Effective Communication

Initiating Change

When communicating any organization goals or changes start with explaining the reason why it is necessary. Make changes only after you fully understand the process, you can’t fix what you don’t understand, and you risk alienating staff.

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New Leader to the Organization?

Spend as much time as possible observing and learning.

  • Review all of your organization’s content possible such as training manuals, and reports
  • Set up meetings with employees at all levels of the organization
  • Seek to learn and understand as much as you can about practices, processes, the organization’s culture, and the employees personally
  • Discuss what’s working well, areas that could be improved, and personal and professional goals
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The Value of Note-Taking

Set aside specific time in your schedule after meetings to take notes. When meeting with many people you’ll want to remember the valuable information you learned about the organization and them personally. Looking back on these notes will help you take action after your first 100 days have passed.

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Do What You Say

Follow through with your crisis communication plan after the crisis has blown over. Do what you say you will do to overcome the obstacle. Continue to keep the community updated about progress the organization is making or changes to the plan. Continue listening to your stakeholders to support rebuilding relationships and trust. After the crisis, analyze what worked well and areas the organization can improve their response before the next crisis.

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Avoid Speculation

Prepare for a crisis communication press conference by brainstorming as many questions as the team can think of that the media will ask and how to answer them. Be careful not to fall into the trap of speculation or answering opinion-based questions, be open and honest but don’t talk about uncertainties, stick with the facts. Don’t assume or provide insight on to what could have happened or what might happen.

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Consult a Lawyer

During a crisis it is essential for leaders to consult with a lawyer before releasing information. Once a lawyer is consulted release all of the information allowed as soon as possible. Avoid withholding any information you can legally provide, attempting to hide information can only harm the organization during a crisis, there is no benefit.

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Monitor Social Channels

Often times the first place people will look for information about an organization is on their social media pages. Organizations should have a plan for posting updates and messages about a crisis to social channels such as twitter. They should also be prepared to monitor those channels (sometimes 24 hours a day depending on the severity of the crisis) to gauge the audience’s perception of the incident and further guide communication.

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Consistency During a Crisis

Depending on the extent of the crisis, multiple audiences may need to receive information and messages from the organization. Develop key words to be used across all audiences such as investors, the public, and employees. Make messages as consistent and clear as possible to increase understanding across audiences.

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Don’t Ignore a Crisis

An organization’s reputation will fare better during a crisis if the organization can get in front of the messages being released in the media. Controlling the messages rather than allowing speculation and rumors to spread helps the organization maintain its reputation. Don’t ignore a crisis or requests for information from the media. Silence will only increase the problem.

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Prepare for a Crisis

How will you respond when a crisis hits your organization? What information needs to be communicated to employees? to stakeholders? to the community? Outline and know the process for handling a crisis within your organization. If there isn’t one already, assemble a team to develop a crisis communication plan.

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Practice Your Response

It’s normal to feel defensive when listening to a customer complain about their experience or service. Practice listening and responding to complaints with team members. Remember, the complaint isn’t personal and mostly the customer wants to feel listened to. Before responding to feedback in an emotional manner listen, empathize, and ask questions to get as much clarity as possible about the situation.

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Be Curious

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” – Dale Carnegie

Ask open-ended questions like, “What got you interested in that field of work?” and about personal and professional interests, look for commonalities to keep the conversation going.

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Prepare for Tough Questions

When leaders are communicating with employees about goals, strategy, or organizational change, employees often have tough questions. When cascading communication to leaders, anticipate the tough questions employees will have and include key-worded responses to establish a consistent, clear message throughout the organization.

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Hold “Renters” Accountable

Identify employees you lead who could improve their ownership behaviors and help them develop plans for improvement. Clearly explain the impact of their behavior on the organization, their colleagues, and those they serve. Set clear expectations for adherence to ownership behavior.  Establish a timeline for improvement and clearly communicate the consequences of continued negative behavior.

 

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Commit to Following-Through

Owners do whatever it takes to get the job done. This may require overcoming barriers, or additional resources or personnel. Own the work by following-up and following-through with all people involved. When you handover a customer to another employee, follow-up to be sure the customer’s needs were met. Close the communication loop with customers and colleagues about progress on projects, next steps, and completed actions.

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Take Advantage of Digital Media

Social networks like LinkedIn that have a professional audience can be useful to your career. Keep social profiles refreshed with your accomplishments and skill development. Consider using a form of digital media such as a blog or website to create a portfolio for others to view your work and stay up to date on your accomplishments and progress.

 

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Keep Your Network Informed

Stay in touch with past colleagues, industry friends, old classmates and others in your network. Update your network when you achieve new accomplishments, develop or advance your skills, successfully complete new projects, achieve outstanding results, or complete a degree or certification.

