Part 2: How to deal effectively with the M-Generation

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Part 2: How to deal effectively with the M-Generation

In Part One of this series, we gave some general behavioral insights into the M-Generation, the people born between 1982-2000, who are currently entering the work place. In this article, we will look at the common characteristics that further define this generation and how to effectively deal with them.

As Baby Boomers and GenXers, our parents invariably worked hard and often long hours to provide us a better life. Parental involvement was limited, and our parents trusted us to our teachers and coaches, pastors and Sunday school teachers.

Parents came to ballgames, plays and special events. We knew that if the principal or teacher called our folks because of our unruly behavior during or even after school, we would suffer the consequences, and, yes, there would be some parental involvement at that juncture! This parental involvement did not include blaming any one else for our misdeeds. We were expected to accept responsibility for our behavior or accept the consequence.

Enter the “Helicopter Parent”

However, in the last 30 years, we have seen a major shift in the parental role as parents have become more involved socially and educationally with their children.  As a result of this era of “parents being the child’s friend”, the parent is no longer in a role of authority in their children’s eyes.

Millenials became their parents’ “colleagues” and “associates”, and with the proliferation of the cell phone, the kids were never far from the “nest” of the parents. So, enters the “helicopter” parent, and the parents, in many cases, enjoy this relationship because psychologist say it “gives them more meaningful lives”  and therefore they don’t choose to or want to “push the child out of the nest.”

The Millennials are fine with this because they are not seeking or striving for independence in many cases. Educators and others have observed this trend for years. Yes, it is the M-Generation that chose to live in their parent’s basements as long as possible while finding themselves and their calling whereas the Baby Boomers fought for and sought early independence from their parents the Millennials prefer the security of the nest.

Teachers, and counselors in some cases, have appreciated more parental involvement, if it was not “too much”. Employers, on the other hand, frankly have little to no interest in parents “helicoptering” their Millennial employees.

“Sadly, it is increasingly common for employers to receive phone calls from a parent wanting to discuss problems or a disappointment their (adult) child has had at work says.” Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman, authors of The M- Factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace” (Harper Collins, 2010).

Employers have even reported that Millenials have told them they have asked their “Mom or Dad as their colleague” to review their work or even do it for them. Just like they did in school and sadly, in this author’s opinion, many parents do so. These same parents maintain even more control of the M-Generation often by paying their bills, buying them cars, food or clothes and taking care of their children because after all these children are the “grandchildren” the Boomers and Gen-Xers always wanted.

Lancaster and Stillman note that one of the bigger surprises experienced in the work place is when the new hire millennial shares some feedback from a parent, who happens to be a senior vice president at a similar company. This feedback about how the parent could do things better, if they were in charge, is not solicited or appreciated by the employer.

Simply, the M-Generation view their parents as valuable resources whose counsel and input will be as vital for their work life as it was when they were students. When you hire a millennial, you will get the parents as part of the bargain, whether you like it or not.

Initially, I thought this was hyperbole or outrageous complaining until I actually observed such behavior from a member of my own extended family. Since I left home at age 17 and paid my way through college, I found this enabling behavior to be an antithesis to my idea of maturity, healthy self-reliance, and productivity.  I would dare to say that much of society feels the same way. But then, apparently there are a lot of helicopter parents who do not.

However, based on my own observations and research, I recommend that you forget about trying to change this perspective, or debate with the new hire (or their parents). Whether this perspective and behavior is appropriate, healthy, or mature is irrelevant to them. The reality is you must accept the fact that this “parental helicoptering” and the M-Generation’s social behaviors are now at least 20 years into solidification, and you are not likely to change that perspective anytime soon.

There are strategies, however, that can be deployed to deal with this M-Generation behavior. One is to articulate and clearly establish boundaries up front in the working relationship regarding your feelings about parental involvement.

For example, personnel records, including performance reviews, are generally considered organizationally confidential and are not open for discussion with anyone other than the employee and her supervisors. This is a distinct and most appropriate boundary that you should clarify to a new hire in case his parent wants to explore his child’s experience at your company.

However, some researchers say it might also help to understand the close relationship Millenials have with their parents by viewing it the same way they do – as an asset when it comes to “reflection” on work place issues.

Remember these Millennials are products of parental engagement. They have been sharing and processing their experiences with their parents from the earliest of ages.

If your new M-Generation employees seemingly have this kind of relationship with their parents, encourage them to involve their parents in reflection on their profession, roles, responsibilities and chosen vocation. Do not, however, allow them to think that you and the parents will be having this kind of relationship.

