A cursory reading of A Christmas Carol would be the best preparation for the times ahead. One could imagine a chapter wherein Scrooge would declare, “Oh, spirit, make it like it was; I want things to go back to normal.” The exasperated spirit would say, “There will not be normal.” Scrooge would whine, weep, gnash his teeth and exhibit a longing for what was. Again, the spirit would bellow, “There will not be a normal after ‘this.’ … There will be an ‘is’ that will continue to change and force adaptation.”
The best practices we are using today for life, health, safety, information and connectedness will remain.
All share one thing in common. They are “best” because they allow us to accomplish our tasks to the expected standard while mitigating the risks of our current conditions. Currently, we are hypervigilant and sensitive to our environment. Where most change can be found, though, is simply in the way we communicate with those we lead. Our communication mediums, once wholly reliant on being face to face, have morphed with the advent of social media and other web-enabled platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and FaceTime. The intent, though, remains the same: to inform and influence.
The requirements to communicate effectively have also remained unchanged. Harry Hertz, director emeritus of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, shares a model of effective communication that states, “EC = C+E+L+L,” or Effective Communication equals Caring plus Explaining plus Listening plus Living the Role. While the model is expressive, it is missing the COVID-19-induced variable of media, medium and how we communicate.
Many of us have come to the realization (in some cases, too late) that overreliance on person-to-person interface due to current conditions can prove costly. This has proven true in the U.S. economy, and in the Army’s case, building and sustaining readiness. Any enterprise that is solely reliant on outdated modes or single modes to communicate intent will incur possibly unrecoverable costs. Adaptation is absolutely necessary. We are going to have to think and act differently if we are to ever master the conditions we find ourselves acting under. Again, to quote Hertz, “Effective communication is everyone’s job. It builds trust, teamwork, and high-performing organizations. If culture drives an organization, effective communication is the fuel.”
In the #MilTwitter arena, I am excited by the innovation and engagement initiatives I see across our force. Helping to lead the charge are @FieldGradeLDR, @TheWTFNation, @Doctrine_Man and a host of other social platforms. These entities have mastered the art of communication because they go where people are.
Four things we have learned you must do to thrive in the “is” or future “this” are:
1. Trust your people. We must place adequate “controls” on our people that are reinforced by the right checks and assessments. We have to check the penetration of our messages and orders down to the lowest level.
2. We can do this. We have a “what’s next” attitude that is shaping our culture and energizing our members. We are now more deliberate, and that is a good thing. We’re seeing this now, and we’ve seen this in the past. We are a “call to action” generation.
3. We must utilize our tools to enable initiative. We will have disciplined and high-performing teams only when those units of action have access to information such as guidance, intent and defined objectives.
4. Get in the arena. The need to communicate is an absolute imperative of leadership. You have to go where your people are. No longer can a leader say, “Well, I don’t Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.”
Your presence in these forums is absolutely necessary for you to distribute information, influence behavior and be involved in the life of those you lead. This need not be a singular or individual pursuit—all that matters is that you get in the arena and compete.
If having read all the above, you wonder how to do this, then the following should prove informative, instructive and interesting. Though initially meant for Twitter audiences, I believe it holds true for all forms of social media and communication in general. First Lt. Kelsey Cochran, a panelist on social media use at the 2019 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition and known as @LadyLovesTaft on Twitter, offers the following advice to achieve understanding through communications.
1. Identify why you want to be on social media. Is it to broadcast your ideas? Is it to be visible to your organization? Is it to participate to learn from others? This will change how you interact. Communication online should have concrete goals with intended audiences.
2. Your username and bio are important. When someone clicks on your profile, they should understand who you are and what you care about. Names and pictures are preferred for senior leaders, though that’s not always necessary to make an impact, depending on your goals (see @Accidental_E9).
3. Social media is not a platform purely for broadcast. If you’re trying to be visible on social media, that requires some level of interaction—engage in a conversation, respond to a comment. (It’s also OK if you’re using social media as a learning tool. You don’t have to try to grow your account. It all depends on your communication goals.)
4. Know there’s an element of transparency and accountability online. Be deliberate in what you say, and don’t let yourself be dragged into the mud.
5. If there’s a leader on social media who is communicating the way you want to, study what they do and why it’s effective. You can learn a lot about what works and doesn’t work online from accounts and/or leaders you respect.
6. Be genuine. Don’t try to be funny if you’re not. Sarcasm is hard online. Know your audience, because social media for leaders is about communication goals and not about internet points.
7. Market yourself. Discover ways to inform your audiences where you exist online, from daily interactions to your email signature block. Be creative and deliberate.
Our way ahead has been pressed upon us by circumstance. In short, it will be different, but what we have learned will make us better.
First Lt. Kelsey Cochran contributed to this article.