Objectives-Based Communication – Are you good at it?

24 Apr
by Bridget DiCello

What do you really want to accomplish?

Earlier this week, I was told, “No!” when I made a request for an exception to a leader a group of which I am a part, through his conflict-avoiding right hand person. And there was no reason for him to say no.

So, I asked politely to speak directly with him. The conversation that followed required my patience and persistent focus on my objective. It started with:

Me: “I’m not sure if your assistant has shared all the details of my situation with you.”

Leader: “Doesn’t matter, I won’t do what you asked.”

However, as I proceeded to offer the additional information, piece by piece, and let him process, fight it, and say no, I could hear him starting to soften, as he more fully understood my situation. I was very careful not to tell him that the protests he presented were not good reasons to say no.

In response to each of us, “I can’t because…” I moved on to the next point, knowing he was also hearing how his protests were relatively weak. I let go of my frustration with him and desire to have him admit he was wrong, and stayed laser focused on my objective: Get the Yes. And, finally, I did.

What are the key components of Objectives-Based Communication?

1. Be extremely clear about your objective and be okay with accomplishing only that.
2. Avoid being selfish about anything other than that objective you are focused on. Let go of things like:
a. Having someone admit they are wrong
b. Finding out why they did/are doing or saying what they did/are doing or saying
3. Have a clear list in your head of the reasons for doing it your way and present them systematically and patiently. Listen to their response in order to understand them better. Being understood often helps people to soften their stance.
4. Empathize with the person separate from the impact they are having on you. A person with power can appear to have little sympathy for your position, but that may not be the case. In my situation, he was frustrated and didn’t want to disrupt his schedule.
5. Answer their questions unemotionally and factually, without sarcasm.
Leader: “When did you find out about this?”
Me: “Yesterday.”

Conversations feel successful to different people for different reasons. However, when you have clear objectives, put your emotions aside and stay focused on that objective.

What Creativity is Not

27 Mar
by Bridget DiCello

Creativity is not having unique and cool ideas that hit you out of the blue on a regular basis.  It doesn’t necessarily have to do with art in its many forms. defines it as “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, and interpretations.

Creativity in the professional business realm is firmly rooted in the ability to connect seemingly unrelated information, thoughts, ideas and strategies.  This requires a few key things:

  1. Expectations must be communicated.  If you ask people to be creative, they can interpret that in many ways.  Provide the framework.  Start with describing the situation – not the specific problem to be solved, but the situation – the destination in general terms, the constraints, the history, and the clear objectives.  To do this, you must make sure you do not solve 90% of the problem in this step.  Leave it open enough to allow for creative thought, while providing a framework with immovable constraints, company values and goals not up for debate.
  2. Describe the Creative Process.  If you ask people for ideas, and then don’t use any, tell them they are wrong or that their idea won’t work, you will stop the creativity from flowing.  “Yes, and…” is a good approach.  Explain that you want to brainstorm 100 ideas in 5 different areas.  Tell them what will happen next and how those ideas will be processed.  Involve others as much as possible in the steps of the process and the implementation.  You can elicit more involvement, especially from those you might think are not creative, by creating a safe and predictable place.
  3. Ask Questions to clarify.  The idea that someone puts forth first is rarely their best idea.  They are testing the waters.  If they are shut down, you will never hear the good idea.  Curiously ask them the How, What, When, Where types of questions to better understand their suggestion.  Most of us cannot clearly communicate what is in our head in 30 seconds or less, especially with a creative or unique idea or concept.
  4. Connect the Dots.  If you enter the creative process without ‘the solution’ in your mind, you have a lot better chance of combining seemingly unrelated ideas.  Group words on paper.  Create different categories.  Find multiple ways that different ideas connect.  Don’t jump too quickly to conclusions.  If you need an immediate solution, then have a meeting with your problem solvers and solve the problem.  If you want to stimulate creativity, give it time to grow and ideas to evolve.

“Good” isn’t enough, bring me the data!

17 Apr
by Bridget DiCello

“How is … going?”  You fill in the blank.  What have you asked your team about?  Projects?  Sales?   Customer satisfaction?   Daily tasks?