Remember that Millennials don’t readily grasp the concept of confidentiality, especially in conversation with their parents. Therefore, it is important to provide them clearly articulated and well-defined guidelines on what kind of information is inappropriate for such conversations.

Lancaster and Stillman note that a Millennial’s relationship with his parents is the template for interaction with other older adults and authority figures.

If you can objectively observe or ascertain from his comments how a Millennial interacts with his parents, you may uncover clues on how he hopes to relate to you as an older colleague.

If your new hire sees his parents as a perpetually available resource, he may expect the same from you. If he is open to their counsel and coaching, he may readily accept the same from you as his mentor.

Accept the fact that you will have to spend extra time and attention on the Millennials, which can be burdensome at times. However their enthusiasm for your input may leave you feeling more gratified than grumpy.

Next: The single greatest complaint about Milleninals from employers

Sources: The M- Factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace” by Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman (Harper Collins, 2010)

PWC.Com – Millennials in the Work Place – Reshaping the World https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/managing-tomorrows-people/future-of-work/assets/reshaping-the-workplace.pdf

 

Millennial sense of entitlement, and enhancing performance in workplace

What is the single greatest complaint leveled against Millennials?

Many employers would say a “sense of entitlement” that is entirely out of proportion to this generation’s age and experience.

As the authors of “The M-Factor” say, “This generation shows signs of being far too impressed with their own value and importance.”

Competition In BusinessNow, I acknowledge this trait is tempered by individual personalities. While one Millennial may exude “cockiness and arrogance” that turns off even his/her peers, another one is a model of humility.

Despite their intelligence and competency in many areas, the Millennial has a lot to learn. But, in a different time in a different way, didn’t we all?

Millennials may expect to advance quickly. Once they have mastered their current responsibilities, they want to be promoted to higher positions or greater responsibility NOW.

They often have a very low tolerance for the mundane work that usually falls to the lowest rung of the workplace ladder. They don’t understand the concept of seniority, and to them that is an anathema of their value system. They value capability over experience and believe that a fresh, young perspective is always more valuable.

The ideas of “doing your time” within a role and job and “paying your dues” just do not make sense to them and are at odds with their expectations.

In my mind, members of this generation can be overly-sensitive. This can certainly be a factor in their employment lives.

Let’s remember that many of the parents of the M-Generation believed and practiced that praise and self-esteem were the first priorities in parenting and teaching realms. The child learns that if you play on the little league baseball team, you get a trophy for showing up. Turn in your homework, and get a gold star for turning something in with your name on it regardless of the content.

While effort is important and trying your best is important, life, and certainly the business world, does not necessarily hand out trophies for these worthy attributes.

This article looks at the key criteria necessary to minimize conflict and enhance performance in the work place when working with Millennials.

First, when recruiting and interviewing don’t promise more than you can deliver.

When hiring a member of the M-Generation, be realistic about the work that he will do.

Present a potential M-Generation employee with an exact description of the job. You want to make sure that he/she understands that the job may not include conducting the weekly briefings.

Second, take advantage of the positive view of the M-Generation’s desire to do more and to tackle larger responsibilities.

Take advantage of their eagerness and strong desire to be involved, and reward these traits whenever you can.

Always give M-Generation employees specific parameters to work within, clarify what they will be held accountable for, what the schedule and deadline is, and then let them engage.

Finally, determine what “reward” is in the M-Generation new hire’s mind.

For the Millennial, rewards don’t have to be big to be meaningful. A simple gesture will go a long way. Recently in talking with an Assistant Chief of Police, he told me his Millennials want to be called by their first names, asked about their family (yes, you will need to remember the wife’s name and the kids’ names), and they want to be praised for being to work on time.

Baby Boomers and GenXers are often confused and bewildered by the simple things that Millennials don’t know about living and working as an adult.

Research shows that the most common problems include unfamiliarity with workplace etiquette, what are appropriate communication venues, and what boundaries should exist between professional, personal and private matters.

However, our biggest concerns may be associated with the M-Generations’ use of social media. Often Millennials are not discrete about what they post on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. The photos and comments they may put online after a weekend beach trip with their college buddies may cause you some alarm.

To deal with this behavior and not exacerbate the situation or create high blood pressure for yourself, you must learn to accept that is the new “norm” while learning how to negotiate a mutually acceptable working arrangement with these employees.

Does this mean we will just have to agree with such behavior? No.

Although we believe these “kids” should know this stuff already, they don’t. The smart thing to do is to understand the Millennial sense of what is appropriate. Then take the time to communicate the guidelines and rules – written and unwritten – for professional etiquette and interaction in your organization.

