Always Make Your Position Clear

Has it ever happened to you that you were approached by your subordinates (or even your boss) and after a discussion ended you were left wondering what the point was? One of the skills a senior leader should build is an ability to express his thoughts in a straightforward, easy to understand manner with clearly stated facts and points of view.

Imagine you come to the office and one of your employees comes to you and says “Jim just told me that CompanyX released a new product.” So? Is it great or bad release? Do we need to react? Why is he telling it to you? Or imagine that you sit on a meeting and someone brings up a topic to discuss “We have a big issue. Jim got a great offer from another company and resigned.” So? Why is it an issue? What should we do about it? Is it just that Jim is so indispensable? Or is it about us not being competitive on the job market anymore?

If an individual contributor comes with information like this it is fine as they are most likely not the ones to resolve it but if a leader and/or a manager makes this sort of statements then you have a problem. A manager who just provides the information without his opinion on what that means is essentially leaving all the work for you. He is just a proxy, a messenger. He did his part “informing” and if there is a problem later on he can always say “I told you so.”

What you should expect from leaders is not just gathering information and relating them to you but also forming opinions and coming up with solutions. The more senior they get the more important it is for them to learn this basic formula for communicating with other senior managers.

Context + Data + Opinion + Proposal = Actionable Information

Context – sometimes it may be necessary to provide a bit of context or “the big picture” to ensure that the actual data/information you want to provide makes sense. However, be very brief and very careful not to over-deliver. As I mentioned in What’s Your Point? you may get lost in providing too much context. Essentially you are providing “why” should we care about the rest.

Data – the actual information you wanted to deliver. Once again be as specific and succinct as possible

Opinion – what is your take on the news? Is it good or bad? What does it mean for the organization? Here you explain what is your position or at least how you understand the data you are providing.

Proposal – what do you propose we do with the information? Do we need to change something in our products? Do we need to change our compensation structure? Or do we just need to have a bigger discussion on the correct approach? Here you should give a proposal on the next steps.

If you follow all these steps you will come up with information that is actionable, information that allows the other participants of the discussion to know what you are saying, why you are saying it, and how you propose to approach it.

Let us go back to the examples from the beginning.

“Jim just told me that CompanyX released a new product,” could be transformed into something like this “CompanyX, the major player in our space [context] just released a new product with significant improvements of functionality [data]. A quick review showed me that it is significantly more powerful than our solution and may negatively impact our sales [opinion]. I suggest a quick survey of our customer base to understand what features are important for them and incorporate them in the next version of our product [proposal].”

Or

“We have a big issue. Jim got a great offer from another company and resigned,” can be communicated this way “To follow up on the compensation discussion from last week. We have already fifth person to resign this month [context]. I just learned that Jim got a significantly higher offer from another company [data]. Based on the trend I believe we need to speed up the compensation adjustments as we don’t seem to be competitive [opinion]. At the same time I plan to do a quick employee survey to make sure we are not missing some other reasons for the retention issues. [proposal]”

Remember, even though both words start with “m” manager shouldn’t be just a messenger. If you want to manage and lead others you need to be able to formulate your own opinion and provide a direction on how to deal with the information provided.

Twitter type summary: “A manager is not a messenger. Always provide Context, Data, Opinion and Proposal to deliver Actionable Information.”

What is your trick on communicating information with your senior management? What do you expect from your team when they communicate with you?

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