Book Excerpt: Introduction
You’re reading a somewhat unique book in the world of management books. This one is designed to be simple, straightforward, and practical.
In addition, this is much more than just a book. It’s a plan of action, and not just for business purposes. Most all of the tools have practical applications in your personal lives, too. When you incorporate the effective communication tools contained in the book into daily practice, you’ll find yourself with far less miscommunication, misunderstandings, arguments, and stress in your life. When applied in a business environment, employees become more engaged, they stay longer, they’re more productive, and profitability will increase. Those are the main reasons for this book.
I’ve minimized the theory and generalizations and maximized the number of practical, daily-use tools that you can use to make your communication more effective. That will make achieving the results I just mentioned even easier.
However, using them consistently is the key to a better way to go through life.
I interviewed about fifty Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) and other business professionals as part of the research for this book to make sure it was current and relevant. Many of their insights are included. My big-picture conclusion from them is that the tools and action plan of this book make sense. Yes, businesses and people should be doing these things shown in the book, but for whatever reasons, the tools are largely missing from daily operations for most businesses. Together, we can fix this situation for everyone’s benefit.
Amy Atkins, the Human Resources VP at Astound Broadband and veteran HR executive of a few other telecom companies, says that in her twenty-two-year career, she’s been part of annual employee surveys that say they want better communication, but ultimately the employees don’t really know what form that communication should take. This book answers that question.
How to Implement This Book
It’s really pretty simple to learn anything complex—one step at a time. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Here are the steps. These are addressed in more detail in Chapter 67. It’s really not that hard. Just do this:
Read the whole book—twice.
At first, pick just a few tools that resonate with you, that appeal to you, that call to you, and then focus on them for implementation (in alignment with Chapter 39). I strongly recommend those effective communication tools in Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. I put those tools near the beginning of the book because they’ll have the most immediate impact, along the lines of the classic 80/20 rule. Reread those specific chapters.
Further simplify your task and pick just two tools to use daily. Proactively find situations to use those two effective communication tools daily. It’s said that if you’re a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. Be the hammer of effective communication. I suggest Chapters 2 and 3, but not strongly. Reread those two chapters, or whatever two you selected.
Use those new tools (and any tools you’ve previously learned) daily for about three weeks, as situations arise, keeping in mind that you’re proactively looking for, if not manufacturing, situations in which they’re applicable.
After about three weeks, add another two tools to your toolbox by picking two different chapters from your prioritized list. Read those chapters again. Repeat Step 4.
Repeat Step 5 until you’re comfortable with all of the tools.
Understand that you will never master any of these tools to the point of perfection. But, with repeated use, you’ll become a better communicator than 99% of the population. And, as you use them and promote them, you’ll see that things will change. You’ll find that they work to make your life (and the lives of people around you) easier, whether that’s in a business or personal setting. When you experience that success and think “Why wasn’t I doing that before?”, that will hopefully encourage you to incorporate more and more of them into your daily communications.
These tools cross social cultures, business cultures, languages, employee levels, departments, and any other category of human interaction you can think of, including whether you’re a Baby Boomer, Gen Xer, Millennial, Gen Zer, or any other generation. They are truly universal and have been demonstrated to work. They are fundamental and foundational in helping people—all people—communicate.
It’s quite likely that you’ve heard of some or even most of these tools before, but you’ve probably not seen them in one set, presented as a package that I call “the effective communication toolbox.” Used individually or in isolation from each other, these tools are very useful. Used collectively, in conjunction with one another (kind of like a team), they provide a whole other level of benefit that means the whole is greater than the sum of the parts—synergy. The latter is this book’s unique proposition.
The way this works is that the tools are so foundational to effective communication that they seep into and affect virtually every aspect of your business and personal lives. It’s like how DNA affects every living thing. You may not consciously understand the influence DNA has on everything in your daily life, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it does. In fact, this book could easily have been titled The DNA of Communication.
There have been many management books that tout culture change. They attack the issue head on, making no excuses for advocating for culture change. They wield the term “culture change” like a blunt force instrument. Unfortunately, that’s often met with resistance from the workforce. People have heard about culture change so much and for so long that they’ve become jaded to it. “Just another meaningless project from corporate that will fade away. We can ignore it.”