And have you heard in response, “Good!” or “Fine.” and wondered just what those phrases really meant?  Sometimes they mean to communicate:

  1. “Things are not all that great right now, but we’ve got a solid plan to address them.”
  2. “I’m really not sure how things are going, but nothing appears to be in fire, so I think we’re okay.”
  3. “If I say, ‘Good!’ or ‘Fine.’ you will not worry as much and give me some room to go figure out how things are really going.

This is not only the case if you have a few slackers on your team who avoid accountability.  In many very successful businesses, even good performers may not have a handle on specifically how things are going.  There is this common aversion to data collection and analysis in many organizations because it requires time and effort that could be spent doing things instead.

Brad Robertson, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) St. Francis Hospital has a sign hanging in his office which reads, “In God We Trust, all others bring Data.”

What data might your team need to bring you?

  • Customer service metrics
  • Sales and Pipeline data and pipeline building activities
  • Profitability, and the related pricing, expenses, execution, rework, delivery
  • Company overall health – current assets, long term liabilities
  • Where we are, where we’ve been, trends, projections
  • Industry specific measurements

How often do you need to see this data?

Part of the objective of gathering data is that the process can become part of the daily routine, so metrics are gathered and reviewed routinely (at least monthly, more often for some metrics), not only by a leader, but by team members as well.  If a doctor had to assess you without any tests, lab results or equipment such as a blood pressure cuff or stethoscope, and only saw you once in a while, an intuitive doctor might be able to make some guesses, but you would not have the same opportunities for good health.  It’s the same for the business or department you lead.

Identify the right data to gather, the easiest way to obtain it, a set time to review it, a consistent way to use it for making solid decisions, and stay consistent in that process.

On a final note, for those of you reading this who think that data is fabulous and you could spend all day just gathering and analyzing because there is so much good information to be gleaned, be careful to balance the value of gathering and reviewing accurate data with the objective of using it to improve business processes and ensure greater success.

No “Buts”

14 Aug
by Bridget DiCello

For the most part, when you are speaking with another individual, it is a good idea to remove the word, “but” entirely from your vocabulary.

You may be complimenting:

That is a great idea, but… [it’s really not a good idea, my way is better].

You may be concerned:

You’re doing a good job, but… [you stink! You are nowhere near good enough.]

You may be angry:

I told you to do this, but… [I wasn’t clear, but I don’t plan to admit it’s my fault].

You may be busy:

I’d love to spend time talking to you, but… [I do not consider what you have to say important].

“But” sends the message that the first half of your statement is insincere. We all say the word, “but” much more than we consciously know.

What to do?

Pause or use the word, “and”. It can make all the difference in the world. Don’t replace “but” with “however.” It softens the blow, but conveys the same harsh message.

When you pause, it also gives you an Opportunity SpaceTM to decide what you will say next, and how best to convey the message to you hope to convey.

The word “and” is inclusive, and while it provides you the opportunity to express your main point, it also allows you to acknowledge the current situation in the first half of your phrase.

You can also add small phrases to soften the delivery of your message such as “I’m wondering…” or “I may be wrong…” or “If I understand you correctly…”

For example,

“That’s a great idea, but what’s it going to cost?”

Instead, try:

“That’s a great idea, and I’m wondering what the cost will be.”

Another example,

You’re doing a good job, but your times are still way off.

Instead, try:

You’re doing a good job at [specific task], and I’m confident you can continue to improve your times.

Just for a day, track how many times you say, “but”. In a factual sentence, it may be very useful. However, in discussions with another person and about another person, it is rarely constructive. Replace “but” with a pause or “and”.

Making Progress on Goals Important to You

26 Jun
by Bridget DiCello

You can verbally communicate a goal to some employees and they will get it done.  Others need to see a goal in writing.  Others feel that goals are out there somewhere, but do not direct their daily work.  Ambitious employees feel that working hard today will lead to accomplishing the goal, but don’t see the pathway.  Big picture thinkers can hear your company goal and set their own goals for their team or themselves.

The best thing you can do as the leader is have clear goals communicated in writing to your team.

Yearly  – It is important they understand where the company and team is headed in the longer term.  They may not know what they need to do today to accomplish that goal, but realize that the discussion will continue on progress made towards the yearly goal.

Monthly – Based on what you want to accomplish in 12 months, and therefore, what you expect to accomplish this quarter, departments and individuals need to clearly understand their top priorities for the month.  To some people, this is intuitive, for others it is not.

