When Coaches Communicate

DO NOT BE surprised if you find a sports coach attending your next annual meeting or sales conference. It has become common for leading companies to invite successful coaches to give motivational speeches on leadership.

If you think about it, the principles of leadership and team building are the same, whether on the sports field or in the boardroom. The vocabulary – competition, winning tactics, team spirit and motivation – is virtually interchangeable.

Coaches and business leaders must have the skills to get the best out of people and resources. To do that, they have to create a shared sense of purpose, a vision that everyone can aspire to and have the values they can believe in.

Think about your organisation. Are the essential elements that help a team win a championship in place? Does everyone act upon these elements effectively? Or, are individuals unaware of what they must do to contribute to the company? Is there a feeling that some departments are isolated, while others lack the tools and training they need?

If everyone in the company is not working towards the same goals, the problem is almost certainly a lack of communication from management. After all, communication is what ensures that intentions, behaviour and action are aligned.

Some companies go to extremes when it comes to communicating. On one hand, they produce endless newsletters, paste bulletins on notice boards, send emails about routine matters to everyone on the internal distribution list, and spend hours on long conference calls. While the intention may be good, the sheer information overload is counterproductive. Employees start ignoring messages and feel their time is being wasted.

On the other hand, there are companies in which leaders run their own version of the “need to know” system. They believe instructions are the best form of communication and think a few off-the-cuff remarks at the staff party or annual dinner are all it takes to guarantee morale for the next 12 months.

Obviously, extremes are not the answer. Here are seven recommended steps to help leaders communicate with maximum effect and ensure the rest of the organisation is in tune with their ideas.

Explain vision and values
Employees need to know where the company stands. They need to know where it is headed and why. They must know what needs to be done to achieve the company’s goals, and which methods to use. The answers to these questions give people a reason to come to work every day – other than their monthly paycheque. Remember that a recitation of data or target figures for new customers, revenue, profit or return on investment is definitely not a vision. Employees want to understand what the future holds for them, what it will mean to work for a market leader and how they can contribute to positive change.

Share the strategy and plans
It is not enough to tell your team where you intend to lead them. They also need to know exactly what you expect of them and how their contribution will fit into the overall plan. Therefore, clearly spell out the strategy, business imperatives and required action. Preferably, do this in face-to-face meetings and, if necessary, send it in writing. Once you have done that, step back and let the team get on with the job.

Develop future leaders
Provide learning opportunities for managers at all levels. They are, after all, the future leaders of the organisation. Most companies are good at training people in the relevant technical skills, but often overlook softer skills such as relationship building, influencing and negotiating. This is a mistake since about 90 percent of a leader’s role is related to communication skills. Arrange courses to teach such skills because they make a significant difference to performance.

Put champions in place
Identify individuals in various departments who can help introduce new ideas and changes. Some people are natural influences, and colleagues look to them for advice and guidance. Recognise this and take the time to involve them in general discussions about the company and the work environment, so they can pass information on to the team and provide you with valuable feedback. Do not do this covertly; instead acknowledge their role and show that you regard it as important.

Anticipate the questions
It is best to deliver an important message face to face. When doing so, consider in advance what questions are likely to come up and be ready to address them. Be prepared with the necessary data to back up your answers if the subject is particularly difficult or controversial.

Start engagement programmes
Initiate a scheme to ensure every employee understands the company’s vision, values and strategies. Make this relevant for each person and use the programme to create a stronger, more united team that pulls together for the greater good. As a leader, your job is to make everyone feel important so that they want to stick with you.

Measure and adjust
If you have resolved to make good communication a priority, then you must also check that the intended message is getting across in the way you want it to. If it is not, there will be no change in the team’s attitude or behaviour. Ask for regular feedback, and put in place a system to assess responses and the speed with which new plans are being implemented. If you meet resistance or find that things are not working out as intended, listen to advice and modify your strategy. Even leaders are fallible.

By following these steps, you will be well on the way to developing a motivated and productive team that will work successfully towards clearly understood common objectives.

If you are unsure where to start, consider volunteering for a stint as a part-time rugby coach or training the firm’s football team. After leading a couple of sessions, you will know what teamwork and communication are all about.

TIPS TO WIN

Vivid Description
Most effective leaders are capable of describing, in vivid terms, what the future holds for their teams. However, speaking passionately about the subject is easier than making the team members visualise the future and letting them see where they fit in. So do not expect to inspire people with an announcement that the company’s volume of online orders and product delivery will hit record volumes next year. Instead, say that the company aims to be No 1 in the region; it will invest in three new factories; it is in discussions with bankers about an IPO (initial public offering) and plans to introduce performance-related bonuses this year. Discussing such things is motivational and gives everyone in your team something to work for. Also, do not use jargon that is not appropriate for conveying a vision.

Three Parts
Effective communication has three parts to it; a clear beginning, middle and end. This applies whether you are making a presentation to an audience of one or 1,000. First, make sure the audience is ready to listen and there are no obvious distractions. Then, say what you have to. Finally, once you have covered all the major points, summarise, conclude and answer any questions that come up.

Structured Speech
To deliver a message well, follow a logical structure that the audience can understand easily. One such structure is to go from the key message, which is the main idea or the inspirational part of your speech, to the point that explains exactly why it is important. Then, round off with the benefit, which shows how the key message will bring about a positive outcome for those involved. This basic format can be used for the whole speech and for dealing with individuals points. For example, if someone expresses doubt or cynicism about one of your proposals, you could say: “I understand your concern, but if we do things this way, we can serve customers better and consistently exceed their expectations. The point is, we will make it easier for them to do business with our company, which will increase our retention rates and create further opportunities. If we do manage to do this, it will help you achieve your sales targets.”

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