With It’s Not That Hard. Just Do This., employees (and people in general) are being taught something useful, things that they can put into action every day and see immediate, positive effects in both their work and personal lives. So, they’ll be more inclined to use what’s being taught. Evidence breeds confidence. It’s more like Learning and Development (L&D) than culture change, although ultimately the culture will change.
At the company level, what happens is these tools seep into everyday practice like a new DNA strand being inserted into the existing corporate body. Then the DNA replicates and spreads. Soon enough, employees are more engaged in their work and become more productive because they no longer have all of the miscommunication, misunderstandings, arguments, and stress that they used to have. Ultimately, the culture changes for the better without anyone really noticing that it’s happened. Stealth culture change.
Ushma Mehta, Global VP of People at Hiya Inc., talked about the difficulties in communication created by the COVID pandemic, particularly around remote work. She said it’s almost as if people needed to “learn and unlearn how to communicate” in the new environment.
Gregg Yost, CHRO of Pacifica Hospital of the Valley, talked about the generational differences in the way we communicate, for example, phone calls versus text versus Slack versus Zoom versus in-person. He said “The new normal is here, now. Communication must change.” This book is how we do it.
What if everyone had the same base of DNA-level effective communication tools to start with? Tools that don’t change whether you’re working remotely, in-office, or a hybrid situation? Tools that you can cling to and count on to work regardless of the situation? That’s what It’s Not That Hard. Just Do This. is about.
Neiland Fitzgerald, Program Manager for a company that puts on national and regional seminars for HR professionals, says a theme from topics being discussed at these events is that more new recruits are looking for an alignment between their personal values and the company’s values. This is backed up by an article from Empxtrack from August 9, 2021, that says “Gen Zers do not like exaggeration. It can be seen that authenticity and transparency are crucial to them at the workplace. Hence, honest communication will help you attract and retain the best Gen Z candidates.”
So, what if your company fully embraced the effective communication tools in this book and presented itself to the world as being that? Think that might give them a leg up on their competitors to attract the best talent?
Action, Not Words, Required
This book gets granular, to provide people the tools to actually implement the high-flying ideals of changing culture, defining roles, goals, growth, rewards, employee retention, and employee engagement, among a host of others. Those are all good and necessary, but without a “how” assigned to each, they’ll never materialize. Too often things are approached from a big picture level by leadership and the implementation is left to middle and first-level management and employees to sort out. Those people frequently aren’t equipped to make the ideal the reality, but leaders assume they are. Assume nothing. People need the “how.”
It’s not enough that you know the effective communication tools. It’s not enough to spout the words without having actions behind them. It’s not enough for leaders to say this is important, although it’s critical that they do say this is important to the entire company. They must be congruent in their actions. They must lead by example. These tools eventually must—must—be used on a daily basis by the whole organization. The organization needs to not only understand what their tasks are, but to understand how those tasks get performed in the most efficient and productive manner possible. Providing that understanding is the task of anyone who fancies themselves a leader.
Now, I can provide you the tools, but ultimately it’s up to you to actually use them. There needs to be an intentionality on your part to use them. Maybe not every individual tool at once, but the toolbox, taken as a whole, needs to be a front-of-the-mind concept always in play as you talk to someone. Mark Smith, VP of Workforce Strategy for the health care company Providence, said “The intentionality of communication is what’s important.”
Few people think about the process of communication as they talk, which is the reason for miscommunication, misunderstandings, arguments, and stress. You need to be different. You need to lead by example. Lead.
Jonathan Puskas, Global VP for Exos, said that “Leaders have a tendency not to use channels and resources available to them.” Basically, they get stuck in the way they’ve always done things. But, it’s not just leaders. It’s all levels in a business. You need to be above this and use this book as a new channel to help you accomplish your goals more easily than you ever thought possible.
If you’re a human being, could I interest you in this?
The elimination of miscommunication, misunderstandings, arguments, and stress from your life
If you own or work in a business, could I interest you in any of the following real-life business results from using these tools?