The upside to all of this is that most Millennials enjoy being coached and mentored – remember they had a unique relationship with their parents and teachers in this regard. Offer them pointers and tips on workplace etiquette.

You will probably find that they are grateful for advice that will help them move up the professional ladder and achieve the greater responsibilities that they want. It can be a win-win situation.

L. Darryl Armstrong is a crisis prevention and management consultant. He is reachable at 1-888-340-2006 or drdarryl@aol.com. His website is www.ldarrylarmstrong.com. He is available on a limited basis for speaking engagements and workshops.

Sources: The M- Factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace” by Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman (Harper Collins, 2010)

PWC.Com – Millennials in the Work Place – Reshaping the World https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/managing-tomorrows-people/future-of-work/assets/reshaping-the-workplace.pdf

Promoting a consistent message and visual identity is critical to success

branding-art

Art source: www.aboutbranding.co.za

Most companies simply will not allow haphazard uses of their logos or brands. Break those rules and you are in serious trouble.

Promoting a consistent message and visual identity is critical to “branding” and maintaining controls around variance of messages.In fact, once we have standardized our systems (think purchasing,hiring, interviewing, community outreach, media engagement, crisis and issues management, communications) we are able to be more efficient, effective and save time and money.

When variances show up on the bottom line, we can check them against our standardized processes.This is what our financial people do on a regular basis. This brings standardization to the organization.However, most companies still don’t standardize their leadership best practices.

 

They may have dozens of ways to interview and hire, solve the same problem in five different ways in various divisions, and simply spend a lot of time and energy needlessly identifying and solving the same problems repeatedly in many different ways.

Those companies who do standardize their leadership processes and training create a path forward map to help every leader in the company to be successful. In simple terms: Develop your road map and follow it, or as I tell clients who seek strategic planning assistance from me, “Write your plan based on best practices and work your plan.”

Why don’t companies do this?

Research shows that many companies don’t have a unified leadership process in place because:

  • The leaders don’t have the training they need to succeed.
  • There is no objective accountability system.
  • The “dots are not connected” for employees in respect to purpose, worthwhile work and making a difference.
  • The companies are not using a sequenced mapped approach.
  • There is no process for managing high- and middle-level managers.
  • There is no process in place to address the problems with low performers.

To determine if your company needs to standardize your leadership system, Quint Studer in his book, “Results That Last,” suggests we ask ourselves such questions as:

  • How many different ways do we have to interview a candidate?
  • How do we know that when our leaders have left a meeting we have accurately and completely conveyed the messages we want them to carry back to the employees?
  • When employees are asked tough questions, how do we know they are not giving us just the answers they think we want to hear?
  • How do we measure the performance of our employees in such a way as we can determine they are low, middle or high-level performers?
  • What process do we have in place to assess the performance of employees and their accountability against the overall organizational goals?

Six ways to improve our leadership programs

Leadership programs can be standardized and improved.

When we standardize our programs, we provide a path forward map for all our leadership, which saves time and money and makes organizations more successful.

How do we do this?

1. Use a common agenda. While Studer recommends that all agendas be organized around his “Five Pillars of Excellence,” (People, service, quality, finance and growth) even more important is that for every meeting there is a standardized agenda used by all leaders in the organization. By using such an approach, we can align all staff to our organizational goals, which then allows us to help them connect to the organization’s vision and mission. This approach also gives us the means to communicate to our team the critical success factors within the organization and in their individual work areas.

2. Align your evaluation process to Studer’s five pillars or the organization’s critical success factors. When developing goals for our organization, they must be objective, measurable, meaningful and aligned with the organization’s pillars or critical success factors. They must also be focused on results.

3. Provide consistent packets of information. When leaders leave meetings, they should have a prepared packet of information they can share with their employees so that everyone hears the same messages. Studer notes that many companies use “Flip and Tell” books to package the information.

4. Choose a single method of interviewing and hiring employees. All applicants should be asked the same three or four behavioral-based questions no matter what job they are applying for in the organization. It would be prudent to choose questions geared toward values and ownership.

5. Collect tough questions from leaders. Every leader should be asked on a regular basis to share with the team the tough questions they hear from their staff. Then work with your leaders to develop a consistent set of answers that will be used by all leaders. This develops a consistent message that can be communicated by everyone. Consistency builds confidence and provides employees evidence that the leaders have the information needed to answer their questions.

6. Make sure your leaders are trained in basic competencies to perform. Many leaders are not comfortable delivering messages without appropriate training.

