Leadership

220-year-old leadership tool still very effective

Feeling short on the resources necessary to improve your results? Here's a time-tested tactic that John McKee recommends.

 Once a year, the U.S. President sets aside time to talk to the country's stakeholders. He talks about the nation's current situation, reasons behind it, and the outlook going forward.

Do you give your team the same benefit? If not, you're missing a great opportunity to significantly improve things in your organization.

Since America's first State of the Union Address, back in 1790, this event has occurred every year. It serves several purposes. Some are purely political and some are informational. It allows the head of state to help others -- without the benefit of his perspective -- to understand what has been going on and why. He will use it to share his vision of how things are going to change in the future. That's important at all times but particularly so in a demanding period. And, because the President presents this information to the collective members of the House and Senate, together with the Judiciary, he uses the forum as an opportunity to try to enlist the support of others who may be otherwise inclined.

Compare this communication approach to methods and manners of most other organizations. How about your own organization or business: Do you give your team the same benefits? Many places use a similar approach, but too few are taking advantage of it.

In effective organizations, the team's members at all levels, in all locations, know: 1. How we got here -- They understand your perspective regarding the reasons behind what's been going on.  They get to hear the boss talk about things like the economy, the industry, and the company's actions or problems.  In many cases, they may have had misunderstandings or heard negative opinions that were unfounded. As human beings, and as members of a team, we appreciate being treated like adults and given a better understanding from someone who sees the situation from a perspective that's different from our own. 2. What's the outlook -- The team benefits from hearing that the company, or you in particular, has a solid understanding of what's going to change and how long you think it's going to take. They hear about plans and actions to deal with the expected situation. This provides two key benefits: By providing information it encourages them to join the plan and encourage its success. Additionally, after hearing your assessment about where the company is going, new ideas -- from a lot of brainpower -- and actions from a lot of horsepower can be aroused. Even you may have overlooked something. 3. Helps overcome roadblocks -- Many great programs arrive stillborn. That may have nothing to do with how good they are or the cost/benefit ratios. It may be entirely political, i.e.,  someone simply may not want to see it succeed and those people will do whatever can be done to ensure the new program fails. This is an often-overlooked benefit for having this kind of meeting: when the leader goes directly to those people, he increases the prospects of having support from all sides. Or at least reducing the chances of being broadsided. Now think about your company, your department, and your direct team:

Does everyone really know how things are going? The big picture, the reasons, the nitty gritty -- all of it. If not, you have a great opportunity to make immediate improvement.

Regardless of the size of an organization, be it a three-person team or an immense bureaucracy like the U.S. government, this approach will improve results. If your organization is spread far and wide, it even works better.  Put it into place now.

Your state of the nation (or state of the company, state of the department, state of the store, etc.) should address the three key topics each time. It should update on results from plans discussed at the last meeting. It should be as short as possible while leaving an opportunity for comments and suggestions. The comments and suggestions aspect is very important. You may hear ideas in this open forum that otherwise may not get to you.

I suggest these meetings be done monthly. There are twelve months in a year. Twelve opportunities to make meaningful corrections or additions to any plan. All of which increases the likelihood of your success.

The best companies I work with use this approach. Not enough do. It works. Give it a try. And let me know what happens.

Here's to Your Success!

john

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

13 comments
Fregeus
Fregeus

The carrot and the stick. If you want the carrot, endure the stick! Leadership is lacking somewhere in the chain of command. If leadership is so important and present at higher up management level, why does it so often never reach the workers level? TCB

jck
jck

Manage often tends to take the stick and shove it somewhere. :^0 You can't get anywhere without the stick being usable. ;)

gcl
gcl

The United States of America is a union, not a nation. That is why it is called the "State of the Union" address and not the "State of the Nation" address. The States are the nations, the United States is their international representative. This is why there is a United States congress and the states do not have a congress, they have legislatures. Note that all States have a Secretary of State office, an international office.

