Do You Need More Face Time?
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“If you want to retain those who are present, be loyal to those who are absent.”

-- Dr. Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

“Learning cannot be disassociated from action.”

-- Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline

“The most important measures are both unknown and unknowable.”

-- W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis


Do You Need More Face Time? by Kevin McManus

The spread of high performance beliefs and practices in a workplace is directly proportional to the amount of time that people spend communicating face-to-face with each other. Relationships cannot be built or information shared in a meaningful way without this form of communication. For example, a person might be able to read an e-mail or memo about current lean improvement activities and the needs that exist for additional ones, but this form of information transfer will rarely result in that person changing how they approach their daily job. It will contribute even less towards building a working relationship between the message sender and the reader.

Creating a high performance work culture requires the selling of change. As any good salesperson knows, around only 8% of an effective sales influence occurs through the words that are said. Body physiology and message delivery (tone of voice, pacing, etc.) account for the remaining 92% - the percentage that really makes the sale. Salespeople also recognize the relative effectiveness of face-to-face sales versus telephone (only words and voice delivery apply) or direct mail (similar to bulletin board postings, group e-mails, or newsletters).

A successful high performance work system in turn requires consistent, effective face-to-face communication between people at all levels in that work system. In turn, our communication infrastructure should be designed to facilitates more of this type of communication, instead of less. Training and coaching for people who regularly use face-to-face communication must also be provided to ensure that once the opportunity for that communication is created, that time and money can be invested in an optimum way. Because the impact of face-to-face communication is more intense, leaders sometimes do more damage by using poor face-to-face communication skills than they would have done if they had not met with those people at all.

Existing Barriers to Face-to-Face Effectiveness - In most organizations, several challenges exist to inhibit the amount of face-to-face communication that can take place. In a trucking company for example, the job design of over 50% of the workforce (drivers) results in them being on the road or with external customers for as much as 95% of their time on the job. Non-driver positions also require mostly individual or individual-external customer work. The primary type of face-to-face internal customer communication delivered by the common trucking company infrastructure is (1) only within one's workgroup, (2) only with select internal customers, or (3) in meetings when they occur. As e-mail and voice mail creep more and more into our work lives, more and more companies are beginning to resemble this model.

This problem is compounded when one couples the geographic spread of a company with the need to hear a consistent message from organizational leaders. Upper managers, directors, or owners often have only one to four hours a year of face-to-face meeting time with a majority of their people to send their "need for high performance" message. This short amount of time alone is enough to cause concern, but it becomes even more challenging when one considers the potential for a wrong or damaging message being sent.

Without infrastructure changes that drive up the face time percentage, it will take a long time for a leadership team to effectively reach their people and in turn sell them on the need for high performance work practices. That said, IF quality face-to-face communication can be established in those cases where it does occur, the existing grapevine will spread that message faster (this is an advantage only if the right message is effectively sent). The question then becomes “What types of infrastructure changes are needed and work the best for effectively, consistently, and quickly spreading our "need for high performance" messages?”

One factor to consider as you attempt to answer this question involves defining who will deliver the message (the assumption is made that all employees need to receive it to some degree). A high performance-focused message means more coming from certain people (i.e. owners or other leaders) and is spread faster if more people are involved in sending it. The optimization goals therefore are to (1) get the right people sending the right face-to-face message and (2) getting a lot of people involved in this type of activity.

The Need to Understand, Learn About, and Live High Performance - For a person to send an effective message (make an effective sales pitch), they have to understand the product's features, believe in the product's benefits, and know how to deliver the message in an understandable, meaningful, believable way. It becomes paramount then that those responsible for spreading the high performance workplace vision (selling the product) know its features and benefits, and can effectively send the message. The more people in a leadership, or otherwise credible, role that can do this, the faster the "need for high performance" product will sell.

Because of the fact that even with the best infrastructure, face-to-face communications will be limited with some employee groups, it is suggested that every physical encounter with an employee be considered as a sales contact. For this to happen, organizational leaders must adopt high performance beliefs and practices as a lifestyle and continue to learn about possible applications. If these two conditions are not met, it will not be possible for a leader to send the right message in a believable way on the spur of the moment. One cannot say “Oops, here comes an employee -- I had better review my "need for six sigma success" speech and put on my “vision delivery” face!”