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Address Poor Performance

High performers want to work in organizations with other high performers. When leaders avoid addressing low performers, high and solid performers notice sub-par performers aren’t keeping up and can become frustrated, sometimes to the point that they will choose to leave the department or organization. It’s not fair for your team of high and solid performers to carry the low performers, its crucial to address low performer behavior quickly and effectively to retain high performers.

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Meet with High Performers Monthly

50% of high performers say they expect at least a monthly sit down with their managers, but only 53% say their manager delivers on their feedback expectations. High performers want feedback. They want dialogue with you as their leader. Make monthly meetings with high performers a priority.

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Use Key Words During Results Rollout

While seeking feedback on your lowest scored survey items, using Key Words like those in the example below can be useful:

“I want to tell you I am disappointed that our results did not improve in this area. I’m committed to working with our team to create a great work environment and need your input to know the best actions to take to support our team. Help me understand, what did you specifically mean when you scored item__ a ___? What things can I or we do to improve this area?”

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Identify Themes in Survey Results

During Results Rollout, present the 3 highest items, the 3 lowest items, and themes derived from additional comments. While reviewing comments, remember to look for productive information that can be used for improvements. Don’t focus on vague statements like “communication is poor,” seek to identify the common themes across all stakeholders surveyed.

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Change Begins with Honesty

To affect change, we must be honest with ourselves and with others. Explain to stakeholders why their feedback is important and necessary to help the organization improve.

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Connect to Serve

When leaders help their teams connect their daily work to a greater purpose, people become motivated to serve. Behind all of the daily tasks, what is the ultimate outcome and what actions can your team take to get there? Help your team connect to purpose while providing clear directions for serving stakeholders.

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From Employee Engagement Surveys to Action

After the employee engagement survey results are calculated, gather your team and talk about the results. What ideas does the team have for improving the lowest items? What items are most important to them? After you’ve recorded their priorities, develop an action plan to present to the team. When leaders are transparent with their action plans, teams know their leader is committed to increasing their engagement levels.

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Learn from Mentees

Both a mentor and mentee can benefit from valuable feedback from one another. The original purpose of the relationship may be to guide the mentee, however, mentors can learn a thing or two from those with less professional experience. Next time you meet with your mentee ask for their perspective on an upcoming decision or project or ask for feedback around your leadership style.

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Ask How to Improve Communication

Gather feedback from your employees and the community (investors, customers, people who benefit from your organization) regarding your communication. Do they receive too much communication, or too little? Are they able to understand the communication and find it relevant? What improvements do they recommend? Review the responses and tailor the organization’s communication practices to their preferences.

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Reduce Communication Barriers

What communication tools, procedures, or standards are causing a barrier in your workplace? Is there a better solution for that communication tool or process? Take the steps to reduce the barrier and increase the quality of the communication tool or standard being used.

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Communicate by Listening

Individuals want to be heard and able to share their ideas. Leaders who are able to develop good relationships with their employees are likely good listeners. To become a better listener, be attentive, ask open-ended questions, ask probing questions, request clarification, paraphrase, be compassionate and empathetic, and summarize back the information you heard to ensure its accuracy and let the communicator know they are heard.

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Less Can Be More

Employees often cite ‘poor communication’ as a workplace barrier. This doesn’t mean that they want MORE communication. They are looking for clear, quality communication that provides them with feedback and direction. Think about how many emails or messages you send, calls you make, and meetings you hold each week. Are they all really necessary and is the purpose clear? How can you reduce the quantity while increasing the quality of those communications?

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Use Social Media to Increase Transparency

Social media facilitates transparent communication by reaching your community where they already spend time. How can your organization use social media to create an authentic connection with its audience? What about posting a quick ‘behind-the-scenes’ picture or the answer to a frequently asked question? Identify one thing you can do this week to show your organization’s authenticity on social media and post it!

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Communicate Consistently

Offer a consistent place for your internal audience and your external audience to find information about your organization. The internal and external communication spaces can be separated, however, they should both contain honest, open, timely communication. It’s important to include meaningful updates on issues stakeholders care about, upcoming events, insight into the company’s strategies and processes, upcoming changes, and challenges within the industry.

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Tell Stakeholders What they Want to Know

What is important to the organization’s stakeholders? Do you gather feedback from the stakeholders (the physical community that surrounds the organization, its investors, its customers, anyone that benefits from the service it provides)? Analyze stakeholder feedback to develop a plan to communicate openly with stakeholders based on the information they want to hear. Stakeholders want honest updates from the source.

