Sunday, May 25, 2014

Structured Spontaneity and Prepared Oratory: Cues for Immersive Communication Experiences

India has just seen a massive election with a transformative vote. Multiple parties attempted discourses and debates through their organizations and leaders but only a few eventually succeeded.  Social history teaches that logical discourse that appeals to broad masses determined the enlightenment of societies and organizations. Similarly, business history teaches us that organizations which are collaborative and communicative internally and externally achieve sustainable success. Societies and organizations require collaboration to succeed. Collaboration, in turn, needs communication to succeed. Communication is based on points of view which are exchanged in conversations or in writing. The success of communication, hence that of collaboration and the success of societies and organizations is dependent on the logic of views and their expression. Logic that is positive and sublime, like that of peace and prosperity, leads to enlightened development.

The adventurous ability to lead a sunrise industry or the competitive ability to dominate a fragmented market is based on the organizational ability to communicate within itself and with the outside world. From a corporate logo that conveys a common identity and purpose to business vision and strategy that convey a common theme, a viewpoint is consistently expressed by businesses. These tend to be institutional initiatives, well researched, well debated and well articulated. What adds to the strength and sparkle is the productivity of communication across the organization and within its broader ecosystem. Everyone has a point of view but not every point of view would be logical. Every view deserves to be expressed and listened to but rarely these processes are well accomplished; more people tend to be keen to express than listen. Business organizations can take several cues from political organizations on how organizational units can be structured, and discourses and debates accomplished to achieve aligned objectives.
Societies and organizations
Societies have several forums to communicate. In an electoral process, they vary from door-to-door word-of-mouth communication to massive road shows involving millions. Communication occurs through print as well as electronic media. Cumulative impact of governance or opposition lies embedded in social psyche. Yet, in a short span of one month, political parties are able to cover nearly a billion people to influence transformative voting pattern. Success in such marathon and daunting processes occurs through careful internal collaboration and calibrated external communication. A simple theme becomes as important as a complex manifesto and the style of communication becomes as important as substance of communication. When political leaders singularly achieve such mammoth tasks across nations there is no reason why managers and leaders should ignore the powerful impact of collaboration and communication across organizations.
The success of national political campaigns, irrespective of geography, is dependent on two sets of factors; the first set is issues and solutions while the second set is forums and cascades. Likewise, the success of business communication, irrespective of the firm, would also depend on issues and solutions on one hand and forums and cascades on the other. Unlike social forums, corporate issues, solutions, forums and cascades are more structured and continuous which has its own advantages and disadvantages. That said, it is somewhat strange that while millions of a nation could be swayed by national leaders to vote one way or the other, the few participants of a business forum tend to be diffident to efforts by managers and leaders to align and achieve. Clearly what works for social campaigns does not appear to work in terms of business campaigns. That is essentially because societies are willing to listen and follow certain themes of development while organizations tend to continuously second-guess  leadership and managerial themes.
Forums and cascades
The importance of forums and cascades is evidenced by the successes of political parties which have a strong hierarchy of organizational units and committed cadres. Here lies the important difference between how electoral processes are organized for political organizations and how leadership processes are organized for business units. The former, the savvy political organization, has committed leadership at the top and committed cadre base at the bottom, both thematically aligned, and in respect of some parties very well indoctrinated too. These two layers form a tight cone with a circle of connected cadres at the bottom and a leadership polestar at the apex, encapsulating an undecided population in cascading layers of thematic discourse, from the top as well as the bottom. The more diametrically larger the base of the thematic cone, the stronger is the grip on the voters. The top-down and bottom-up cascade make for perfect discourse. Whenever cadres lose their thematic fervor, the electoral cone becomes wobbly.
Business organizations over time have begun to eschew the classical pyramid structure and have started adopting  more square-like, or even multi-cornered, structures, which is quite different from evolution of political organizations from triangular structures to seamless, circle within circle, conical structures. Organizational design must be reassessed if thematic alignment is desired as an overriding goal. The loss in communication in totally top-down communication of business organizations is not well understood. A few all-hands auditorium meetings by themselves cannot address the challenge. Grassroots cadre indoctrination is vital. Japanese organizations accomplish this by putting their youngest employees through comprehensive company study programs and on the job training assignments, regardless of their individual functional specializations. As a result, what emerges is neither a functional personality nor an individual personality but an enterprise personality. When cadre becomes hand in hand seamlessly, the cone of alignment and achievement gets built up.