A company-wide employee satisfaction rating improvement from 4 to 8, on a scale of 10 being the best
A 33% improvement in overall company productivity in the space of 18 months (reducing expenses of a $15M company $900,000 annually—the equivalent of increasing revenue by $9 million)
An up to 200% improvement in various departmental metrics results
A reduction in the sales cycle from 50 days to 30 days
A 50% reduction in repair calls
If any of these do interest you, then you’re reading the right book. The business results shown above are just some among many of the actual improved results from actual companies, using the material in this book.
Now, the human being section above hasn’t yet fully come to pass. Oh, sure, progress has been made, but I’m looking to make that progress for millions of people, not just a few thousand. You see,
my vision in life is to eliminate miscommunication, misunderstandings, arguments, and stress from people’s lives.
Yes, that’s a tall order, akin to creating world peace. However, a vision is a North Star, an aspirational goal that likely will never be fully achieved. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive to get closer, because the benefits accrued along the way from the effort are tangible.
Can you imagine a world in which everyone clearly understands others’ positions and could talk with civil discourse instead of the polarized, fractured, tear-down-the-other person, dig-in-your-heels, I-have-to-be-right-by-any-means-necessary approach utilized so frequently today in “discussions?” So often, it seems, haters dominate the discussion with no pretense to help build things up or find a solution, but instead to just bring the other person to their knees. Social media, which allows people to hide themselves from scrutiny and not face their victims directly, exacerbates this problem.
One HR exec I interviewed said that more compassion needs to be present in discussions. Jordan Corneliusen, a director who worked for me at one time, introduced me to the notion of accommodation of other people, to simplify a complex topic down to a single word. Both of these concepts seem to be largely missing in today’s Jerry-Springer-Show-type of society. But when they are used, they inherently take into account both parties in a discussion. Also known as respect. The beginnings of the path to mutual understanding. Imagine a world in which there could still be philosophical disagreements, but people honestly would seek to find a middle ground (i.e., a common solution), with a mutual effort, as part of the same team.
It's been said that politics is supposed to be the art of mediation between differing views. These effective communication tools are key to restoring that definition of politics.
Communication is the transfer of information from one entity to another. Any time you have a transfer point, you have a potential point of failure. The reality is that in everyday business life, there are millions of instances of those potential points of failure each day as people attempt to effectively communicate. Each failure results in negative consequences in both time (productivity) and money. They add up. The goal is to minimize the percentage of times that failure occurs in order to make your working life easier and your business better.
It’s Not That Hard. Just Do This. is the vehicle that helps minimize those points of failure and allows you recover all of that lost time and money to reinvest it in things your customers and employees will care about.
On a personal note, I believe the goal of life is to reach a state of continuous contentment. Yes, that will be different for different people, but imagine sitting back, relaxed, and thinking to yourself “I’m really, truly content at this moment in time.” What a powerful statement. Maybe not quite nirvana, but what a glorious achievement. This book can help you get there.
As I talked about earlier, what I’m advocating is implementing a set of foundational effective communication tools that will affect everyone positively, which in turn will organically—almost without any other overt action—ingrain themselves in every aspect of the business in subtle ways, driving not so subtle improvements to the financial bottom line.
It constantly amazes me that the most impactful issue that affects businesses is often given so little regard. See Jonathan Puskas’ comment earlier. From my interviews in researching this book with about fifty Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) and other HR and operations executives, it seems like they all share that observation, yet the rest of the business departments are slow on the uptake. Consequently, businesses run at less than optimum output. Think what could happen—what could be accomplished—if all of that time spent on meaningless, bad-intentioned lip-flapping could be put to use productively, to accomplish a result important to customers and employees.
Those thoughts and that vision caused me to wonder how I could help move society closer to achieving that vision and those benefits. That led me to my mission statement to support that vision.
My mission is to improve employee engagement, productivity, efficiency, and profitability for businesses using effective communication.
A vision is nothing if it doesn’t have practical actions behind it to move closer to the goal. Those of you with an operational mindset especially should appreciate that. In fact, my natural bent towards operational benefits is what initially put me on the path of this and my previous book, Uncommon Sense Management.
So, my mission statement gets closer to practical actions, but still doesn’t get there. It’s a nice sentiment, but is insufficient to produce results by itself. We need to dive deeper to find practical, bedrock actions that will directly lead to improved employee engagement, productivity, efficiency, and profit.