Those companies who annually train their leaders in such competencies as meeting facilitation, negotiations, conflict prevent and resolution and presentations skills are more successful because they are providing the essential training all leaders need.

Research shows that repetition is essential to build integrity and credibility within an organization. Great leaders never tire of repetition. When leaders become better at using their skills, they become more efficient and effective at doing it. They will get better with practice.

Organizations that use this six step approach have longer lasting results, improved organizational efficiencies and greater innovation.Key points to remember:

  • Stop the variances. When an organization has variance in its leadership approach it produces inconsistencies within the organization making it more difficult to achieve excellence. Alignment among the managers and employees improves performance and enhances customer and employee satisfaction.
  • Standardize behavior. Leadership behavior is challenging to quantify and many organizations find it a challenge to standardize behavior. Many organizations fear that by doing so they will intrude on the leader’s autonomy and creativity. However, organizational goals come down from the top and include clear visions and missions. Any single leader’s independence is less important than the organization’s mission.
  • Eliminate barriers. Barriers that can get in the way of standardizing leadership behavior include: Lack of critical mass; lack of a balanced approach; insufficient training; no objective accountability; no path forward map which connects the dots; no process in place to manage middle and high level performers; no system to address quickly and efficiently low performers; an inability or unwillingness to standardize best practices across the organization. These barriers must be systematically eliminated.n Identify and eliminate inconsistent practices.

Carefully scrutinize all your practices in interviewing systems, messaging to employees, leader responses to crises, varying leadership performances and ineffective leadership evaluations.

Every organization should strive to create a self-sustaining culture with energy and vision to achieve excellence, Studer says. This can be accomplished by renovating your leadership evaluation system, applying key leadership behaviors, which will inspire self-motivation (the most powerful motivator of all), and developing standardized processes which will hardwire excellence into your organization.

Sources: “Results That Last” by Quint Studer

Dr. L. Darryl Armstrong, Armstrong and Associates, is a consultant and counselor. He can be reached at drdarryl@aol.com or 1-888-340-2006 or http://www.ldarrylarmstrong.com

Emerging technology: Is it a boon for businesses or another intrusion into personal privacy?

Image result for remotely controlled street lights

Businesses and communities of all sizes might benefit from emerging technology in the areas of emergency management; however, the system has as many detractors as advocates.

A recent technology being developed by Intellistreets would allow the common lamppost, found in every community, to detect rising floodwaters, display evacuation routes and help citizens safely leave areas.

The Intellistreets system consists of a wireless digital infrastructure that allows streetlights to be controlled remotely by means of a ubiquitous wi-fi link and a miniature computer housed inside each lamppost. This would allow “security, energy management, data harvesting and digital media,” according to the Illuminating Concepts website.

Wireless technology inside lampposts will provide emergency alerts, “homeland security” surveillance, and public safety functions, according to Ron Harwood at Intellistreets.

“The system was invented as a response to the chaos created at street level during 9/11,” Harwood, the president of Intellistreets, told reporter Elaine Pittman at http://www.emergencymgmt.com.

The company has the capability of retrofitting existing street lamps or installing new high-tech lamps. The technology consists of a dual radio mesh wireless system with microprocessors that allow for information and data collection such as an analysis of what a streetlight is “hearing,” “seeing” and “smelling.”

The features vary and can include:

n Emergency alerts, digital signage

n Hazardous environment alerts

n Two-way audio

n A pedestrian counter

Harwood says this is known as “edge processing.” This process provides first responders the opportunity to get real-time information provided in English or graphics that originate from the site, instead of analytics available through backdoor processors.

The information is accessed via the web. 0perators and first responders can get the alert when various environmental factors trigger the system. Once the system is triggered, action can be taken remotely.

Harwood told Pittman that by outfitting streetlight poles with water sensors in an area that has flooding or water main issues, the streetlight with the built-in intelligence would activate a warning light when water reaches a certain depth (for example, detected above the curb). Other streetlights in the area that have the technology would begin to flash and warn traffic to slow down, according to Harwood.

Intellistreets’ audio features also increase public safety in a two-way fashion, Harwood says. Emergency blue light buttons allow people to signal for help, and speakers provide a way for government officials to make announcements or issue emergency alerts.

Then digital signs can display standard information, such as civic announcements, and be updated with important information like an evacuation route, if necessary. The system features built-in signage and announcements for standard situations. This will allow a public safety representative to click a button on the Web-based system to start audio alerts or change what’s being featured on the digital signs.

Harwood says their goal is to have an iPad in each patrol vehicle so officers can easily update the messaging when needed.

