of Bellwether Strategies, will co-chair the session.

Read more