Archives for the month of: April, 2011

New research posted on Harvard Business School’s website offers insight on communicating and working more effectively — even when you’re a manager lacking direct control over a project.

Managers who communicate persistently and redundantly, on purpose, move projects forward more quickly and smoothly than those who don’t. The frequency of the messages matters most, according to the study by Tsedal Neeley, assistant professor at Harvard Business School, and Northwestern University’s Paul M. Leonardi and Elizabeth M. Gerber.

Power plays a big role in how managers under pressure communicate:

“Those without power were much more strategic, much more thoughtful about greasing the wheel,” Neeley says, to get buy-in and reinforce the urgency of the previous communication. “Managers without authority enroll others to make sense of an issue together and go for a solution.”

And, Neeley notes, “a lack of direct power is common in companies today because so many people work on teams that form and disband on a project-by-project basis. Yet team leaders are still on the hook to achieve their business imperatives despite this absence of authority.”

Some other strong messages to take away from the study?

  • Project managers lacking direct authority work harder at communicating, enlisting support from team members. They time first and second messages close together, typically starting with a phone call or face-to-face meeting followed up by an e-mail.
  • Managers with power delay communication, typically sending an e-mail, assuming it’s enough to pressure employees to do the job—only to find themselves later scrambling to do damage control.
  • Managers with and without power met deadlines and budget goals with the same frequency, regardless of communication strategy. But managers without power got employees to move more quickly, with less mop up needed.

Organization Science will publish How Managers Use Multiple Media: Discrepant Events, Power and Timing in Redundant Communication

When something hard looks hard, we know it’s hard. Clues betray it: Sweat drips. Muscles shake from fatigue. A lip juts out in concentration.

When something hard looks easy, it can fool us into thinking it is.

It’s likely the person we’re watching has poured so much effort, practice and work into mastering the activity, it really has become smoother to do. But that doesn’t take away the dogged persistence invested to perfect the talent. Think of an accomplished teacher, the novelist who carries us to other lands or dancer who floats. Mastering those skills might make them look easy. But getting there demanded grit and guts. (That’s why overnight success rarely is.)

Hard-won skills make some things look simple. But simple is earned. And simple is hard.

A dozen Kent State University public relations graduate students welcomed me yesterday to class. And I relayed things I wish someone had told me about life in the working world before I joined its ranks.

One of those things? That failure is not only okay, it’s essential. Jessica Scheve blogged about what she took away from the session.

Here’s my take on failures: Depending on how well you mop them up, some mistakes can turn into valuable life-long lessons.

Exhibit A, I confessed to the class led by Gene Sasso, was a story I wrote almost 20 years ago, drawn from a speech delivered by an important regulator in Washington, D.C.

The remarks were news only because of his prominence. I knew that. And the regulator wasn’t new to me. I had covered his speeches before. Not sure what seeded my complacency. But the blooper was a doozy: I attributed this newsmaker’s comments to a prominent colleague at the same agency whose last name began with the same consonant.

Even now, I don’t know how it happened. What I learned that day, however, was to always care about the details. Triple check the names. Proofread before sending — then proof again. Eyeball the grand total. Verify the date.

Because when you get it right, some people will notice, but when you get it wrong, everyone will.

Big picture impact happens only if the details are just so.


Words pull, sway, show, move, touch…watch and see