Although not yet widespread, the technology is being used at Sony Pictures in Culver, Calif., where the digital signs provide departure routes during the movie lot’s weekly evacuation exercise.

Price reports that a demonstration of Intellistreets was installed in Farmington Hills, Mich., last year. Although the local government isn’t using the system’s high-tech tools, city officials think the features would be beneficial.

Farmington Hills City Manager Steve Brock told Price that he thought the potential for their use is huge and said, “We haven’t used much of the technology that I think is available with regard to messaging, signage and things like that. But when we went through the demonstration of them, when they sort of christened them if you will, I was very impressed with their capabilities and what it could mean in all sorts of environments.”

According to the company’s previous You Tube video of the concept, which has been removed after controversy about the technology arose, the primary capabilities of the devices include “energy conservation, homeland security, public safety, traffic control, advertising, video surveillance.”

In terms of Homeland Security (DHS) applications, each of the light poles contains a speaker system that can be used to broadcast emergency alerts. In addition, there is a display that transmits “security levels” (presumably a similar system to the DHS’ much maligned color-coded terror alert designation) and shows instructions by way of its LED video screen, according to reporter Paul Joseph Watson at http://www.infowars.com.

The lights also include proximity sensors that can record both pedestrian and road traffic. The video display and speaker system could also be used to transmit advertising, as well as “Amber Alerts” and other “civic announcements.”

Watson reports that street lights as surveillance tools have already been advanced by several European countries. In 2007, leaked documents out of the United Kingdom Home Office revealed that British authorities were working on proposals to fit lamp posts with CCTV cameras that would X-ray scan passers-by and “undress them” in order to “trap terror suspects.”

So-called “talking surveillance cameras” that use a speaker system similar to the Intellistreets model are already being used in UK cities like Middlesborough to give orders and reprimand people for dropping litter and other minor offenses, Watson says.

Although some communities and businesses see the value of such systems in protecting property, Watson says that the transformation of street lights into surveillance tools for Homeland Security purposes will only serve to heighten concerns that the United States is fast on the way to becoming a high-tech police state.

Transportation Security Agency (TSA) agents are being empowered to oversee such control grid, most recently with the announcement that TSA screeners would be manning highway checkpoints. This is a further indication that security measures we currently see in airports are rapidly moving onto the streets and highways in the United States, according to Watson’s article.

The ability of the government to use streetlights to transmit “emergency alerts” also dovetails with the ongoing efforts to use radio and television broadcasts for the same purpose, via the Federal Emergency Management’s Emergency Alert System.

Watson says that the federal government is keen to implement a centralized system of control over all communications, with the recent announcement that all new cell phones will be required to comply with the PLAN program (Personal Localized Alerting Network). The PLAN program will broadcast emergency alert messages directly to Americans’ cell phones using a special chip embedded in the receiver. The system will be operational by the end of the year in New York and Washington, with the rest of the country set to follow.

Some communities and businesses see such technology as advancement toward protecting their properties and citizens. Others see such a system as even more of an intrusion into personal privacy.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security funds the Intellistreets technology, not surprisingly, through grants. Greater security for businesses and communities versus more invasion of privacy – what do you  think?

Dr. L. Darryl Armstrong, Armstrong and Associates, is a consultant and counselor. He can be reached at drdarryl@aol.com or 1-888-340-2006 or www.ldarrylarmstrong.com

8 Keys to successfully communicating in a crisis

Corruption

Whether they are natural disasters, massive power outages, water line breaks, work stoppage, riots or robberies, or executive and financial corruption, a crisis can happen at any time and any place. All crisis can and will disrupt your normal flow of business. When there is a change in your day-to-day business, communication is critical.

Your response to a crisis must be swift and all communications clear and ongoing until the event is resolved. These are some of the lessons learned from my 40 years of preventing and when necessary, managing them.

  • All crises result in volumes of requests and inquiries from many different people.

Whether it is man-made or natural, when the crisis hits there will be a volume of questions from your customers, suppliers, government officials, family members and the media. This can and most likely will overwhelm you if you are not prepared. Inquiries come from those directly involved in the event and from their families, regulators, shareholders, business partners and others. You must provide answers; in today’s world of social media, any event, not matter how small, can quickly become very big.

  • Major events create major communications challenges.

When events impact things outside of your company walls, the communications infrastructure including the Internet, telephone, the Short-Message-Services (SMS), etc. will be impacted. This will create challenges beyond your normal operations. When planning for a crisis, always expect that many of the venues for communicating may be down or out of operation and consider what your alternatives are. As we saw during the major ice storm a few years ago, normal cell phone communications were interrupted; however, SMS text messaging was available. Be prepared to adjust your communications by considering what you will do if the power grid goes down or the Internet is not working.

