Dear HR Executive:
Just read a really interesting book called "The It Factor" by Mark Wiskup. The "It" is the rare but learn-able ability to connect with people and thereby influence them. A nifty topic for HR execs trying to gain influence and bust into the boardroom.
There was one section of the book that really stuck with me after I put it down. Wiskup points out that people who have "It" don't command a room or lock in the attention of senior executives simply because they're charming or manipulative, but because they have SUBSTANCE -- they do their homework and know what they're talking about before they open their mouths. The people we tend to tune out are those we perceive as lacking substance -- they obviously haven't done their homework and haven't prepared as well before they speak. Here's the gist of Wiskup's explanation for why we tune these people out (I'm paraphrasing):
People who lack authority have a "little voice" in their heads that says, "What I'm about to say is really great because it's coming from ME. I'm a really smart, insightful person and my words are precious." All of us have heard this little voice to some degree and it's our parents' fault. When as infants we uttered our first word mommy and daddy applauded. We took our first step and they called all our relatives and gushed about our accomplishment. We scrawled a picture on a piece of paper and our parents rejoiced as if we were Picasso. And so on. What this does is set in motion a series of deeply ingrained -- and highly unrealistic -- expectations about how the world is supposed to respond to us.
Have you ever tried to "wing it" and fallen flat on your face? Or seen someone else do the same? That's the little voice at work. Do you know employees who think you should appreciate the fact they they merely showed up? Again, that's the Mommy and Daddy voice, which expects the company to treat them as a besotted parent would.
Now, some lucky people don't hear that little voice so much anymore. At some point in their lives they met an authority figure who wasn't impressed with them. Maybe it was a teacher in fifth grade who told them their essay didn't meet her standards. Or a high school athletic coach who pushed them to see the difference between mediocrity and excellence. Or a boss who was dedicated to motivating lazy, complacent employees to become real performers.
This painful experience was, of course, the best thing that ever happened to them. They learned something their parents never taught them -- that the real world is competitive, and you've got to be good to succeed. When it comes to communication, we all need to understand that there's incredible competition to be heard, and if you want people to listen, you need to put a lot of work into how you're going to connect with them.
Wiskup tells a great story that every HR executive should take a heart. I'll paraphrase again:
The day before a big meeting an executive comes up with a brilliant strategic idea that will attract a whole new customer base and make him a star. At the meeting he proposes his idea and sees heads nodding affirmatively. They LIKED his idea! He walks out thinking, "I can't believe how easy that was. I got buy-in from the three key people I really need to make my idea work. They all agreed to take specific actions to get this thing rolling." But a week later, one key person said she looked at the numbers and could no longer support the idea. A second key person forgot to do what he was supposed to do. And a third, a lower-level employee, said he was swamped and couldn't get the project any higher on his priority list.
What happened? The guy got tricked by the Mommy and Daddy voice, which was telling him, "Your ideas are stunning. You don't need to go through the hard work of building connections, or of SHOWING others the value of the plan. Why, you're you, after all ... just TELL people and everyone will love your plan."
Wiskup concludes that the executive "should have had the patience to wait until he was ready to properly unveil his brilliant idea, because even great ideas are meaningless when you don't launch them with fresh and powerful connections, even with those you know very well."
Kind of a harsh message, isn't it? But it's compelling. Hopefully it will motivate us all to do our homework before opening our mouths, even around Mommy and Daddy.