Think of the system this way:
Values underly all human and business interactions.
Principles turn Values into actions.
Visions are created based on Values and Principles.
Missions are the grand actions to support Visions.
Strategies are built to implement Missions.
Tactics are built to accomplish Strategies.
Specific Tasks are executed to achieve the Tactics.
Tasks require effective communication.
I believe that helping the millions of people in business understand how to effectively communicate is the practical way to actually achieve the mission, which moves us closer to the grand vision. It all fits together. Because, if we can get rid of the lip-flapping and put that newly freed up time towards actionable business use, by definition, employees will be more engaged, more productive, and more efficient. As a result, the business will be more profitable.
Robbi Horton, VP of HR for Lori’s Gifts, echoed a common theme from my interviews by having one of her top priorities be developing leadership. For James Roh, VPHR, Chemical Guys, it's about identifying high-potential people and proactively developing them into a pool of skilled, promotable talent. What better way to develop leadership than by teaching them the fundamental tools of effective communication that underly all human interaction and will allow them to succeed?
Not Business As Usual
You might be under the misimpression that all of the miscommunication, misunderstandings, inter-department squabbles, fire drills, and rework that goes on in your business on a daily basis is just a cost of doing business; that it’s inevitable and can’t be avoided. “That’s just the way things run.” Or, worse, maybe you’re not even aware of those dysfunctional characteristics of your business.
I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way. The purpose of this book is to show you how to uncover those hidden costs and turn them into money to reinvest in more and better products and services to serve your customers and engage your employees.
In this book, you’ll get not only the necessary practical tools to actually see the true root causes of problems, versus the symptoms, but the larger principles that those tools serve. The result will be improved employee engagement, efficiency, effectiveness, and profits for the business—plus, a calmer work life for you.
As Michael Scoma, most recently CHRO for Biomeme, put it, “Set up a platform you can scale and grow from. A wobbly foundation makes it hard-pressed for a company to accommodate exponential growth.” This book is intended to be that rock-solid platform from which you can unlock hidden employee engagement, productivity, and profitability.
A Side Note
I think it’s a sad commentary that history is being lost in the face of whatever the current Tik Tok challenge is. One person told me of a story in which 9/11 was mentioned in a presentation and a Gen Zer asked what that was. (Of course, some of you reading this may not understand that reference. If so, look it up.) Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The way to not lose history is to bring it up and keep it in front of people.
I’m hoping you’re reading this book because you want to learn on the road of continuous improvement. You’ll find a number of references in the book to older movies, songs, books, and quotes, maybe before your time. That’s okay. They’re there to make a point relevant to the topic at hand. The point is unchanged, whether the source is older or more current. Focus on the message being delivered. If you don’t understand a reference, be curious enough to look it up and learn more about it. Besides, the movies I mention mostly are among my all-time favorites and I think they’d be entertaining for any adult, even without the messages they contain.
I once had a Millennial CEO deride the effective communication lessons I was giving based on the movie Stripes simply because “it was some old movie.” He completely missed the point of the lessons themselves, choosing to shoot the messenger versus hearing the message. A mind is like an umbrella. It only works when it’s open. Consequently, he failed to see/learn the thirty-some uses of effective communication tools shown in about a seven-minute segment of the movie. That’s a fact, Jack!
As I mentioned, it’s quite likely that you’ve heard of some or even most of these tools before. So what? If you gloss over them because of their “age” (meaning you think you already know them), you’ll miss the point of the book, which is to cause you to put them into action, regardless of your current familiarity with them. Words are not actions. Knowledge is not action.
It’s been true for years that the majority of employees are dissatisfied or not engaged with their jobs. These effective communication tools, used in a conscientiously applied manner, have been demonstrated to help cure that issue, regardless of whether you think you already “know” them. If you’re an experienced leader, don’t think you’re beyond or above these tools or that they’re “too basic.” You were a key driver to cause the level of job dissatisfaction among employees today. Leaders (using the term broadly to include anyone who purports to influence the actions of others) have a ways to go. This book will help you get there.
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” —Sir Francis Bacon
“This is a book to chew and digest.” —Dan Purkey
“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
—John Wooden (Hall of Fame college basketball coach)