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‹ View all articles31st May 2019

The three BIG challenges for leaders communicating in a VUCA world

Leadership Communications

Driverless cars. Robots performing life-saving surgery. Alexa, Siri and Google poised to answer our every whim……
 
Advances in technology continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible and have revolutionised the way we work, communicate, and even date with each other.
 
Add to the technology revolution, factors such as economic and political uncertainty, globalisation and climate change – and it’s a recipe for a very challenging business environment.  We’re told we’re in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous). We’re told that business leaders need to not only keep up with the pace of change but predict what’s coming next.  
 
We’re told there are implications for jobs, businesses and society. And that no industry will remain unchanged.
 
From Ginger’s vantage point working with leaders across the whole industry spectrum, this time of change throws up three major challenges for how leaders behave and communicate.

Here’s what we’re learning:

1)   Goldfish & The Attention Economy
 

The explosion of information has been chipping away at one of our most precious human resources - our attention.
 
In an always-connected society, we receive five times as much information as we did in 1986 – the equivalent of at least 174 newspapers of data a day. Yikes! It’s no wonder our attention has become such a scarce commodity.

Since Microsoft first declared we now have shorter attention spans than goldfish, the debate has been raging on about whether this is true. Is our attention narrowing, or are we just getting better at filtering what we pay attention to?
 
Either way, there’s fierce competition for people’s time and focus. And when there’s only so much attention to go around, you’ve really got to stand out from the crowd to make people take notice.

As leaders, we need to change the way we communicate to cut through the noise and connect with our staff, clients and others on a different level.
 
The solution – precision communication: wield the spear, not the frying pan
 
Imagine you have two warriors, one armed with a spear, the other armed with a frying pan.
 
Who’s going to be the most effective in battle? Most leaders wield frying pans in their communications. Their meetings or talks are unfocused, waffle-driven, PowerPoint-orientated time-fillers. Rather than having a laser precision idea piercing their brains, the audience is left at best sagely nodding along, pretending to understand, and at worst, more confused than before they started.
 
Leaders rarely spend enough time asking the simplest questions: what’s the ONE priority here? (yes, linguistically speaking, there can only ever be ONE priority) and precisely what do I want to communicate?
 
Contrast that to TED-style speaking, which encourages you to focus on just one ‘idea worth spreading’. This is the spear.
 
Leaders need to look for communication precision that matches that sharp spear point - to deliver maximum impact in a short space of time, carefully targeted to hit the bullseye with the audience. This is what has value in the Attention Economy.
 
If you’re interested in how to do this, ask us about our TED-style speaker training.

2)     Technology interrupts human-to-human interaction
 

Advances in technology have completely changed the way we interact with each other. It’s now so easy to communicate with people across the world online, by text, email, video, or mobile app, that we’re arguably more connected than ever to our fellow human beings.
 
But what’s happening to ‘real’ conversations? And does it matter if technology is redefining human communication?
 
Report after report tells us we’re losing the art of conversation. And experts highlight the link between technology and worrying trends in terms of language and social isolation.
 

  • around a third of people say they feel either cut off or lost without the internet
  • 54% admit that connected devices interrupt face-to-face conversations with friends and family

Survey by Ofcom

In another survey, UK adults said the rise of technology means they have fewer personal face-to-face conversations than they did five years ago. And 1 in 10 people said they have gone longer than three whole days without face-to-face interaction with another person. That’s pretty worrying right?
 
Nowhere is this more apparent than with Millennials who admit to interacting more with their phones than actual people in their lives. Perhaps your junior team members are scared to pick up the phone, or come to see you in person? Perhaps you’re already seeing the effect that has on client relations.
 
The solution – real people communication
 
Face-to-face connection remains critical to building business relationships and is still the most productive and powerful form of communication.
 
According to Harvard research, face-to-face requests are 34 times more likely to get positive responses than emails. That’s huge. This is especially true when delivering an important message.
 
Consider the difference in morale for a division that’s told by email that there will be redundancies, versus a meeting where the same message is delivered by a real person?
 
Consider a new initiative launched by email from up on high, versus one that’s explained in person.
 
Consider the impact on asking your boss, human-to-human for that next career opportunity.
 
Human is the key here. No messaging app, communication technology or sophisticated chat-bot can look you in the eye with essential nuances of tone, emotion and body language. If you’ve ever encountered one of those human-sized projections telling you what to do at an airport, you’ll know how easy it is to ignore them.

Those uniquely human qualities of empathy, vulnerability and authenticity are irreplaceably powerful drivers of influence and inspiration. Human leaders build trust and inspire above-and-beyond followership.
 
The robots are coming and being human remains our competitive advantage.
 
Our Leadership Communications programmes help leaders build confidence in their natural human brilliance and help them communicate from there. Ask us if you’d like to know more.

3)  Monobrain (otherwise known as Groupthink or Echo-chambers)

For a long time, the way of the corporate world has been to gain alignment of thinking in the boardroom – setting the mindset for the rest of the organisation.
 
While this is a great strategy for fast decision making, ‘Corporate Groupthink’ (or ‘monobrain’ as I lovingly call it) creates a major risk of poor decision making, especially in a VUCA world. When we persistently and insistently think in only one way, we are the definition of bigoted. And this poses a huge risk to the future of our companies and beyond.

Monobrain has contributed to major social, economic and environmental problems such as the sub-prime mortgage crisis, the reliance on single-use plastics across retail, or health-threatening cultures of zero work-life balance; as well as crises within specific companies, from Volkswagen to Swiss Air.
 
And monobrain is now magnified online, particularly on social media where it’s common to jump on bandwagons without hesitation or critical thinking.
 
The solution – genuine diversity of thought
 
Now more than ever, leaders and their teams need the space to think differently so that decisions are based on a range of diverse, critically minded perspectives.

We need to expand our ambition when it comes to diversity. It’s not enough to simply create a rainbow boardroom (this, funnily enough, can be the diversity agenda falling foul to monobrain), decision makers need to have critical thinking and bravery in their communication.
 
Companies and society need to welcome genuine diversity of thought, opinions and ideas as well as pressing for greater diversity across gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, beliefs etc.
 
That means organisations giving employees at all levels a voice AND listening to them. It means listening to and debating with people who have challenging perspectives to strengthen our corporate thinking (rather than sacking them). It also means individuals finding their voice and being supported to have the confidence to speak up.
 
Ginger’s public speaking training empowers individuals’ voices at all levels of the corporate hierarchy, where historically it was only the very top who were ‘allowed’ to have a voice. We work with talent at all levels to develop and communicate their thought leadership – essential for harnessing the power of your people in a VUCA world.

In summary:

  • Meet the demands of the Attention Economy by wielding the spear, not the frying pan in your communications.
  • Prioritise human communication over digital, however technically advanced we become.
  • Combat ‘monobrain’ by encouraging genuine diversity of thought.

Human beings hold the competitive advantage of the future

While investing in innovative technology makes sound business sense, your greatest asset is right before your eyes.

Human interaction is far more powerful than any other form of communication, but it requires renewed focus to address modern-day challenges. We need to empower people to have the confidence to speak up and the impact to influence. We need to prioritise time for face-to-face contact and critical thinking. And we need to create opportunities for diverse ideas and opinions to fuel business decisions.

If you’d like to find out more about how we can support you to develop your human competitive advantage, please get in touch.

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