The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“How to Get Your Message Heard in Challenging Times“
May 18, 2020
Intro: Do you ever feel your direct reports and employees aren’t listening to you? Especially in a crisis? If you want people to really take note of what you’re saying and build a strong mutual trust and understanding where things get done, then my next guest has a gift for you. It all starts now.
Al Lopus: Welcome to another episode of the Flourishing Culture Podcast, where our goal is to equip and inspire you to build a flourishing workplace. As we all face today’s leadership challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe having a healthy culture is more important now than ever before. We are here to help you eliminate toxicity, improve your employees’ engagement, speed up new innovation, and grow your organization’s impact.
And before we meet our guest today, I urge you to subscribe to this podcast. As a result, you’ll receive our action guide. It’s our gift to help you lead your organization’s culture to the next level. To subscribe, simply go to bcwinstitute.org/podcast. Hit the Subscribe button, and receive our free action guide.
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And now, let’s meet today’s special guest.
Pam Marmon is the CEO of Marmon Consulting, a change-management consulting firm that provides strategy and execution services to help companies transform. I’ve known Pam for several years now and have a deep respect for her work. Here’s an interesting side note about Pam. She grew up in Bulgaria and moved to the U.S. in her youth, and it’s really taught her to be adaptable and resilient to change, which has certainly informed her calling to help organizations change, especially Christian-led organizations. Her book is No One’s Listening and It’s Your Fault: Get Your Message Heard During Organizational Transformation, which is really up our alley as we work with organizations to improve their cultures. Pam, welcome back to the Flourishing Culture Podcast.
Pam Marmon: It’s great to be here, Al. Thank you for having me again.
Al: This has been great, and I’m looking forward to talking about your book. Let’s start off with what really birthed the idea for your book to start with.
Pam: Yeah. So after leading large-organization transformations, both at Fortune 50 clients and also at smaller nonprofits and churches, I realized that there were many leaders who fear change. They faced resistance from employees, they lacked alignment within departments, and so as a result, getting those organizations to transform was a struggle. So what I wanted to do was shift that mindset, the mindset that change is hard. It’s very widely accepted by leaders. And when we believe that mindset, companies and leaders create stressful work environments, which, ultimately, affect our employees, our staff, our customers, and eventually that stress really begins to trickle down to families, to communities, and I wanted to change that. I believe that when leaders learn how to successfully lead transformations, it will change them; it will change their companies and will build healthy communities for everyone. And so that was the mark I wanted to leave in the world. I want to empower leaders to create a movement where with the proper process, change is not hard. That’s the message that I want to share with our listeners today.
Al: Boy, that’s great. And the book hasn’t been out that long, but it’s had great success, from what I’ve heard so far. So tell us about the launch and the success you’ve had so far.
Pam: Yeah. So my book No One’s Listening and It’s Your Fault was published on March 24, shortly after the pandemic hit. And it became an Amazon best seller and then was featured in Entrepreneur magazine as one of the top books to read during the coronavirus quarantine. And so I’m really delighted to hear that leaders around the world are applying the concepts that I teach in the book and adapting this positive mindset in regard to leading their organizations through change.
Al: What a timely release. I love the title. I mean, No One’s Listening and It’s Your Fault. I mean, what a great title for a communication book and a transformation book. Tell us, a little bit, the story behind the title, Pam.
Pam: So I actually said those exact words to a seasoned military leader, who was also my mentor. And in the book, I share the story about this frustration that my mentor expressed to me regarding a large effort that he was leading within his company. And so he was sharing communications, and there was lack of enthusiasm from within his team. And before I could catch my words, “no one’s listening, and it’s your fault,” pours out of me. We both sat there for, like, a few long seconds in silence. And I have to say, I was quite nervous because I can’t believe I actually said that out loud to him. But he smiled, and he allowed me to elaborate. And so to me, that was also a very pivotal moment in my life, to realize that there are great leaders in the world who want to do the right thing and get frustrated because of this lack of communication or broken communication within organizations.
Al: So to a military officer, you said, “No one’s listening, and it’s your fault, sir.”
Pam: Right. Oh, you should have seen my expression and his expression at that moment.
Al: That’s a great story.
So, what you’re unpacking here is all about what we really care about, what hundreds of BCWI ministry partners call healthy communication. That’s one of our eight drivers of employee engagement in Christian organizations. And in your mind, what are the three most significant barriers or reasons why people are not listening to their leader or, perhaps, even more than one leader at a time?