Company/Department Monthly Goals – Do you know your company’s/department’s top goals for the month?  Are they way too ambitious for even a team twice the size of yours to achieve in 30 days?  Is the list lengthy?  Overly ambitious goals that are routinely not reached will become a demotivator and employees will lose their focus and drive.

Write 3-5 monthly goals that are the most important things your team needs to accomplish within the next 30 days.  This is in addition to routine work.  This is not all that you and your team will do.  You may make much more progress than this.  But, if you were to narrow it down, these are the most important things to get done.


  1.  Hire a salesperson.
  2. Evaluate and make a decision on the new software program.
  3. Establish key company metrics and a method to measure them routinely.  (It’s amazing how many companies or departments don’t have them.)
  4. Complete 50% (8 of 16) of current backlog of projects.

Individual Monthly Goals – Does each employee know the top 3 to 5 goals they need to accomplish this month?  “Keep working really hard on everything on my plate, stay focused and make some progress.”  That’s a scary statement to a leader, but may be the answer from much of your team.  This ambitious employee, who means well, may still frustrate the manager and hold the team back.

Have each individual draft their own 3 to 5 goals for the month, based on your company’s monthly goals.  Ensure they know this is a draft and you will add your input and may make changes.  If you feel the employee does not have a grasp of what they need to do, skip their draft at first, and write the monthly goals for them.


  1. Complete the tutorials for three software programs and evaluate them based on the following criteria (end user ease of use, inclusion of our main data points, compatibility with our accounting software and outputs).
  2. Complete performance evaluations on your three direct reports, including obtaining their self-assessment and drafting goals for each.
  3. Schedule time in your calendar each day and work on the backlog of projects, based on an agreed upon priority list, completing four projects by month end, while adding no new projects to the overdue list.

You will not see the results your team is capable of achieving if they are not focused and directed in their efforts.  Their daily efforts need to be focused on monthly goals they are striving to achieve, which are created in order to reach your company’s monthly goals.  Remember, to some employees, setting their individual monthly goals is intuitive and to some it is not.

I Can’t Say “No!”

05 Jun
by Bridget DiCello

Do you take on too much work and accept others’ requests when you really don’t have the time? And are you not able to do your very best work because you are doing too many things at 75%?

Why do you do this? Do you not want to say “No” because you don’t want to miss an opportunity? Or do you not want to let anyone down? Or do you just not know what words to say to communicate, “No!”?

What to do? First, clarify your areas of focus, your goals, and your strategies to get there. Then, consult those resources in order to make the best decision. Use your focus and goals verbiage in your “No” response.

Clear Goals and Focus

If you are very clear about your most important goals and your priorities for the month, and are excited and focused on them, then it is that excitement that causes you to decline or delegate tasks that are not in line with your plan. Your plan is ambitious and exciting, not limiting and holding you back. It guides your conscious choices of how to spend your time and energy.

Put People in their Place

People are important. Your success will require you to work successfully with others, value their contributions and respect their priorities. And you spend time with another person when your goals and focus overlap their goals and focus. Not necessarily when you are asked to take their priorities as your own. You may be asked by your customers or your supervisor to change your goals and plans and may need to do throughout the month. However, a lot of times when you fail to say, “No” it may be because you like the person and don’t want to disappoint them. But, you may disappoint them or another individual when you take on too much, and don’t do anything as well as you could.

What to Say?   First, gather enough information. “Mike, I think I understand your request. Can you share just a few more details of what you need from me?”

Then, frame it. “Mike, I am hearing that this project is very important to Bob’s department, and to turnaround times. This month, Mark has asked me to focus all my energy on the successful interactions with customers through our online systems. I’m very excited about the opportunity to address some long-standing concerns we have heard from our customers.”

What you can do. “It would be early next month before I could start on that work for you, and I would estimate it would take about three weeks. I know that Mary and Patrick are also experts in this area, and their schedules may be more free this month if you need it sooner than I can complete the work. (Only say this if you know it to be true.) What I’d be happy to do is have you circle back with me at the end of the month to revisit this priority.”

And, if you’re Mike, and don’t like that answer, you might say to you:

“Ryan, we all have a lot to do and turnaround time is everyone’s priority. I really need to get this done and you and I have worked on it in the past!”