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Approach Transparency Proactively

Reacting to a negative situation isn’t transparency. To build trust and loyalty with employees and the organization’s community, leaders can use open, honest communication to let individuals know about your processes, values, and the customer or employee experience, therefore holding it accountable. How can you approach transparency in a more proactive manner? What will you do this week to promote open, honest communication?

 

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Work for Good

Does your organization benefit society while also doing business? If your organization operates in a sustainable way or benefits humanity, it’s important to create a strategy for communicating that with the public. Choose at least one way to convey honest, open information about how the organization operates that will be most meaningful to your customers.

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Clarify Decision Making

Be open with all employees in the organization about the decision-making process. The more information an individual has about why and how a decision was made, the less anxious and uncertain they may feel. During conversations with your teams this week, make it a point to be transparent and start by explaining the why.

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Use Scorecards to Communicate Purpose

Using a scorecard, help employees see how their daily actions inspire progress that leads to meaningful results. Employees are more likely to be engaged when they see how their work aligns to the organization’s mission and values.

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What’s Working Well?

Even the highest performing employees appreciate check-ins with their leader. Meet with your direct reports on a monthly basis to talk about what is going well, what can be improved, what support is needed, and what progress the individual has made on their quarterly and/or annual plans.

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Meet with Leaders First

Ask the leadership team to participate in a Leadership Forum prior to the organization-wide employee forum. Explain what the employee forum will look like and gather feedback to ensure it’s successful. Include the information needed for leaders to continue to reinforce the message with their teams over the next 90 days.

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Anticipate Questions

In preparation for an employee forum, consider sending out a request for questions from employees beforehand.  Doing so will give some employees more time to think about what they would like to ask the senior executive, as well as prepare the leader by reviewing what information employees are curious about.

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Plan for Fun

When planning for the executive leader to host an employee forum, consider developing a theme and include costumes, role-plays, decorations, food, door prizes, and music. For example, if the organization’s focus is on overcoming obstacles, the theme could be ‘the Olympics.’ Senior leaders who present can dress up as athletes, and medals can be awarded to activity participants or those with outstanding results last quarter.

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Communicate Your Superpowers

Spend time as a team discussing each individual’s strengths and natural communication tendencies. To build stronger work relationships, make an effort to communicate with team members in their preferred communication style. Brainstorm how to use each other’s strengths to accelerate results.

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Clarify with the Team

As we reflect on what’s working well, identify areas with opportunities for improvement, and develop the needed adjustments to actions for execution. It’s the leader’s responsibility to clarify those actions with the team. Communicate clearly about which initiatives and priorities are no longer the focus and which 1-3 areas are more important. Align the team’s actions to the desired goals, and establish the next steps and who will own those steps.

 

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Listen for Understanding

Avoid the temptation of listening to others only to prepare yourself for a response. The act of listening helps us better understand those around us. Pause for 5 seconds to make sure the person is done talking before you begin your response. Consider responding with a probing question or a clarifying statement to be sure you’re understanding the message correctly.

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Accurately Distinguish Your Emotions

One way to increase emotional intelligence is to get really specific about what emotion you’re experiencing. Instead of using ‘happy’ consider if you’re really ‘ecstatic’ or ‘blissful’ or ‘cheerful’. Are you ‘angry’ or are you ‘irritated’ or maybe ‘resentful’? The more accurately you categorize your emotions the better you will become at regulating them.

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Satisfaction Surveys

How do you know your stakeholders are satisfied? The best way is to ask. Create a stakeholder feedback survey and distribute it to customers, clients, the community, parents, etc., to gather essential data used for decision making and future success.

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Recognize Using Social Media

Incorporate rewarding and recognizing team members into your social media strategy. People are attracted to their ’15 minutes of fame’ and sharing a post recognizing team members publicly is an easy way to make them feel appreciated and a way to show the community what you value. If your organization doesn’t use social media, consider a consistent spot in the newsletter instead.

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Weekly Connections

Connect with your team once a week for 10-15 minutes. Each member reports: one win/progress made, what step they’re taking next, and any potential barriers to achieving their goal.

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Use Feedback to Motivate

Many individuals crave feedback at work. It lets us know we’re on the right track, and reveals areas for improvement. The best feedback results from asking questions such as, “What is going well and why is it going well?,” “Are you experiencing any barriers? Why?,” and “How have you overcome similar barriers in the past?.” Use these prompts next time you’re providing feedback to a team member.

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Communicate Progress

The stoplight colors are an easy and quick way to communicate progress toward achieving a goal. The green, yellow, and red colors are used to show the status in relation to achieving the goals. There is at least one measure (data set) for each goal. If there is no progress towards the goal, red is used. If the goal has been reached, we used green. A stoplight chart is a simple way to monitor progress and is a great visual communication tool.