Pam: So the first one that I’d like to highlight is that it’s not the right message. Sometimes when me communicate, what we may encounter, you may be communicating a very complicated message that is disconnected with the overall message and the flow throughout the organization. So maybe your message is too vague, maybe it’s too detailed, maybe people are confused by what you’re asking them to do, and they ignore the message or, even worse, they may start to ignore you. So in other words, the story you’re telling doesn’t make sense in the context of the organizational environment. Maybe it’s fragmented or out of place, or maybe you failed to make that connection for people regarding the urgency or the action within the organization. That one I think is really important.
The second one, it may not be the right timing. And in the book, I talk about two different aspects of timing. The first timing is more about the message, and the second timing is more about the organization itself. If you’ve read Daniel Pink’s book When, in the book he talks about the importance of timing. So as I was reading that and doing my research when I was writing the book, it made me pause and think about when we send messages within an organization. And one thing that I advise all of my clients not to do is send important messages on a Friday afternoon or right around the time of a holiday, because the likelihood of that message actually being heard is quite low.
In terms of the organizational timing, if there are more significant changes taking place in your organization, your message will most likely get lost. The sequence of large transformational messages within an organization is very important, and we often fail to keep in mind the end receiver. So as much as you can, layer those messages with others, other projects, or other messages within your organization so that the end receiver has a cohesive story.
Also, I should highlight, if there are layoffs happening in your organization, or right now we’re recording this in the midst of a pandemic, those are very important messages that will most likely overshadow project messages or something that’s kind of layered below that.
And the third is you are not the right sender. Now, this may actually feel quite personal, and sometimes it is, but not always. According to extensive research done by a company called Prosci, employees expect to hear organizational vision message from the executive leaders, while they expect messages about the change and how it’s going to impact their day-to-day work to come from their direct manager. This may be a question of adequate position and authority, it may be a question of trust and respect. Regardless, who sends the message is as important as the message itself.
Al: I love this, Pam. So three problems. You may be sending the wrong message; maybe that’s not the right message. It may not be the right timing, and you may not be the right sender. There we go. Let’s get our attention right off the bat there.
Pam: I actually have two more bonuses for our listeners. If I may, number four, your organizational culture is dysfunctional. And I know that this is something that you care deeply about, and he’s led a lot of organizations through this process. But people in organizations may have lost trust with the executive leaders, and as a result, maybe they’re disengaged from their work. So inefficient communication is a symptom of that brokenness that oftentimes we see in organizations.
And then the last one: you haven’t told people what to do. So oftentimes, we send out messages, and we don’t have a call of action at the bottom or at the end or at the top, anywhere. And what happens is people are scanning for that content, and if they don’t see it, they are more likely to preserve brain power for more-pressing activities that require their action.
Al: Organizational culture could be dysfunctional. Well, we know all about that, and, even, toxic might be another word. And so when that’s the case, there’s no trust, and people aren’t listening, that’s for sure. And then, make sure you have a call to action. That’s great advice.
Now, you divide the book into four sections. What are the four? And give us your logic and thinking, why these four steps?
Pam: So the communication model that I share in the book uses this acronym LESS, which stands for Listen, Engage, Speak, and Solve. And as I started to write the book and to formulate the model, I realized that the bulk of the change-management activities are the beginning of a transformational initiative. A lot of them actually have to do with listening, to gather information. We are in tune with the organization. So Listen made a lot of sense.
Once the change strategy’s in place, that’s when we shift towards empowering people within the organization so the message can be carried further and deeper within departments and teams. So the focus here is on Engaging change champions and managers and giving them a voice and a platform, really. So this is all about Engaging.
The next step is Speaking, which is truly the essence of crafting a communication strategy, identifying the communication channels, drafting messages, sending them out into the organization.
And then the last step is Solving, which addresses gathering data, metrics, adjusting the communication approach to get that desired result. Solving also includes celebrating the accomplishments of the team, which should actually be done throughout the lifecycle of that work and the project, not just at the end.
Al: Great. Yeah. Four sections: LESS—Listen, Engage, Speaking, and Solve. Yeah, I love the four sections.
And one of the tools in your book is a template for a change-communication strategy, with eight specific steps. How about a practical illustration or a favorite story of maybe the first or last step or a critical turning-point step in between? Not necessarily all eight, but a couple of the key ones.
Pam: Yeah, absolutely. So the change-communication-strategy template is available for free on my website to our listeners. So anybody who wants to use it is welcome to it. It’s designed to help leaders align on the vision, and then get the results that they desire.
And I’ll share a story about a company I work with that was implementing a new operating model. At the beginning of their work, it was important for us to establish the vision and get that alignment within the departments to identify the desired goals that we were aiming for. Only then were we able to establish the cadence of how that journey was going to apply to all of those communication—the communication model that we were going to apply was going to look like—and really addressing the “what’s in it for me?” for the employee.
Now, fast forward to the last step, which is to measure the success of the work. We had identified criteria for success and used the new technology that they were implementing to track usage and adoption.