  • Consider how you can use all communications channels.

It is vitally important to consider every venue for getting your message out and feedback as quickly as possible during a crisis. Practice these optional communications before a crisis occurs. Many organizations are now relying on SMS text messaging during regional events, yet it has limitations that might not make it the best option. By its very nature SMS is designed to carry short messages. The length of that message will be determined by the carrier company you use. If those messages are longer than the company allows, they will be broken into smaller messages and transmitted randomly. Different stakeholders prefer to receive messages in different ways while some prefer text, others prefer voicemail.

  • Have a plan to communicate with employees.

Keeping your employees informed during a crisis and after is critical. A critical piece of any business continuity plan is how to deliver emergency notifications. The first emergency notification should go to your employees. Keep them informed on a regular basis and you will build trust, credibility, and loyalty and demonstrate that you care about them. Use basic message mapping (we will discuss this in a future column) and ensure your organization’s key values and principles are in everything you transmit. All information shared by you will be shared as well by the employees. Expect this and understand they can be a valuable asset in getting the story out you want to get out. Many employees will by chain of command make direct contact with your managers. It is essential that all management is kept in the loop and fully briefed along with any executives.

  • Communicating with employees’ families is critical.

The families of all employees will expect you as the business owner to know what is going on. After the 9/11 terror event and Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, to name just a few, many families were disappointed that the companies really knew nothing. Many business didn’t even log incoming calls for follow-up. Companies can make better use of technology today to handle such situations if they plan in advance and practice their plan. Consider, for example, what you are using to track your employees right now. Do you have an electronic badge system for your employees, time cards or do they have to sign in? If not, consider all these alternatives. All such approaches can contribute to a database to help you determine who might be in a dangerous situation.

  • It is essential to be proactive.

In a crisis, if you have a database established for employees and their families, immediately reach out to them rather than waiting for them to call you. In advance gather contact information for family or next of kin and keep it on file and up-to-date. Do it now. Even if you don’t have a great deal to say at first and most likely you will not, let family members know what you have and share it. Keep them updated and posted at every step.

  • Provide accurate information.

Share the information you can verify and validate. Equally important is to tell people what you don’t know. With social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, text messaging) the news within seconds will hit the streets and certainly within 15 minutes. You will not have much time to prepare. If possible get trusted “eyes and ears” on the ground to be your source. Share only reliable information that you gather from trusted sources. If EMTs tell you they have taken a specific number of victims to two hospitals, share that fact. They are a reliable source. Then call the hospitals or even better get your observers to those hospitals to gather the information for you. In advance, develop contacts with fire departments, police departments, EMTs and related emergency personnel. Be sure to get to know the public information officers at each of these departments. You will then be able to call on those contacts for reliable information.

  • Transmit accurate and verified information as quickly as possible.

Once you have reliable, verified and accurate information from trusted sources, get those messages out to all your stakeholders as quickly as possible. Use traditional and social media and your phone banks, email systems, SMS systems, all the venues you have decided upon and practiced in advance. In your preplanning and practice consider all the possible crisis or emergencies that could occur and outline your pre-determined responses. Each of these possible crisis or emergencies should have media holding statements pre-approved by top management and readily available for use in the first 15 minutes of the event. Adapt these messages as needed and using a traditional message map approach is recommended. If you have done a thorough risk assessment, this will facilitate the process. Plan and exercise (at least a table-top exercise) so that all the decision-makers will work with you in the release of information without any undue delay.

Dr. L. Darryl Armstrong is a crisis and emergency communications and management consultant. He can be reached at drdarryl@aol.com or 888-340-2206.

The lost art of listening – 10 steps to develop your skills

Several years ago, we started going to Tybee Island, Ga., a quaint, somewhat eccentric version of Key West, Fla., off the coast of Savannah. Over the years at Tybee, we have met quite a few characters, made quite a few friends and learned some lessons applicable to life and the business world.
Two Tybee people in particular have given me a great deal of understanding about being successful in business and life. I am proud to say that Mr. Vince and Jimbo are my friends.Mr. Vince and Jimbo (I have not changed their names to protect their innocence) worked in the same type of business for years — something akin to collections of medical payments, as I recall.

To meet these two fellows with their charming smiles, quiet Southern voices and twinkles in their eyes, you would not guess they were collectors of bills — maybe collectors of stories and songs, but not bills.The reality is that they did moonlight at one time as “singers” at a local establishment with their bartender friend, who could actually sing. They laughingly referred to themselves as The Overachievers. Yet, I digress.

