ABC’s Of Leadership – C Is For Catalyst, Change, And Communication

Most definitions for catalyst describe a chemical reaction, but it also means “a person or thing that precipitates an event or change”. A leader not only has to suggest changes to move an organization forward, but also has to have a solid plan to not only execute these changes, but to communicate them effectively so that everyone knows what is expected of them. Unfortunately, many leaders are not the best communicators so when the message is not delivered concisely, fear and anxiety build amongst staff members. This causes undo suffering which affects productivity and morale.

The communications piece should be concise because a wordy document will not be read in its entirety by most people. It should also be easy to read with bullets and some white space so that the key points stand out to the reader. Using superfluous words will only add to the confusion so consider creating messaging that a high school student would understand. Keep sentences short and where possible, add metrics. Explain what the impact will be when the change(s) occur and what the ramifications will be if the change(s) are not implemented.

With the amount of information that everyone is bombarded with each day, it will be necessary to send out multiple communications and in different forms such as email, webinar, Twitter, and written. Keep in mind that people disseminate information differently so clarifications may be necessary in future messaging.

The leader should also be viewed as the chief advocate and spokesperson. Many times, the communications piece comes from human resources, communications, or some other department, and the importance of the change loses impact and validity. The leader should be as forthcoming as possible, appear honest in terms of how it may negatively affect some (i.e. layoffs), and be willing to address concerns as they arise. Some leaders will handle the initial announcement but are never heard from again. By delegating this effort to others, it shows a lack of commitment by the leader to the organization and again adds to the stress that the organization is feeling.

Think back to a time when you had to deliver information to your department or the whole company. What are two ways you could have communicated your message differently? Did you provide a way for others to raise concerns with you? Did you provide follow-up messaging to keep the organization abreast of the progress?

How to Kill the Ever-Present Fear of KPIs

When people have a fear of KPIs, of under-performance or bad decision-making being exposed, performance cannot improve. We have to kill the fear of KPIs. And we can.

In almost every conversation about KPIs and performance measurement, the elephant in the room is the fear people feel about KPIs. They all know it’s there, it’s big and smelly, but no-one wants to talk about it.

What has put this fear there, in the room, is the belief that one person has full responsibility and control over the KPIs assigned to them.

Of course, they won’t directly admit it. They don’t want to appear weak or cowardly or not cut out for their job. But indirectly, this fear of KPIs manifests in debates about the integrity of the KPIs, the lack of resources to reach targets, the difficulty of getting the right data.

What we don’t debate, and should, is the belief responsible for this fear.

We can kill this fear with a single blow, or by hacking away at it. The single blow requires some degree of effort and preparation. But it’s easy to start hacking away at that fear immediately, with small but continuous hacks.

Kill the fear of KPIs with a single blow.

The belief that put the fear elephant in the room, that a single person is in control of reaching KPI targets and if they don’t it must be their fault, has to be called out.

It will take a while to build enough trust and collaborative spirit in a team (from the board room to the shop floor) to have this conversation. Then when you create the opportunity to have it, here’s what to raise:

Be brave enough to point out the belief, and how illogical and incorrect it is. Unpick where the belief came from, what keeps it alive, and why it’s so uncomfortable to let it go.
Insist that we have to stop judging people with KPIs, stop expecting to hit targets every time, and stop using KPIs to compare performance between people and teams and even organisations. Negative and unconstructive emotions always come from these things: judgement, expectation and comparison.
Invite everyone to collaborate in overhauling the performance measurement process, to focus it on measuring organisation goals and processes, on learning about what improves performance and what doesn’t, on reaching for targets rather than hitting them.

This conversation will need time. It should be open, non-judgmental, with time for everyone to be heard. You might even benefit by bringing in an impartial facilitator who simply manages the participation.

Executed well, this conversation will deepen the team’s trust and their hope and courage to strike down the fear-causing belief in a single blow.

Steps to start hacking away at the fear immediately.

We shouldn’t ever wait for the planets to line up and ducks to get into a row before we act on important things. Perfect timing and perfect circumstances are like hens’ teeth. So is the perfect amount of team trust and collaboration to have a conversation that strikes down KPI fear in a single blow.

So until you have enough team trust and collaboration to have that conversation, here are several practical steps to hack away at the false belief that a single person has control over a KPI:

Do your utmost to visually and verbally align all KPIs to the business process results they monitor – not to names, positions, teams, or departments (not to anything that can pinpoint specific people).
Never report a KPI without context – historic performance, knowledge about what does and doesn’t improve it, constraints currently holding it back, and likely solutions to remove or ease those constraints. It’s a story, not a tick-and-flick exercise.
Change the meaning and consequences of KPI ownership. Instead of kicking bums for targets not being reached, hold people accountable for monitoring the right KPIs, interpreting them validly, and initiating action only when it’s needed.
Adopt the discipline to ask three and only three questions about a performance measure: what is it doing, why is it doing that, what can be done about it. Never ask who is to blame, why it isn’t already hitting target, or what are the excuses we can make.
Don’t misinterpret a KPI by making limited comparisons that lead to false conclusions. Understand each measure’s natural variability and only look for statistically valid signals. Conversations based on false interpretations erodes trust.