Al: We’re going to talk more about that, Pam. But in the meantime—you’ve mentioned it already—we’re in the middle of this global pandemic. We’re talking here on the 23rd of April, and we’re looking forward to maybe May 1st or soon thereafter, things beginning to open up. But if ever healthy, clear communication was important, it’s now, and it’s going to even increase in the next several weeks. Can you give us two or three of the most important communication items, including maybe a warning for us to be ready for or an absolute-must step that leaders need to know and practice during this challenging time?
Pam: Yes. So how we lead change today is quite different than under normal circumstances. And we do need to acknowledge that. Now more than ever, we need to lead with empathy and transparency. People are experiencing this emotional toll, and we need to be sensitive to the volume of change we try in our organization. So my advice to leaders is to identify the most-critical changes that need to take place, and then focus on those most important ones; meet people where they’re at, which for many of us, we are in survival mode; and then share compassion and empathy along the way.
Al: Boy, that’s really true. Compassion and empathy goes a long way when you’re communicating in a crisis. That’s what I’ve heard and understood.
I trust you’re enjoying our podcast today. We’ll be right back after an important word for leaders.
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Al: And now, back to today’s special guest.
Our podcast guests have repeatedly said there’s only one thing a person brings to their leadership, and that’s themselves. Do you agree with this? And if so, what communication tips should every leader have in his or her toolkit to help improve themselves so they can bring even a better person to their leadership?
Pam: I’m going to have to backtrack on this one, because I have been fascinated by leadership since I was a teenager. I studied it. I longed for it. I found myself in this change-management space, with very close proximity to leaders, and I took advantage to learn from them. After a decade of practicing change, my fascination with leadership morphed into my fascination with the employee. And if it wasn’t for the employee, there wouldn’t be a leader. And so I’ve become more of an advocate on behalf of the employees so that leaders can be successful.
It is true. I think leadership is all about authenticity, and authenticity begins in our hearts. It’s examining who we are as people, what our motives are, what behaviors are, and I think it’s about others. It’s about being real with people and understanding how others are experiencing the world because of your leadership. So while I do agree, I think we do bring ourselves, I also think we bring the voices of others. That’s our responsibility. And if we want to build healthy organizations and culture, I think that we owe that responsibility to our people. We’re in this together.
Al: We bring the voices of others, yeah. That’s right.
We’ve been focusing on individual leaders, but how about shifting to leadership teams? In our work with churches, parachurch, mission organizations, and Christian-led businesses, we often find that communication gets clogged up or buried just below the top leadership team. It oftentimes just hits roadblocks. What suggestions do you have for a leadership team tasked with carrying a message throughout an organization, regardless of the size?
Pam: Yes. So this has been my experience as well. It’s why I call middle managers the MVPs of an organization. When we properly engage managers in the conversations and communications, we truly empower them to speak. And we can overcome a lot of the barriers that organizations are experiencing. So when we exclude managers, I think that’s when we face the most resistance and frustration and miscommunications. And so this is where the most misaligned and missed opportunities to communicate happen. So my advice, really, would be to be as inclusive and as transparent with middle managers, recognizing that they have tangible connection to the frontline employees, and they themselves, as I call them, are the MVPs of the organization.
Al: That’s not going to happen unless it gets in the hearts of the managers, and then they can communicate it from there. Exactly.
And too, oftentimes my sense is, Pam, that the top leadership team doesn’t take the time to really get middle managers involved, even in the beginning of the change process. And so when it comes to the end, they’re not as bought into it. Is that your experience?
Pam: Yeah, it is. And there is this assumption that just because you’re a leader or you’re a manager, you would just not do it. And so we fail to recognize that before managers are managers, they’re also employees, and so they themselves have to go through this transformation into what we call the change curve, and including them early in the process really empowers them and gives them that ability to be the voice of the work that needs to happen, and also, they are championing the work to their employees. And so inclusion, to me, has always been the most logical way to approach the leading transformation and communications.
Al: This has been a great conversation. But before we go, I want to ask you about the need and the take-away advantage of measuring what matters in an organization. I’m all over measuring. That’s what we do, in a lot of ways. What are two or three suggestions for any leader who wants to measure the effectiveness of his or her communication? And this is one thing that I kind of scratch my head about. Yeah, how do I measure if my communication is effective or not?