You feel Mike’s pain, but have a clear focus and path for the month, and in reality, his priority is not yours at this time.

“You are right Mike, turnaround time is a priority and I have enjoyed working with you in the past. The challenge is that this month, I have items that have been identified as higher priority in my calendar. Would you like me to introduce you to some other members of the team who would be valuable resources for you since I am booked up?”

If you fail to clarify your goals for the month, and fail to say “No” to tasks outside your focus area, you will end up with too much on your plate, people upset with you more than they would of if you had found a way to say, “No” in the first place, and work that is not up to your quality standards.

Strengthening Customer Relationships

14 May
by Bridget DiCello

Are your customers happy? How do you know? Because they pay the bill and haven’t complained? Do you think there is a level of service you could provide that would take your customer relationship to a new level?

I’ll be honest, there are definitely times when talk of customer service wears me out! My customers are wonderful, I enjoy every moment with them, am delighted when I find a way to serve them even better and find innovative solutions that facilitate their even greater success.

But, when I think about how I can serve the customer better, the first thought is that I need to spend more time, more energy and give more for each dollar received. Then, I realize that there is great potential to deliver more value in innovative ways.

And the most innovative solutions ever discovered, especially in less technical businesses, come from an understanding of the customer’s need more clearly and delivering a service or product that meets their needs, solves their problem and deliver results they never thought were possible.

In a way, it’s the old, “Work smarter not harder.” But, let’s pinpoint the ‘smarter’ work to be purposeful conversations with customers about their needs and expectations. They may never have had the time to spend to get a very accurate and clear picture about what they need from you. They say they need X, you do a good job with X, offer it at a fair price, have built a strong, trusting relationship, so you do business together.

When you want to know if you are doing a good job. You may send a survey or call and ask:

“How are we doing?” The customer says, “Fine.”

You say, “How did we do on the last order?” Customer says, “Good, it went well.”

You say, “Is there anything else we can do to make life easier for you?” Customer says, “I don’t think so, you are all doing a really great job. Thanks!”

You say, “Okay. Please feel free to call if you need anything!” Customer says, “Okay!”

You invite them to golf, talk about the spouse, children and football, and the relationship builds.

There is still valuable information in their head that could take that relationship to the next level. This standard conversation is pleasant, the customer may feel like they are being honest, and you are showing your concern. If there was a problem with the order, this is an opportunity to find out, rectify this situation, and make sure it does not happen again.

What if you asked questions more along the lines of:

“Thank you for your business! On your last order, how did we do on a scale of one to ten?”

“If we could change one thing, anything, even if it seems impossible, about the process, what would you like to see change?” Customer says, “You’re great!” You respond, “Really, I’d love to know, even if it seems impossible.”

“What is a frustration in your business in the area [of your expertise, industry, the area in which you interact with them] that you’d love to see resolved?

Don’t take their time with nicety conversations and surface questions. Spend your time with them wisely. Find out what they really think, desire and would love to see different. Even if it’s impossible now, keep it on your radar and look for the next opportunity to build a relationship based on amazing service, not just a consistent good job.

Chain of Events for Obtaining Employee Feedback for their Evaluation

18 Apr
by Bridget DiCello

Here is the chain of events:

  1. You give them an evaluation form with a deadline of 48 hours to enter their input.  Encourage them to point out their own specific successes to take credit for them!
  2. You draft your evaluation feedback.
  3. They turn in their evaluation with specific examples of successes, and situations that did not go so well.
  4. They pinpoint two areas where they would like to focus on improving over the next year.
  5. You compare their input and your feedback and add their input to your form (the official one) as needed, becoming aware of where you might disagree significantly with the employee.
  6. You deliver their feedback using your copy, and file their self evaluation feedback in their file.

Top 5 Criteria for Great Performance Evaluations

17 Apr
by Bridget DiCello
  1. Use a form that makes sense.
  2. Require employee input for their professional development.
  3. Document very specific examples.
  4. Use metrics to support your feedback.
  5. Obtain commitment to do something differently.

The best performance evaluations are those that directly evaluate based on the job description tasks instead of rating employees from 1 to 5 on vague things like time management.  Regardless of what form you are required to use, start by looking at their job tasks, identifying specific things they do well and areas in which they need to focus or improve.  Brainstorm for specific examples of situations that demonstrate both their successes and their challenges.   This information can be used in just about any form.

