There’s communication. There’s business communication. And then there’s business management communication. Learning the difference could be the key to being a successful business leader.
Hsieh Tsun-Yan, the new Provost Chair Professor of Management at NUS Business School, says management communication deals with the intent of a task – getting someone to do something as a result of what you say that otherwise would not have happened.
“It’s about getting somebody to focus, to align, motivate, accelerate, and elicit productive behaviours,” he says. “Communication is an interchange of information, thoughts or influence. The keyword is influence.”
Students embarking on the NUS MBA programme in 2012 will be among the first to learn from Hsieh how to harness that ability. Hsieh has developed a management communication course that will address the challenges and opportunities they’ll have to influence the world of business.
“You didn’t come here so that you can pump gas or be a teller,” he said during an orientation session for incoming MBA students.
“You’re here hopefully to influence the world through the work of others. This is the last mile that stands between you and the desired outcome or impact that you wish to have by coming here.”
Ask yourself in everything that you do, how is that going to elicit a behaviour change?
Provost Chair Professor of Management, NUS Business School
Hsieh brings decades of experience to the classroom. He had a 30-year career with McKinsey & Company, serving as a director in the management-consulting firm. He’s the founder and lead counselor of Lin Hart Group, a leadership advisory firm, as well as an independent director at Sony, Bharti Airtel and Manulife Financial, and a member of the NUS Business School’s Management Advisory Board.
Hsieh’s career has seen him make countless pitches involving tens of millions of dollars, with hundreds of people affected by whether or not his communication was effective.
It wasn’t always so. During his university days at Harvard, he recalls being so stressed he could barely utter two words. When he first started at McKinsey, he says he was stammering. Part of that he blames on his upbringing in an environment when students only spoke when invited to do so by the teacher. Speaking up was completely unnatural.
But he says through careful tutelage by his mentors and a lot of extra work on his own, he managed to survive. His impressive resume would indicate he not only survived, but thrived.
He says if he were only allowed to teach one thing, management communication would be it.
“I feel I’m better qualified that I had gone through that massive hardship to survive, that I had thought enough about how you improve proficiency to teach this better than perhaps somebody who’s natural,” he told the new intake of MBA students.
“Management communication needs to go the extra mile of challenging not just the person’s thoughts, but ultimately elicit behavioural change in action. Ask yourself in everything that you do, how is that going to elicit a behaviour change?”
Hsieh focuses on what he says are three key areas of focus in successful management communication. The first being that it is always context specific.
Whether you are addressing new or familiar customers, your superiors or subordinates, this will influence dramatically how you communicate the same content.
Second, management communication is “always under pressure”. Handling that pressure, absorbing and understanding information and remaining proficient are essential.
And finally there is the critical premium on judgement. Management communication, he says, “is not about essay writing, it’s not about speech making, it’s about exercising critical thinking and judgement.
By his own count Hsieh has worked in 31 countries and many business climates.
He says he’s seen many good ideas and good executives fail, not because the ideas weren’t good or the executives weren’t smart, but because the executives failed in their “last mile” – the communication.
Trying to impart new communication skills to an executive whose career may be on the line is very difficult. Hsieh told the NUS audience now is the time for them to develop the skills and style that will serve them well throughout their careers.