Pam: Al, I share your enthusiasm for metrics. I absolutely love metrics. The most direct and obvious way to measure is to see the desired results. But when I, if I can backtrack, when I create metrics, I begin with a broader-change categories, which oftentimes improve communication, culture, engagement, leadership, oftentimes training, and ultimately adoption. Then, I consider where’s the data going to come from, which oftentimes comes from surveys or focus groups. Then, I establish the questions, and I stage them based on the project. So we are asking different questions of the duration of the project. And the idea here is that I would take a pulse of the organization several times, and I should see a positive progression. So once the dashboard is being created and I’m building the metrics and establishing all of that work, then we start to collect data, and then we start to adjust our approach and our communications based on what we’re seeing in the organization. I think, to me, that’s the most critical part, that we do it throughout the duration and not just at the end, when it may actually be too late. So no dashboard for me is ever the same. Honestly, working with different clients, everybody has a different culture, a different thing they want to measure, and so being very flexible in how we design and what we create I think is really key. What we measure, though, has to fit the organization because, as you know, culture is unique.
Al: So, Pam, I really appreciate all that we’ve talked about so far. And I bet you that you’ve got a favorite story or a case study that you could share with us about how some of these steps that you’ve talked about actually have been applied, and maybe some of the outcomes as a result.
Pam: Absolutely. I’ll share a story about a client of mine. It’s a church that I am working with, and they are transforming just their service and how they operate, and they want to bring a fresh, new perspective and a different sense of their culture. And so they engaged with me initially, and so we started to talk about, what will this change look like for them? So this is where the vision comes to play. And we solidified what that vision is, how we are going to journey together through that process. What does it look like? Who’s involved?
And then I began to do a readiness assessment, which is actually something I talk about in the book, which is this assessment to understand, is the organization prepared? What will get it prepared? Ultimately, what I’m looking for there is, what will make this change stick in this organization? And once we’ve identified that particular aspect of it, we created the change strategy and the change-management plans, put together the engagement plan for the key stakeholders. We identified the influencers in the church, and how do we tap into those influencers, and provided them talking points and discussions that they were going to have within the church with different groups and different people.
And then we began to execute communications that really played a major role in all of that, make people engaged, make them aware, making sure that the vision’s always at the forefront so that they knew this is why this change is taking place, and this is how we want to do it, and what we want to see. And as a result, measuring and tracking the progress along the way so that we knew whether we needed to pivot at any point of time.
Al: Wow. That’s a great story, Pam.
Well, we’ve really enjoyed all we’ve learned today. And I really love the five problems that we started off with, that maybe our communication isn’t working because it’s not the right message, or maybe not the right timing, or maybe we’re not the right sender, or we’re not communicating through the right sender, or maybe our culture is dysfunctional, and maybe there’s no call to action, so people don’t know exactly what to do. I mean, those are five really critical things. And I love the communication model, which is LESS, not more—Listen, Engage, Speak, and Solve. What a great framework to really help with any communication strategy that you’ve got. And I love the idea of really engaging leaders with authenticity and to be focused on others as they build a communication plan. So this has just been a great conversation.
How about, is there anything you’d like to add before we leave?
Pam: Yeah, so, Al, I want every leader to successfully lead change in their organization, especially in the Christian space. I truly believe that we as believers have the responsibility in our society and our culture to be at the forefront of transformation. I know that for many organizations, working with a consultant may not be feasible at this time, so I created several free resources, checklists, assessments. All of that is available for free on my website, at marmonconsulting.com. If this is an area where leaders want to grow, I want to make it accessible and move whatever financial barrier may exist or stand in the way.
Al: And I’ve looked at those resources, Pam, on marmonconsulting.com, and I’d really suggest that any of our listeners go, and they’ll find that to be very helpful.
Well, let’s put a bow on our interview, Pam. What’s one final thought or encouragement you’d like to leave with our listeners?
Pam: When we as leaders listen to what our people are saying, we can communicate organizational change in a way that will resonate with the receivers of the message, and it will last.
Al: I love that. Listening is two-way communication. That’s an important part.
Pam Marmon, CEO of Marmon Consulting and author of the book No One’s Listening and It’s Your Fault: Get Your Message Heard During Organizational Transformations, thanks so much for sharing your wisdom, insights, and stories, and thank you for investing yourself in everyone who’s been listening and benefiting from all you’ve shared with us today. Thanks, Pam.
Pam: Thank you, Al. It is my calling to help leaders transform their organization, and what a delightful calling it is for me. Thank you so much for having me as your guest.
Al: It’s been a pleasure.
Outro: Thank you for joining us on the Flourishing Culture Podcast and for investing this time in your workplace culture. If there’s a specific insight, story, or action step you’ve enjoyed, please share it with others so they can benefit, too. Please share this podcast with friends on social media, and show your support by rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen.
This program is copyrighted by the Best Christian Workplaces Institute. All rights reserved. Our writer is Mark Cutshall. Our social-media and marketing manager is Solape Osoba. Remember, a healthy workplace culture drives greater impact and growth for your organization. We’ll see you again soon on the Flourishing Culture Podcast.