This “living of high performance practices ” by organizational leaders is important for two leader types in particular -- those at the top and those with whom one spends most of their face-to-face hours. Those at the top are seen as leaders whether or not they actually qualify for or are respected as such (position does not automatically guarantee leadership). For a true high performance workplace to flourish, everything these leaders do must reflect their high performance feelings and beliefs. This is why people in many companies do not perceive upper management as being supportive -- their actions speak differently than their “annual meeting or newsletter" words.

The more face-to-face hours a leader (or one in a leadership position) has with an employee or group of them over a given period of time, the greater potential for positive or negative influence they have. It is for this reason that front line supervisors are considered to be the most critical link for any effective performance improvement initiative. Unfortunately, they are the group that is traditionally left out. An employee could either say “I may not think that the CEO practices what he preaches, but at least my supervisor does” or “The CEO sure seems believable, but why does he allow my supervisor to treat me in a way that is different than we are supposed to be treating our customers on the phone?” One should gauge the amount of time they spend face-to-face with their people and realize that as the number of hours they spend with their people increases, so does the potential for positive or negative influence.

Beyond Casual or Workplace-Related Encounters - The above paragraphs describe the conceptual requirements for changing the high performance message delivery infrastructure and address the random, daily encounters that we might have. From a more specific and planned perspective, how can we change our communication infrastructure to give us as company leaders more time meeting with employees face-to-face?

“All employee” meetings can give leaders between one and twelve hours per year with all employees (if attendance is mandatory). Keep in mind that meetings of this nature will be relatively less effective as a sales medium if some form of credible relationship has not been established and nurtured during the time that falls between each event. If your leaders have had no, or limited, encounters between these events, or if the encounters that have occurred have been more negative than positive, one could argue that the "all employee" meeting will have little value. The effectiveness of this approach will also be compromised if mixed signals have been set by the leadership team as a group.

Small group meetings make the face-to-face encounter more personal (there are fewer people present) and in turn potentially more effective. They also send the message that leaders are willing to take the extra time to meet with their people in smaller groups, instead of trying to get it all over with at one time. If an open climate can be established where meaningful issues are raised, AND if action can be taken to resolve some of the most pressing issues soon after they are raised, then the effectiveness of a given session will be increased even more.

Training sessions offer a third medium for increasing face-to-face communication levels. These sessions gain their effectiveness by (1) increasing the number of hours per year spent together, (2) providing a benefit in terms of new skills to be learned, and (3) removing the employee from their normal, hectic work environment. The greatest benefit comes from the increase in hours per year spent together -- significant relationships can be built during just one eight hour training session if it is properly designed and facilitated.

Experiencing the workplace allows leaders to met face-to-face with their people, and more importantly, gain a clearer perspective of their peoples' issues. For the leader, spending time in the workplace is a relationship building process, a chance to directly relate high performance concepts to each person's job, and a chance to experience those things which can make an employee dislike their job and in turn lose their intrinsic motivation to help the company achieve the performance improvement goals that have been established.

Summing It Up

In closing, if your desire is to shift your workplace culture more towards high performance, each of your leaders need to spend more face-to-face time with their people and spend that time in a more value-added way. To help you accomplish this, consider the following:

•  Each leader may have to give themself a “high performance makeover” and re-ignite their own personal drive to learn.

•  You would probably benefit from modifying your existing communications infrastructure to increase the number of face-to-face hours your leaders spend with their people.

•  Consider using some form of leadership behavior assessment to help ensure that those leaders who do spend the most face-to-face time with others are sending the right message most, if not all, of the time.

•  Most importantly, you need to decide what being a high performance workplace really means to you personally and for your company as a whole.

Your organization's success will depend on the degree to which you can make improvements in each of the above areas. Your leaders are sending some form of high performance message now. What that message is may not have been specifically defined, but in many cases it is not exactly the one you intended or need to send. What are your observations?

Would You Like to Learn More?

Great Systems! can help you design and improve your key work systems in three ways – system assessment, one day system design workshops, and ongoing system evaluation and improvement coaching. If you are interested in learning more about these services, please send Kevin McManus an e-mail at or give him a call at 206.226.8913. Keep improving!

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Last Revised - March 1, 2015
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