The employee should also evaluate themselves.  I often have them complete the very same evaluation I am going to use.  If there is not a good form for the employee to use for self evaluation, ask them to simply email you five specific examples of times they were successful, and three specific examples of situations to support where they would like to improve their performance.  Give them a deadline early enough to be able to send it back for more detail.

Here is the chain of events:

  1. You give them an evaluation form with a deadline of 48 hours to enter their input.  Encourage them to point out their own specific successes to take credit for them!
  2. You draft your evaluation feedback.
  3. They turn in their evaluation with specific examples of successes, and situations that did not go so well.
  4. They pinpoint two areas where they would like to focus on improving over the next year.
  5. You compare their input and your feedback and add their input to your form (the official one) as needed, becoming aware of where you might disagree significantly with the employee.
  6. You deliver their feedback using your copy, and file their self evaluation feedback in their file.

If their job is based a lot on numbers, that’s great because it gives you the objective measurement of performance.  Beyond the numbers, and to support the numbers, you will offer your specific examples of when they did well, in other words, what they did to create the good numbers they have or how they handled a customer situation well.  Do the same thing for the not so good numbers.

The specific examples are what make the numbers come alive and become more personal.  Numbers on their own don’t say much, but talking through what makes the numbers what they are, how the employees contribute to the numbers and what they have control over will be significant.

Then, choose no more than 3-5 areas where you would like them to focus during the next 6-12 months (until the next evaluation).  These may be areas where they are strong and have great ability to get even better; could be places where they are failing miserably and need to get on track, or areas where you see greater potential than what they are putting forward – maybe they are scared to screw up or scared to push out of their comfort zone.   These are not 3-5 tasks.  They are areas broad enough to be the focus for 6-12 months.  Each month or quarter, you spend time with the employee to identify the specific tasks they are to do to make progress on the broad areas.

You determine these 3-5 areas based on your observations combined with their input.  Then, they come up with specific action items that they will implement in the next 30-90 days to make progress on these 3-5 areas.  These must be things that they will do differentlyTrying harder will not cut it.  They should come up with these, with your coaching assistance, buy in and commit to them.

Best Meetings – Small Scope, Big Expectations!

10 Apr
by Bridget DiCello

Have you ever been to or led a meeting that ran really long in an effort to make it through the whole agenda?  Or one that ended on time but most agenda items, including the ones you were interested in, were never addressed?

Every time you have several people in a room, you have multiple priorities, opinions, preferences and styles which will ensure that nothing will get done as quickly as you might be able to do alone.  However, the richness of those dynamics is worth the tradeoff, but your expectations must be realistic.

First, you must expect people to want to share their opinions and concerns, and time must be built into the agenda for that to happen.  If they are expected to simply sit and listen, then that must be communicated ahead of time to avoid frustrations.  If you’d like to guide their participation, add specific bullet points to the agenda to do so.

Then, you must define the scope of the meeting to be small enough to realistically be completed.  People like to walk out of a meeting feeling successful.  If your expectation of what you can complete in 45 minutes is always too high, and nothing ever seems to get resolved, your participants will get frustrated and productivity will decrease further.

Consider what you expect to accomplish; then break it into parts.  You wish to discuss Project A.  Project A has many parts.  Maybe the scope of the first meeting is to identify the main parts of the project, the key activities, define the milestones and the responsible people.  The responsible people could get together at a future meeting to discuss their individual accountabilities and timeframes.  Keep the scope manageable within in your meeting timeframe.

Small scope does not mean small expectations.  When you discuss Project A, your expectation may be that it is approached from several new directions, everyone contributes to identifying key activities, each person excitedly accepts a key role and milestones are clearly defined – which is a challenge in many companies.

In order to realize those expectations, they must be communicated prior to the meeting in a written agenda, and possibly an invitation phone call; must be reiterated in the agenda and at the start of the meeting, and revisited throughout the meeting as they are accomplished.

A small scope in no way means that very little will be accomplished.  It simply means that you will do an amazing job of discussing, brainstorming and working on results relating to a small piece of a larger puzzle.

If your meetings appear unproductive, remember Small Scope, BIG Expectations!

Page 1 of 41234