What I learned from these folks just by being with them is the importance of listening. Despite their many experiences, they were eager to listen to others tell about their experiences.I have come to believe that listening is the most important communication skill available to us as business people. Few of us practice this skill effectively in business or our everyday lives.

I am sure Mr. Vince and Jimbo successfully used listening skills in customer service situations because they demonstrate this so well in their personal lives.

As a child, I was often reminded that a child was expected to be seen and not heard. These were the “early” days of developing my listening behavior.And frankly, I realized that I like to listen and watch people. I have learned a great deal about people by watching their behaviors and listening carefully to their stories and observing their nonverbal behaviors.I also have learned how to be more compassionate, empathetic and understanding by listening to people who have gone through, or about to go through, a tragic event in their lives.

Listening has helped me write eulogies to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on. Listening has helped me construct wedding vows that unite people in marriage.Listening has helped me deal with customers and clients who really don’t know what they need or want. These clients know they need some kind of help, but are unable to articulate exactly what that is.

By listening, I develop the necessary understanding of a situation so that I can help the client better understand what is really needed. When we listen to our clients, we are providing them with a much needed form of “therapy.”By listening carefully, I can work with angry customers. I demonstrate to them that I care about them and what they have to say.They help me to help them solve the problem.

To practice good listening there are 10 key points to remember.

1. Don’t assume you’ve heard the story before. The Earl of Chesterfield Phillip Stanhope once said, “Many a man would rather you heard his story than granted his request.” And, who knows, you may actually pick up on something you missed before.Every problem deserves to be heard through to the end. People want to be respected, and the greatest respect we can show them is to truly listen to what they have to say.

2. Don’t second guess the speaker.Nothing is more irritating than to begin talking and then have the listener jump into the middle of one of your sentences saying, “I know what you’re talking about.” This gives the speaker the impression you are in a hurry and just want to ease them out of the office or get them off the telephone.Even though you may be trying to empathize with them, you need to hear all of the information before commenting. And, more importantly, they need to be able to tell you all the information.

3. Suspend your judgment until you’ve heard the situation through to the end.

4. Take notes. Frequently someone who has a problem will tell you more than you need to know about a situation. It is important that you listen for the key facts, and taking notes can help you zero in on the real issues.

5. Be careful about giving off your own negative non-verbal signals as you listen.

6. Much of how we feel is often transmitted through facial expressions or the way in which we hold our body. Be as relaxed as you can be and keep your facial expressions and body movements noncommittal.

7. Be patient. It helps a customer to vent (remember, this is therapy for them) and gives you time to think.

The other day at the airport I was sitting and reading a business article and enjoying my coffee. A stranger sat down beside me. I acknowledged him non-verbally, and then he started talking and talking and talking.He talked for almost 10 minutes about a bad experience he had that morning at breakfast and the terrible service he had received. I listened intently.I learned that his name is George, and that he is a CEO of a major company in Atlanta. He gave me his card and I shared mine.

Finally, as his business companion approached, he said, “You know you would make a good therapist. Thanks for listening.”I told him I have a great deal of practice. You see a good facilitator is a better listener. And, one day, he may need a good facilitator.You never know.

As my grandfather always said, “God gave us two ears and one mouth.”

The next time your client or even a stranger needs to talk, take the time to listen.8. Don’t feel obligated to reply to every statement. Keep listening and only respond to the important points. Remember you can’t fix everything.

9. Listen to understand rather than spending the time mentally preparing your next remark.

10. Be sure to ask inviting and open-ended questions that can result in more informative answers. Then, recap what you heard and clarify any points you didn’t understand.

Listening is truly an art.Let’s not pretend we know it all.

Socrates said, “Wisest is he that knows he does not know” in 399 BC. It was true then and it is true now.We learn from those who have a story to share. We should not feel awkward listening to folks at all levels.

We first must learn — and listening is the first step — before we can teach. And even then, there is more to learn.

Justice for All

Justice for All

I will miss Corrine Whitehead and the spirit she brought to the debate of issues of importance to our region.

 

Memorialized in May this year at the Ramey Cemetery in Lyon County, the service was fitting for a woman who was a legend in her fight for issues related to social and environmental justice. Described as a fierce but gracious activist for western Kentucky, she was a regional heroine to many and her influence reached across our nation.

I first encountered her in the 1970s when Harl Barnett, the publisher of the Tribune-Courier asked me to do a feature profile on her. At that time, she was the impetus behind securing Hollywood actor Tom Ewell to assist in directing the production of “Babes in Toyland” at Ken Lake amphitheater.