Points of view, logics of view
The other important difference between political organizations and business organizations is that in the former the leaders are elected while in the latter the leaders are selected. In the former, leaders have little opportunity to collaborate directly with the stakeholders  once the election process is over while in the latter leaders have the opportunity of direct interface with the stakeholders at all times. Business organizations thus provide a unique opportunity for discourse and debate all times. Organizations have the choice of accepting this intrinsic feature and leveraging it to unleash creative energy or fight shy of widespread discourse and debate in them. Though the benefits are recognized by them, organizations fumble at enabling discourse and debate, and eventually try to sidestep the whole process by reducing the process to directed meetings rather than freewheeling debates.
Organizations need to be empowering to enable individual points of view while individuals need to be responsible to support viewpoints with logics of view. Discourses and debates become unproductive when they are characterized by discreet silence or indiscrete rancor. Individuals who believe that silence is better to reflect their compliance would do well to remember that as team members they are morally and professionally contracted to give their best to their organizations, expression of their constructive thoughts is integral to the best. Individuals who tend to be rancorous to draw attention to themselves would do well to remember that as  team members they are morally and professionally contracted to be constructive and disciplined in their interactions. The point to note is that as long as individual viewpoints are supported by logic of views, other team members would be compelled to listen and respond.
Expressive listening
The hallmark of meaningful communication and collaboration lies in positive expression and positive listening of individual, mutual and collective viewpoints. Viewpoints need to be expressed for any discourse or debate and teamwork to be effective; the power of expression is proportional to the logic, coherence, cogency and equanimity of expression. Even the most critical thoughts can be positively expressed when expression is characterized by theses components. Positive expression is an intelligent and intellectual balance between spontaneity (which gives authenticity) and preparation (which removes negativity). The brain and mind must be developed to capture thoughts, internally articulate and validate and then only express. The skillful speaker has not only a spring full of thoughts but also the agility of mind to process them. Interestingly, the ability to powerfully and positively express comes from an ability to listen with sensitivity and responsiveness. Powerful political leaders such as Nehru, Gandhi, Obama, NTR and Modi have been orators who made listeners respond but also have been responsive to listeners through a balance of spontaneity and preparation.
Business leaders and managers must view communication as less of a task and more of an experience. Active listening happens not merely through ears but through eyes as well; whether it is a bilateral communication or multilateral communication. Active listening, as opposed to passive listening, requires that the listeners go beyond the words and look for the broader and deeper meanings of the communication; they must also see the meanings through observation of body language. The processing capability of the mind and brain mentioned above is essential for active listening. Active listeners tend to be effective speakers. Expressive listening, therefore, requires that both the speakers and listeners perform the other corresponding task simultaneously. Speakers need to be aware of the body language of the listeners to take listening cues while listeners need to process the communication and express their responses to themselves first internally. Expressive listening is a skill that comes not only with experience of participating in interactions but also with the understanding that expression and listening are two essential wheels of the cycle of communication.
Ambient meetings
Ambience marks all overwhelming experiences; from massive political road shows to selective business conferences; political orators (for example, Nehru) are effective and so are business orators (for example, Steve Jobs)   As important as oration is ambience. Successful political road shows have a rustic and earthy, open sky and sea of humanity ambience. NT Rama Rao (NTR), the legendary actor turned political leader and the founder of Telugu Desam party took mass contact to new levels through his chariot of awakening (Chaitanya Ratham). Steve Jobs took product launch events to ethereal trajectories through a powerful combination of technological works and theatrical oratory. It is important for speakers and listeners to give due attention to meeting formats, realizing that it is entirely in them to make business meetings interactive and informative.
There could be several themes for ambience; leader-led or listener-led, technology-led or human-led, concept-led or data-led, power point-led or persona-led, and so on. Business organizations have thus several formats to leverage for effective communication and collaboration. This contrasts with the rather singular option of mass contact that political organizations have. Successful political organizations succeed against the odds mainly through ambient meetings. It is important that business organizations approach meetings as more than simple task movers. The range of additional impact could be from meeting of minds to moving experiences; the former promotes collaborative harmony while the latter ensures transformative development, of both individuals and organizations. It may sound challenging but there is no other winning formula than a combination of structured spontaneity and prepared oratory to make meetings a compellingly immersive experience.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on May 25, 2014  

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