How often have you been in the following situation?
Cassandra is a degreed engineer. According to her manager, she has “communication” problems.” “What kind of communication problems?” I asked.
“As the Project Manager, she goes into way too much detail, and it confuses the client.”
Tell me more, I said. “Well, I think the problem is Cassandra is afraid of being wrong or blamed for making a mistake, so she over communicates the solution. She rambles and needs to be more straightforward and concise in her communication. Cassandra has a brilliant career in front of her if we can fix her communication issues.”
This is a real situation. I didn’t make it up because I didn’t need to, it’s a common refrain and an interesting one to solve. So, let’s dig in.
But before we get started, guess how much time her manager believes is needed to effect change? A mere two hours. At best, it takes 6-8 weeks to develop new habits and skills. So right off the bat, we have a huge disconnect around what it takes to create significant change. Change takes time, and time costs money. This is why it is so important to understand how behavior impacts the business. Everything comes back to ROI.
To set the stage, let’s explore Cassandra’s backstory, as it is also important. This is her first job after completing her master’s degree. Unfortunately, academic language is not suited for the business world. Universities rarely do enough to equip graduates with the critical communication and people skills that are needed to be effective. She’s been conditioned to over communicate and justify every idea, thought and statement. This is a useful clue in her behavior at work.
Next, let’s look at the job she is being asked to do. What behaviors are needed to be successful in her current role? If the job could talk, what kind of person does it need to be successful? To solve this puzzle, let’s use the Predictive Index® Job Assessment to gain clarity. I want to know what the Manager thinks is needed. I also want to know what Cassandra believes is needed. Do they agree? In this case, both Cassandra and her manager believe the Project Manager role needs someone who will keep the project on track by guiding a team and proactively communicate confidence and competency to the client.
Next, I am going to look at her Predictive Index (PI) Behavioral Assessment results to see how well she fits the behaviors of the job. Her results provide the insight into why she communicates the way she does and how she is trying to compensate. This information is critical because we can all make missteps in situations that are not naturally suited to our behaviors. Behaviors are hardwired, we aren’t going to change her behavior. But we can teach her some skills and tactics to better adapt.
In Cassandra’s case, she is very high in formality. It’s in her DNA to do things exactly right, to never fail, to always be the expert. It’s a little too high for the job profile because our job profile needs someone who is comfortable with risk. Cassandra is not risk tolerant by any stretch of the imagination and never will be. Because of this, the worst thing that can happen in her day is to make a mistake or be blamed for making a mistake. She will worry about doing or saying the wrong thing.
So, there is the disconnect.
Cassandra does not want to make decisive decisions that could result in a mistake. It creates too much risk. And that is where we zero in and go to work. She also needs time to think through what she wants to communicate, being put on the spot doesn’t work well for her. She’s going to prefer putting things in writing. Checklists and agendas are wonderful tools for her. She needs to be mentally prepared for each meeting with her talking points clarified. She needs to work with her manager on how to handle questions and issues that arise where she doesn’t have immediate answers.
The lesson here is that innate behaviors typically do not change. If you are risk adverse, someone telling you to be more comfortable with risk will not change your perception of risk, most likely it will make you feel more uncomfortable. What is possible when we understand why someone communicates the way they do, is to reframe and develop a plan to build skills. I call this prescriptive coaching. It can’t be done in two hours, but it can be done. And it can be done faster with the right tools in your toolbox. Establishing a Job Target allows you to diagnosis the cause quickly and work toward a solution that has everyone’s best interests in mind.
If you would like to learn more about my process or to try The Predictive Index for yourself, contact me.