24 hour news cycle
“The ACNielsen poll conducted for The Age has Julia Gillard polling at an all-time low.”
“Tony Abbott has a problem with women.”
“David Jones’ strategy was doomed from the start”
The 24 hour news cycle led by opinion pieces dressed up as news and shock jocks seeking to shock rather than inform or reflect, is not a place for the faint-hearted.
Leadership needs to be of a quality that is insistent, persistent and consistent to cut through the daily babble of reframing issues to dress them as conflict and seeking of opinions to confirm the reframing.
In order to be seen as insistent, persistent and consistent, it is my observation that leaders take one of three routes.
They concentrate either on process, policy or vision and to be sure sometimes a combination of all three when it suits them.
It is also my observation that only one route works with low incidence of failure and that is having a vision to communicate to your intended followers.
For an example of a leader who concentrates on process, we need look no further than our current Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. The Prime Minister peppers her speeches to parliament, citizens and her backbench alike with key words such as accountability, transparency and integrity. She has stated on many occasions that diligence and good processes will deliver good government. She has declared that she is not for turning and that no matter how negative Tony Abbott’s attacks become, she will persevere with what she knows is right. The Prime Minister concentrates on process as the 24 hour news cycle relentlessly looks for headlines.
Ted Ballieu, Premier of Victoria on the other hand, appears to be concentrating on policy. He and his government do not communicate much to the Victorian public. His government has, however, been busy churning out policy change after policy change from that of the previous government and even the government’s pre-election promises. The Premier’s web page lists ten pages of implemented policies covering areas ranging from the economy and state finances, a particular focus, to aboriginal affairs. The Premier almost ignores the 24 hour news cycle in favour of churning out policy decisions.
Neither of these leaders, however, have made a connection with the public. In the Prime Minister’s case the connection is so poor that she gets no credit for an economy with numbers during a global economic crisis that Peter Costello and John Howard would have been proud of in what were considered to be global economic halcyon times. Neither of these leaders have told us what kind of world Australia will be like to live in as a result of the concentration on process or policy. To make that connection they do need to have the “Vision thing”. They need to paint the picture of what it is like to live in Julia’s Australia and Ted’s Victoria.
Paul Keating was a leader who communicated the vision he had for Australia, its challenges and opportunities. In his speeches he communicated what the outcome of policies and process would be and why he believed those outcomes would be for the benefit of Australians. The policies and processes were a means to get to the outcome he painted, not an end in their own right. Policies and process could change, even be reversed, but the vision would not.
What is a vision?
So what is this “Vision thing”?
If communicating a vision is the means by which you can be seen to be insistent, persistent and consistent and provide leadership to your people what is it that you have to communicate and how?
State of being
A vision is a state of being. In communicating a vision, listeners should be able to visualise what life is like. They should be able to visualise the transactional dimensions as well as the emotional dimensions.
Technically, it is written in the present tense, not future tense. It should describe what you will feel, hear, think, say and do as if you had reached your vision now.
It describes an outcome, the best outcome you can achieve. It does not confuse vision with the business goal and objectives for a particular period of time. A vision statement, therefore, does not provide numeric measures of success.
It helps build a picture, the same picture, in people’s minds.
Connects with its audience
It evokes emotion. It is obviously and unashamedly passionate. However, it separates the hard aspect of vision in what we see, hear and do from the soft aspect of vision in what we think and feel.
It is in the language of the intended audience. It uses unequivocal language. It does not use business speak or words like maximise or minimise.
Translatable to action
It is translatable into action by those who read it or hear it and have a responsibility for its achievement.
So what does that mean for me as a leader?
Your own 24 hour news cycle
We are not all subject, as our more public leaders are, to the demands of the 24 hour news cycle. You are exposed, however, to the daily and weekly requirements of communicating with your teams. The modern trend of immediate and constant gratification when it comes to communication has found its way into mainstream business. Generation Y, in particular, have been identified with needs including but not limited to:
- Thriving on immediate feedback, so leaders need to keep them up to speed on their own and the company’s progress
- Being idealistic, hence they have expectations of communications which may be unrealistic
- Lacking confidence in their ability to succeed and as such need more nurturing.
In addition, many of your people from all generations will distort and reframe your messages to meet their own prejudices and fill in the gaps in communication with opinion dressed up as the truth.
Creating a vision allows you to concentrate on a future goal and being able to change policies and processes as needed, following a path of continuous improvement towards the vision. It allows you to be consistent in your messages and provides a platform from which you can be persistent and insistent about the actions your employees take and the way they behave. This creates a clear sense of purpose for your employees.
Creating a vision
If your business appears to be pretty much everything to everyone and is built upon taking diverse opportunities as they come along, then you will find it difficult to create a vision. To help clients having difficulty in creating a vision, I find it useful to use an analogy. The analogy I use is for them to think about what they want their children to be when they are grown up. To think about what their children do, what their values are like, what they want to achieve and how they behave. Try using this analogy to create your own vision for your business.
Communicating to your employees
In communicating with your employees, it is important that you use multiple channels to communicate for two reasons:
- To allow employees to self-select the channel that they prefer
- To reinforce messages through individual employees non-preferred channels.
In the environment of expectations built around the 24 hour news cycle, the channels you choose will need to include social media channels that provide instant feedback from you to your team and from your team to you.
When using face-to-face channels, create your messages formally but deliver them with passion. Use your tone and pace of voice to create the appropriate emotion of your message. Don’t fall into the trap of our current leaders of divorcing themselves from communicating what they are passionate about by using a monotone delivery. It bores people and evokes a sense of disinterest in the topic and the audience when repeated endlessly.
Use words, fonts, colours and images that convey the facts and emotions when you are using disassociated channels.
Design your messages with objectives of what you would like your audience to feel, then think and then do.
Measure your ability to communicate. The responsibility of what the audience actually hears is the communicator’s alone.
Measurement should include but not be limited to:
- What channel they heard the message through
- What the message was that they heard
- What they felt about the message, how relevant it was to them
- The appropriateness of the frequency of the message
- What they thought about the message
- What actions they have taken.
Measurement may be completed by using surveys, asking your managers to seek informal feedback or setting up formal feedback sessions.
Adjust the content of your message and variables such as channel, frequency, presenter, style and tone based on the feedback you receive by your measurement activities.
Don’t be afraid to make changes if your messages are not getting through and don’t lay the “blame” for not “getting it” at the feet of the receivers of your communication. Take responsibility for making changes necessary for all of your team to understand your vision and their role in it.
The 24 hour news cycle has made life difficult for our political leaders who cannot communicate their vision for their community. The expectations of rapid feedback characteristic of the public news cycle and the desire to distort and reframe to make headlines are now flowing into general business. To survive your own 24 hour cycle, create a vision for your business and communicate it relentlessly.