But start with what you believe…

Do you believe that individual people can be in full control of a KPI hitting a target, and that they should be held accountable for this? None of the suggestions above will be useful to you if you do.

If you truly want people to contribute their best, collaborate constructively and improve performance of the organisation, you have to let that belief go, or you’ll never kill the fear of KPIs.

If people fear that KPIs will expose under-performance or bad decision-making, performance can’t improve. We have to kill the fear of KPIs.


What practices are you using now, to kill the fear of KPis in your organisation?

How to Measure Marketing Outreach

Marketing outreach is essentially sending a message out into a target audience, to attract more people that our organisation or business exists to help. It can be time consuming and expensive, so we want to make sure it’s working. But what do you measure to find that out?

Marketing Outreach is a concept, not a goal. And it’s a weasely concept, at that. Before figuring out how to measure it, and especially before we figure out how to improve it, we must define it very specifically.

Like with most vague concepts that aren’t yet measurable, they usually comprise several specific results. In the marketing literature, you’ll see words like reach, engagement, conversion, and brand awareness. But these are really just more vague, weasely concepts. So I prefer to be much more specific.

Be specific about what Marketing Outreach means to you.

In growing my ezine tribe, marketing outreach means a few very specific results (you might notice that I prefer to word results as though they’re already true):

I make contact with many new audiences, to find out if they have the KPI struggles I can help with.
My message about practical performance measurement resonates with many people in these new audiences.
Lots of these people become new subscribers to my ezine as a result of sharing my message with them.
The subscribers to my ezine regularly read and enjoy the practical tips I write for them.
My ezine subscribers become clients that I can help and make a difference for.

There are plenty of marketing metrics (or KPIs or measures, whatever terminology you use) for specific results like those above. To mention a few: views, likes, clicks, hits, signups, opens, click-through rates, conversion rates.

But the answer isn’t to pick and choose your marketing measures from lists like these.

Don’t default to the standard marketing metrics.

Largely, the measures you choose will depend on the channels you use to reach new markets and attract them to your business, organisation, product, event or cause. That’s because of the types of data and how that data can be collected varies across the channels. Tracking “likes” on LinkedIn is much easier than tracking “likes” at live speaking events.

The measures I use for my five marketing outreach results, above, are designed based on the channels I use. Here are some of them:

Audience Size = the number of people in the LinkedIn search or conference audience or webcast audience (and so on) that I presented my message to
Landing Page Unique Visitors = the number of individual people who went to the webpage I invited them to when I presented my message to them
New Signups = the number of people who chose to subscribe to my ezine, on the webpage I invited them to
Engaged Subscribers = the proportion of my ezine subscribers who have opened at least one of the email newsletters in the last month
Subscriber Clients = the proportion of new clients that came from being an ezine subscriber

For some marketing campaigns, the first result, which is often referred to as ‘reach’, is a nightmare to gather data for. In this case, focusing on the return on investment is a reasonable proxy measure:

Return = number of new leads or clients that came from the new market
Investment = effort or cost to reach the new market

Of course, we all use a variety of methods to send a variety of messages out into a variety of markets. Each method-message-market combination will have its own contribution to our marketing outreach measures. So tracking just the totals isn’t going to give us any insight about which campaigns work best, and which are wasting our time and money.

Set up ways to track individual campaign contributions.

When most of marketing is online, it’s not that hard to uniquely track each campaign we run, to find out how well it works. Google Analytics and most email marketing apps these days make it super easy. Generally, it’s a word or a code that is unique to each campaign, and used on each campaign collateral along the journey from reaching a new audience through to someone from that audience ultimately becoming a customer.

Here’s how I use tracking codes in my campaigns to grow my ezine tribe:

In any post I share in LinkedIn, the only link I ever provide for people to click goes to a single webpage.
That webpage has “LinkedIn” in its name, so I can clearly identify from my Google Analytics data how many unique visitors land on that page each month.
There is a sign up form for my ezine on that page, and that form automatically passes the code “LinkedIn” to my newsletter list app, attaching it to each new subscriber that came from my LinkedIn activity.

I don’t get all hot and bothered about the perfection of this kind of data. Sure, a LinkedIn follower might not sign up on the landing page I invite them to; they might cruise around my website and sign up somewhere else. But as with all performance measurement, we’re trying to get a useful understanding of change over time, not a precise understanding of every bit of trivial minutiae.

There are plenty of marketing metrics around: views, likes, shares, clicks, hits, signups, opens, conversion rates. But don’t pick and choose yours from lists like these. Design them specifically for your marketing goals.


How are you defining and tracking your marketing outreach? Do have some great ideas to add, or are you taking a great idea from this post?