Lessons In High Touch From C-Suite Business Experts

We know that building a world-class team of talented, diverse individuals is key to our success. Most leaders want better teams, since we all know what bad teams look like, and how unproductive they are. The larger the team, the more distant and complicated team building can be. In small teams, we just huddle-up. Now as a senior leader our touch is further from the individuals.

We have greater responsibility to make the high touch we want for our team the goal of people reporting to us. Large team high touch doesn’t come from on-high, rather it comes from first line managers who are trained, determined, and living the dream of their senior leaders who are leading from higher levels. As senior leaders that can be a big shift.

Our high touch got us great intel, trust, accolades, and results. We also gained high personal admiration and satisfaction from peers, employees, and even family as our connectivity skills achieved great team collegiality and results. That sense of caring remains, but the competency now shifts to having junior leaders carry the ball as senior leaders move to the sidelines of high touch leadership. So, high touch leadership becomes a critical task for senior leaders to build into junior leaders. The mass of employees need to have trust in those junior leaders, instead of the senior people they admired. Individual Contributors ( IC) and senior leaders share the same view – admiring from afar.

Another important distinction: As a senior leader we are desperate for intel. We have high connectivity with many IC members; trying to get the ‘real dirt,’ the on-the-street information and customer knowledge from our IC’s can be a recipe for team destruction. Lose the obsession for information and being liked, in order to build a great team. Also, without being malicious, manipulative, or purposeful the IC’s may embrace the friendship with a senior leader, to the point of gossip and rumors among other IC’s. The senior leader may gain insight at the expense of building a cohesive team. The senior leader may make decisions from IC comments and run around the manager – and that ruins trust.

The # 1 job of a leader is to build empathetic trust with all levels of the organization, and that means saying goodbye to some of the connections and personal high-touch skills we enjoy most – for the benefit of the larger organization.

Here are 12 steps from outstanding executive coaches for improving as a leader who embraces high touch:

1. Communicate using all forms. David Yudis, senior AIIR consultant, commented, I encourage senior leaders to make time to have an in-depth 1:1 with each team member on facts, values, and aspirations so they learn their team as individuals.”

o   1:1 are best: What is missed, however, is that any time traveling to another team, market, office, or client that has nearby internal employees is an opportunity to connect. Many Senior Execs are on the go and pass on a high return value opportunity to connect with people in their travel geography. Additionally, videoconferencing allows visible touchpoints.
o   Internal Media: Blogs, video updates, or quarterly newsletters with an opening or insert by your exec but curated/produced by other team members are very powerful and informative.
o   Formal meetings include Town halls, larger Quarterly Meetings, annual gatherings, strategic sessions, budget meetings, or other team sessions. Be cognizant that employees alignment to the business strategies will always need to be followed through on and clarified – a common blindside. According to CEB Infographics’: Why You Need More than Engaged Employees, even 60% of highly engaged employees have tendencies to be misaligned with company goals.

2. Reinforce the Senior leader job to develop managers, as building a healthy, whole organization is their job. Avoid the pitfalls of hand-holding when it comes to employee development. Remember that development is not a training event. Training builds skills, and development builds people. Development is all about recognizing values, shaping behaviors, and then building culture. Senior leaders embrace that role by surrounding themselves with junior leaders who become the culture change agents.

3. Create more opportunities for open communication, which will ease in the exchange of information, accessibility, and closer working relationships. Geetu Bharwaney, AIIR Consultant UK, suggests with her C-Suite clients “to make time to have an in-depth 1:1 with each team member on facts, values, and aspirations so that he can get to know his team and they him. Then, at the next team meeting, he could ask the team to share with each other:

-Me at my best.
-Me at my worst.
-What I need from the team to operate at my best.”

4. Build internal support. It’s vital to get the whole team behind inclusion, otherwise the work falls to whoever is most capable, or already the busiest and most dependable. Executive support is especially crucial to show, without ambiguity, that open communication is on par with all other aspects of a manager’s skill set.

Rajeev Raju, AIIR Consultant India, says it this way – “In one word, the senior leader needs to focus on more ‘Communication.’ Given the diversity of his audience, they will have to communicate –

– a lot more frequently – using whatever communication channels he has access to in order to reach across teams
– very clearly and concisely – avoiding rhetoric and using plain speak to inspire teams and to make them acknowledge and implement the prescribed actions
– formally and more informally – I call these ‘detours.’ Senior leaders need to break some traditions to meet and connect with teams

Manuelle Charbonneau Senior AIIR Consultant (France and Western US), says it this way – My take on this is that senior leaders who do this well are able to create emotional resonance with others without relying only on one-on-one or small group intimate relationships. In other words who they are, what they say, and how they say it connects emotionally and makes people feel at some visceral level that ‘this person is talking to me personally, I trust them, and I want to follow them.’

5. Continue to educate that the foundation of a great manager-employee relationship is one that is built on trust and confidence. This is fostered through the manager’s role of motivation, development, and communication.

6. Hold managers accountable by creating a scorecard on how well they motivate, communicate, and develop their employees. Get them to commit to a goal they will hit every year.

7. Have a daily “Huddle.” We bring the team together every day to get a boost, an update, and encouragement. Believe me, some days I don’t want to do it, either. AIIR Executive  Coach – Paul Curci, summarizes it this way,

“What do I want them to know, and understand?
What do I want them to feel, and experience?
What do I want them to do?”

8. Use total transparency.  The ability to share openly our faults, weaknesses, and fears, makes us stronger to our people. That communication is more valuable than “let me tell you all the great things I am doing, I even tell my boss what to do.” We want our team to know we are real, frail, and follower-tested, not because of our accomplishments, but more from our learning. That’s real power. Telling everyone how great we are is ego, and not followable.

9. Have weekly one-on-one meetings. This 30-minute meeting with each direct report was taken from the Manager Tools blog. It’s an extremely powerful tool that enables you to cluster, “Hey, what about this?” topics, which can cause time-consuming interruptions. A simple agenda: 10 minutes for me, 10 minutes for you, 10 minutes for agreed-upon action items.

10. Make sure the workplace has flexibility. This may not be a popular notion among old school businessmen and women, but I’ve found allowing my staff more flexibility with the environment in which they work has enhanced their productivity and commitment.

11, Ask yourself if you know people’s names, or do you even try to learn names? Nothing says we are a big uncaring company faster than ignoring the importance of knowing people’s names. Also, the significance of handshakes with appropriate eye contact and smiles, during even a brief exchange. Oh yes, 50% of people believe to smile and make eye contact is to intimidate and they won’t do it. In an effort to be more high touch, this pleasantry is viewed as critically positive and not negative. Very positive.

12. Incorporate inclusivity into the hiring process. If any step of our hiring process disproportionately cuts out marginalized groups, we may be building a weak team. Examine and adjust processes to be inclusive and unbiased. This will lead us to be more thoughtful about how we assess individual candidates and also to build excellent communications skills into the quality of all our hires.

In summary, Rajeev Raju AIIR Consultant in India, uses a simple formula, PACES, to remind his senior leader clients, how to improve High Touch:

Purpose – define the objective of the communication
Audience – adapt the messaging depending on the type of audience
Channel – choose the best medium of communication
Emotions – align the emotions with their communication style. As an example – look and sound serious when delivering a matter of urgency or concern versus looking and sounding excited in order to motivate the team.
Structure – create a meaningful flow for the message to ensure relevance and impact

High touch got you here; teach others high touch to get you there!


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