POPin Blog

Are You Connected?

3 Keys to Boosting a Leader’s Signal – A Leadership Fable by Hayes Drumwright.


Connectivity matters. Without WIFI in our offices we are sent straight back to the stone ages for effectiveness. Isn’t this also true when we measure connectivity between executives and their employees? What if a leader was a wireless connection point for the office that everyone needed to connect to in order to succeed?  Let’s look at an all too familiar scenario we see across most all corporations today.  We will sub in Wireless Connectivity analogies throughout the scenario and watch how much easier it is to see the problem.

Connectivity Problems

Jane is a hard driving senior executive at a Fortune 1000 company.  As with all execs, she received below average communication (re: connectivity) scores from her annual surveys and wants to correct it.

She has discovered that her direct reports have 3-4 bars but as she moves down through the org, three levels down let’s say, they can’t get online at all.  No signal. At that level, they may literally go through a routine like back in the 80s-90s before internet – doing the best they can with very limited access to information to overcome basic issues. Since Jane can’t spend time with everyone in the department daily, this is understandable and the solution seems simple. Jane needs a way to up her signal strength.

She decides communicating more will fix it.  She has town halls, newsletters, emails, surveys, and something as simple as walking around and chatting in her arsenal.

She decides town halls reach the masses fastest and sets her calendar to get on stage and spend 1 hour per month talking about what she cares about.  After the first one, she gets off the stage and calls her front-line to a room for feedback. They tell her “good job” and “you nailed it.” Jane has her admin send a survey asking the masses what they thought of the town hall on a scale of 1-5.  Not many participate but she gets a 4.1 out of 5.

Still concerned, Jane decides to up the ante; she begins to walk around the office and talk with people.  She sets time on her calendar to spend 15 minutes with different groups trying to build a real connection where individuals can ask her questions and have a causal drive by conversation. As she approaches a group of cubicles, their hosts sit up straighter, type faster, and when asked how they are doing they respond that everything is great. They seem to love their jobs. About two months into it, one of the people she met with in her first week of walking around resigned. This is the same person that said everything was great. She even remembered this person saying “great speech” after the last town hall.

Confused she conducted an exit interview.  Her findings were hard to hear.  The employee told her that he felt disconnected. When she was on stage, he didn’t know how her agenda applied to him.  When she sent him surveys, he saw them as a nuisance because he never heard back from anyone on how his input mattered or changed anything. And when she stopped by his desk, he really did appreciate it, but there was no way he was going to tell his boss’, boss’, boss about the lack of connection and total inability to get and stay online. To make it worse, he was leaving to go to a similar job at her biggest competitor.

He had attended a town hall at the other firm while interviewing.  He told her that everyone at the competitor could get online and connect with the leaders.  He said they had found a way to provide a real connection. A connection that felt like a two way honest conversation rather than being talked down to.  When she asked him how, he smiled and said they made him promise not to say and that he was sorry. Frustrated, she wished him the best of luck and went back to her office.  She had tried everything she could think of to boost her signal and the company was still struggling to get online.

Nothing she had done has worked. None of the activities helped build a real human connection where people felt considered, listened to, or heard. sJane’s signal had exactly as much range as it did before she started.

She decided she needed to go undercover. After a bit of recon, she figured out when her competitor’s next town hall was. She figured out the dial in number and listened in.

The CEO of her competitor, Carol, started the call with greetings and pleasantries just like she did.  But then Carol pulled up an app and said, “Thank you all for participating in our POPin session where you answered the question, ‘What questions or topics would you like me cover in our next town hall?’  I am displaying the dashboard for you so I can directly address 3 or 4 of the items you all voted to the top.”  She then took about 15 minutes to talk directly to what the employees of her department cared about.

Jane was pissed. Carol had found a way to listen to them, not by walking around like she had, but by asking all of them an incredibly simple question and using crowdsourcing technology to have them vote on what they cared about most.  Carol found a way to have a REAL conversation where both sides felt heard.  It didn’t stop there.  After the initial 15 minutes covering the thing the employees cared about most, Carol then hit the topics she needed to convey for 30 minutes.  This made sense to Jane because the traditional purpose of a town hall is to cascade messages to the to so the company can hit its goals.  Knowing she did this too in her town halls she felt a little better.

Before Jane could feel too good Carol stopped her message and said the following, “Okay everyone, I know I just covered a lot of important stuff pretty quickly.  I have opened another POPin and would like all of you to spend five minutes before you go back to your desk and let me know where you need more clarity. I know there must be some confusion, so instead of asking you to raise your hands, go in anonymously to this POPin, just like the one we did before the town hall, and share what you need more clarity on.  We can only achieve our goals if we can be honest with each other.  We can only beat our competition if we are aligned.”  Carol then went quiet for 3-4 minutes and let people put their responses in POPin.

When she came back on she closed the meeting by saying, “I break alignment into three components: Trust, Clarity, and Buy-In.  Trust occurs when we can have real conversation like we did at the start of this meeting.  Clarity is what we are shooting to achieve by addressing where confusion lies on the messaging I just delivered.”

“The last tenet is gettin]g company wide Buy-In on how we achieve our goals.  This means you all need to have some say.  I will cover how we will accomplish that next town hall.  Thanks everyone.  I will be in the “Clarity Seeking” POPin for the next 10 minutes responding the items that get voted to the top.  Thanks.”  And then then Carol’s Town Hall ended.  Jane could feel Carol’ signal strength.

Jane was dying to get into Carol’s POPin session and see what her employees really thought of the message.  She thought back to all the “Good Job” and “Nice Speech” comments she had received and realized how useless they were.  She now knew why her employee quit.  Her competitor figured out how to boost her signal.  She figured out how to make people feel connected.  Connected to her, to the message, and to each other.  She walked out of her office and looked at the sea of cubicles.  She heard the clicking of keys pick up as she walked toward to lobby.  She was fired up.  Clearly, it was time for a connection upgrade.

3 Keys to Getting a Strong Signal

  1. Both sides need to get a chance to speak, listen, and respond in a way they feel considered and heard.
  2. A “Connected” conversation needs to be safe. Employees need a way to hide their identity or their input will be too sanitized.
  3. Leaders need to have a consistent cadence and be accountable to addressing what is top of mind to the majority of the employees every month. The addressing of concerns builds trust and the cadence buys patience during the month as they know the conversation is coming.


About the author:  Hayes Drumwright founded Trace3 and grew it to over $500M in revenue before founding POPin.  www.popinnow.com