I would encounter her over the next two decades – sometimes as an antagonist when I worked for the federal government, and later as a protagonist when I started my public engagement firm in the 1990s.

Antagonist or protagonist, Whitehead taught me much about the importance of getting people to the table and keeping them there to talk. It was said, from age 19 until she passed at age 94, that she was a stalwart and consistent force against injustices, be it in the arts, human rights, the environment, or the intrusiveness of government in a person’s rights granted under our Constitution.

I know this to be true because I had seen her hold her own with arrogant and recalcitrant government managers and corporate executives. However, for some reason, she never intimidated me, rather she caused me to reflect on the importance of keeping everyone at the table to talk through the problem and find a solution that was mutually acceptable. That principle would later be the basis for our public engagement practice.

Having been displaced from her childhood home by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), she became a fighting voice for families who had been there for generations.

During the ’70s, I helped her and the federal managers engage in dialogue on the matters of clear-cutting timber and maintaining access roads into cemeteries within Land Between the Lakes. In the ’80s, I assisted her in establishing a dialogue about the threat of invasive species and water, and air quality issues on Kentucky Lake and the Tennessee River. Moreover, in the mid-’80s, she outlined the dangers to the region’s infrastructure that could be wrought by an earthquake along the New Madrid fault.

Here is what you and I, as small business owners, and what government managers could learn from such an activist:

1. Listen to understand. I witnessed people who did not bother to listen carefully to the viewpoints, and at times, the demands, of Whitehead and her constituency. When someone brings us a problem, an issue or concern, even a question, it is incumbent on us to understand first what is being said or asked before we engage in the collaborative process of seeking a solution.

2. Passion will always trump bureaucracy. Few people, especially at the federal government level, believed Whitehead would change the process of eminent domain; however, representing approximately 5,000 families from Between the Rivers, she and her constituency argued for the right to a trial by jury regarding compensation for properties seized under the federal provision of eminent domain. The case stemmed from the seizure of land in Between the Rivers to create a national demonstration area in the 1960s. The Supreme Court sided with her argument for such a trial; unfortunately for the former residents, the ruling was not retroactive to the Between the Rivers’ complainants. Her passion for justice, combined with her research and analytical reasoning, demonstrated that the government’s project utilization and actual use (how many people would benefit vs. those displaced) were grossly overestimated. The project never achieved the 10 million visitors it projected for the first decade of operation nor has it ever. Passion for a cause and knowledge can overcome most any objection.

3. Know your opposition and their weaknesses. When it came to people’s health and the environment, she was at the tip of the spear. In the 1980s, Whitehead founded the Coalition for Health Concerns, a nonprofit group that advocated for environmental justice. She and her constituency fought to have LWD, a hazardous waste incinerator on the Tennessee River in Calvert City closed, and they were successful. They later advocated for compensation for workers whose health was impacted by their work at the US Department of Energy’s Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant; this was also a successful campaign. When people have been harmed, justice will prevail when persistence is applied, and you understand your opposition.

4. Vision is fraught with responsibility. The New Madrid earthquake of 1811-12 changed the course of the Mississippi River for a few days and formed Reelfoot Lake. In the 1980s, Whitehead’s research was primarily responsible for bringing public awareness of the earthquake vulnerability of the areas of western Kentucky and Tennessee and southeast Missouri. Agencies such as TVA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and DOE, along with the U.S. Geological Survey Service were persuaded to assist in addressing the emergency management requirements of the region. Vision requires those who have it to accept the responsibility to get things done.

In 1990 when we established Armstrong and Associates (www.ldarrylarmstrong.com), I received a facilitation contract for DOE for a series of public meetings in Kentucky and Tennessee.

At the initial session in Paducah, I saw Whitehead for the first time in several years. We greeted each other respectfully, and she seemed pleased when I explained that I had started our firm with the mission of engaging in collaboration, often between differing parties, that would lead to mutually agreeable outcomes. I am grateful I had the foresight to thank her that evening for what she had taught me and others about the need for dialogue and collaboration in the face of disagreement.

With a sly smile and a firm handshake, she looked me directly in the eye and with authority said, “And don’t you forget it.”

Whitehead was an example of what Dr. Margaret Meade, the great anthropologist, and sociologist once exclaimed, “Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world, indeed, it is the only thing that ever does.”

L. Darryl Armstrong is a crisis prevention and management consultant. He can be reached at 1-888-340-2006 or drdarryl@aol.com. His website is http://www.ldarrylarmstrong.com. He is available on a limited basis for speaking engagements and workshops.