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Be Aware of Nonverbal Communication

During conversations with your team members, pay close attention to their nonverbal communication. If a person’s body language and their verbal responses don’t match, this could be a sign to clarify what the person is trying to say.

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Forward Virtual Wins

When you receive an email from a customer or client celebrating an individual who makes a difference in your organization, spread the love. Forward the email to your entire team. Not only does it provide an example of what the right behavior looks like, but it will also help the team stay connected to their purpose.

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Sleep On It

Writing and sending an emotionally charged message can be a costly error. When tempted to respond to a situation or person in such instances, it is best to wait 24 hours, review the message, and decide whether it is still appropriate to send.

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Avoid Confidential Emails

Confidential information should never be shared in an email. Use the phone or a meeting for these discussions.

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What is Their Preference?

Do your customers prefer an email or a phone call? Do they prefer 1 email a week, or 1 email a month? Learn your customers’ preferences and use the information to ensure they’re engaged the way they prefer.

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Develop Norms for Emails

Create organizational standards for email communication. Should the sender receive a response within 24 hours? Are your employees expected to answer emails after-hours? After email standards have been created, leadership will set an example by role-modeling the expected behaviors.

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Discussion for Improvements

Strategy sessions provide a forum for open and honest conversation about challenges and resources. The more we involve the entire team in the discussion, the richer the options for improvement.

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Communicate Neutrally

When speaking about challenges, stop and think, “How can I phrase this in a way that doesn’t put others down – even subtly?”

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Be Open to Feedback

Thank your colleague who cares enough to speak up and provide you with feedback. Feedback is a caring gesture meant to help you grow.

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Check Before You Send

Avoid embarrassing and sometimes costly mistakes by double checking every email before you click send. Once it goes out, you can’t get it back.

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The Silent Communication

The most important part of communication is hearing what isn’t being said. During conversations, pay close attention to what body language is saying.

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Be Specific

During performance conversations, address specific actions and behaviors you’ve observed. Avoid talking in generalities.

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Procrastination Makes Conflict Worse

A hard conversation is going to be hard now and harder later. Today, schedule the difficult conversation you’ve been putting off.

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Feedback to Inspire

While giving critical feedback, remind the recipient that you believe in them and their abilities, the goal you are collectively trying to achieve, and the new information they need to drive to excellence.

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Question for Better Answers

Instead of asking, “Do you have any questions?,” ask, “What can I explain better?” You can probe further by asking, “Can you be more specific?,” “What makes you say that?,” “Can you give me an example?,” and “Why do you think that’s working?”

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Show Value by Asking Questions

Learn something new about an employee by asking them about their family or interests. Value is created when we show interest and concern for their well-being.

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Clarify Communication

To be clear you received accurate information, always communicate back what you heard.

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Respond Proactively

Identify changes that could occur in your organization’s near future and create a plan for how you’d quickly respond to those changes to sustain excellence. This plan should consider different stakeholder groups such as employees, the community, and possibly news media. Include key words to use when communicating with each group.

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Tough Talks

When you are faced with a tough conversation, first consider your goals. The first is to solve the problem. The second is to do so without damaging the relationship.

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Thrive in the Face of Adversity

Pause for 2 to 5 seconds to think today before you respond. Your response is always a choice, even in the most difficult situations, and sets an example for others to follow.

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Support Your Colleagues

Add time in your meetings today to give the opportunity for others to share their ideas. This will encourage diverse thinking and problem solving.

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Transparency Changes Results

Make your stakeholders aware of the current status and the future target of your organization. Be honest and transparent to change your results. After meeting, ask stakeholders to fill out a survey or other form of written feedback.

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Get Your Game Face On

A leader must consistently display their game face. Regardless of the situation, no negative emotion or expression can show. Leaders communicate with body language. If your stomach is churning, your expression stays calm.

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Authenticity Creates Followers

Make pausing a practice in your communication. By taking time to consider what we are communicating, we become more authentic and those we lead are more likely to trust us.

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Lower Your Talking Time

Value your listening and reading time at roughly 10 times your talking time on the road to continuous learning and self-improvement. Estimate how much time you spend talking each day and set a goal to lower that number.

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Create a Vision

People follow leaders that can see beyond today’s problems and visualize a brighter future. Show your team the connection between today, the future of the organization, and how they fit in.

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Back Pocket Ownership

We/They is the act of passing blame to others. Increase ownership behavior and eliminate we/they by visualizing your supervisor in your back pocket.

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