Eoghan
Eoghan

The message is always good to hear, but sitting in a conference room for 2 hours so that someone can meet their MBO objectives is meaningless. With today's technology, the message should be online, to view when wanted.

alistair.k
alistair.k

Our CEO does something very similar. There is a one off company conference with CEO address as the headline "act", then those of us in the management team get 3 or 4 meetings a year where we all congregate and the CEO does the State of The Company thing, we percolate this down to our teams via our regular team meetings. Once or twice a year the CEO will come to our team meeting to share the vision and take questions on the roadmap. All of the above really does work to keep morale high, disinformation low... Like the TV ads say, "I endorse this message."

RaviBD
RaviBD

Hi John, Excellent explanation... I would like to discuss my personal thought here.. As you stated the 'state of the organization' meeting would be the one revealing all companies proven strategies and revealing the companies futuristic action plans to all of the team? How many in the company would be exposing/commenting/criticizing the company at the first meeting ? Could conduct a confidential survey or feedback session on 'state of the organization' meet for all team? rather they would not wish disclosing their thoughts straight to the management and how to overcome the negative feedbacks on the companies approach? -Ravi

zackers
zackers

The State of the Union speech didn't really exist until Wilson. Until then it was a document hand-delivered to the Speaker and the Senate President (the VP), which the President still does at the beginning of the speech. Frankly, not having it turn into a multi-media event designed as a campaigning event was a lot better. Most state-of-the-company speeches I've attended were a similar waste of time. Just send me the email.

Pyrotech_z
Pyrotech_z

Hi, oh I thought it was 'Speak softly and carry a big stick!"

bobp
bobp

"Speak softly and carry a big stick." -Teddy Roosevelt (around 1900)

ca1ic0cat
ca1ic0cat

I though he was going to talk about electrocution ala Ben Franklin...

CareerCoach
CareerCoach

Why wouldn't any company want to do it?

Beoweolf
Beoweolf

I strongly believe in "State Of the _____" messages being sent out on regular basis. As a new systems Administrator, many many years ago ... I endured constant nipping from our staff base, higher managers, vendors as well as candidates for the job I had just been awarded (our company was one of the 1st to start granting promotions on merit rather than attrition). Nothing I did was fast enough, on budget, given the proper priority, shared with staff, delegated properly ... yada, yada, yada. I decide to institute a monthly, State of the Network, news letter. It started out in desperation; as a way to let everyone know the status of the requests they had made - most assumed they were being ignored, disappearing into the abyss, never to be heard from again ... which meant I was getting multiple request for the same item, by the time the 1st order was delivered by the vendor, 2 or more requests were generated by the same department or staff person - lots of waste in the discretionary accounts and feast or famine for supplies. The 1st letter was not the sucess I had hoped. Many thought it was a "Whine letter" (poor new guy can stand the heat?), but I had made a vow to try it at least 3 months, before abandoning the idea. Second month rolled around, was recieved with less resistance and even a few complimentary e-mails - but not really enough to justify the effort... I was still getting a bunch of "Drop-by" or hall way attacks from disgruntaled staff who expected delivery yesterday, but they also noted that they "understood" that the network was down last week, not because of our error - but because the ISP had a failure (remember - internet outages were a lot more frequent than they are today). I didn't post the 4 month - it seems like the idea wasn't getting the traction I had hoped for. About a week later, the CEO came by and asked "When are you going to send out the next, report?" ... I explained my thinking, that it wasn't as popular as I had hoped it would be so the trial was over. He suggested, strongly I keep producing the letter - at least to manager, supervisor and upper staff. Seems it was appreciated after all. Got an "Atta boy", small raise and a good review out of it. Information shared ... is ... knowledge squared.

jck
jck

I read the title, and I thought: "Are companies really procuring bullwhips now?" I know I feel like a slave at work sometimes, but that is ridiculous. :^0 I agree though. I think when you convey to your staff more than just what the propaganda machine pushes out, it makes your employees feel trust and part of a "team" rather than just lemmings there in a cubical.

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