Who are you and what do you do?
If it’s engagement for change that you need, you need us.
We are an independent consulting firm with a roster of blue-chip clients across the United States and in several other countries. We work at the crossroads of business strategy, leadership, and communication. We regard communication as the energy of leadership, and we focus on the engagement of people to bring about self-sustaining change.
Our purpose is to help you make engagement and change as natural, simple, and intuitive as possible. We do that chiefly by bringing structure to the abstract concepts of leadership, engagement, and trust, and by throwing a spotlight on unintended, implicit communication. Often, the implicit communication contradicts official communication and thus undermines leadership and change. By finally managing it, you can enhance the impact of leadership and bring about change.
Our founder, Thomas J. Lee, lectures on leadership at The University Of Chicago. He has spoken throughout the United States, across Canada, and in a dozen other countries in Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia. His essays and columns have appeared in professional journals circulated around the world. By definition, that’s world class.
Who are your clients?
We have served the No. 1 or No. 2 companies in such disparate industries as insurance, machinery, chemicals, energy, pharmaceuticals, brewing, aeronautics, food service, motor vehicles, and biotechnology. Many of our clients are recognizable names around the world. We have also served several agencies of the United States federal government. Where we can add value, we also serve mid-size and smaller companies.
What’s so different about your work?
We focus on clear, credible, compelling, constructive communication as the energy of leadership. Without that energy, organizational change usually fails. With it, change takes root and thrives. In particular, we shine a bright spotlight on issues of the clarity and credibility of communication.
Mixed, muddled, and mute messaging is not uncommon. No company’s leadership team ever sets out to confuse people or to compromise its credibility. Yet mediocre and low levels of understanding and trust are often the rule rather than the exception. All but a handful of leaders find themselves in a situation of imperfect credibility. We show companies and their leaders how to boost their credibility by telling it like it is – and not by using dysfunctional scare talk or slick talk.
Many consultants are all theory. Are you any different?
Having done so much best-practice benchmarking, we have developed a framework that helps you understand what’s important and why. Then we go beyond the framework to use and teach specific, practical tactics and techniques. People learn important tools that enable them to change the way they manage and lead. The benefits are immediate and lasting.
How do so many leaders lose credibility in the first place?
Actually, it happens rather easily. Business leaders can easily lose sight of the myriad ways in which they communicate as leaders—as much by visible behavior, temperament, and casual remarks as by deliberate, prepared statements. The fact is, any leader is communicating constantly, often (and most especially) when he is least aware of it. It’s easy to forget that.
It’s also easy to lose sight of the interwoven tapestry of credibility. A decision to do one thing often has consequences for something else, sometimes of equal or greater value. You can easily lose sight of the lateral consequences of day-to-day decisions and casual behaviors.
In larger companies, just their size and complexity can silently erode credibility. It is almost inevitable in any organization with 10,000 right arms and 10,000 left arms. How can any right arm know what every left arm is doing?
In addition, rigid hierarchies, asymmetrical power, and geographic dispersion are contributing factors. All three put distance between leaders and followers.
Finally, a single-minded focus on financial returns and economic efficiency – to the neglect or the diminution of such trump cards as growth, quality, mission, and customer orientation – will invariably chip away at corporate credibility. Money is important to everyone, and profit is essential to survival. But people want to be about something more than money. Finding and emphasizing the philosophical purpose of an organization is essential to cultivating leadership credibility.
What is at the core of your program?
We have a simple, powerful way to keep you and your leadership team's messages on point and on track. It is a structure that identifies three distinct modes or “voices” with which you and your leadership team speak, every day: formal, semi-formal, and informal. The challenge is to integrate or align these three voices. It's actually straightforward. You just need to know how it works.
Let’s take the three voices one at a time. Tell us about the formal voice.
The formal voice is the traditional mainstay of organizational communication. It is the information and messages that people receive in announcements, town-hall meetings, banners on the wall, glossy brochures, closed-circuit television, speeches, Web sites, and bulletin-board notices.
Common examples of the formal voice are a company’s mission, vision, and values; a slogan such as “We Love Our Customers” or “Quality is Job No. 1”; an announcement of a merger or spin-off; an ISO 9002 certification; a quarterly earnings release and management's comments in response to it; the “dog and pony show” around an IPO; the communication of an ambitious growth strategy, and explicit instructions for a task or responsibility -- even something so mundane as a script for answering the telephone at a call center.
What about the semi-formal voice?
The semi-formal voice is different. Basically, it is your company’s chest of management tools. Few leadership teams regard it as communication at all. That's half the trouble. Semi-formal communication consists of all those programs, policies, processes and procedures that companies use to manage their affairs. These things truly function as communication because they do what conventional (or formal) communication does: convey information, direction and meaning to employees, establish priorities and concerns, and encourage or discourage certain thinking and behavior in response.
Everyday examples of the semi-formal voice include meeting agendas, training mandates, job descriptions, standard operating procedures, Six Sigma processes, reporting authority, accountabilities, sales quotas, cubicle sizes, budgets, personnel choices, spending authorizations, organizational structure, performance evaluations, and employee surveys.
Tell us about the informal voice.
The informal voice is different still. Not to be confused with rumor mill or body language, it consists of relationships between people in positions of leadership (not really leaders until they actually have followers) and people in positions of followership (not really followers until their putative leaders step up to the plate).
Day-to-day examples of informal communication include sharing or withholding information, responding to or dodging questions, alignment or misalignment of visible behaviors, and extending or denying ordinary courtesy and respect. Not surprisingly, all bear heavily on workplace relationships, especially those across the boss's desk.
These crucial relationships can be mutually respectful, or mutually spiteful, or anything in between. Their nature and character communicates with power and clarity—often without your knowledge, until it's too late, as when a key employee abruptly resigns or a big customer defects.
The informal voice is driven and defined by routine conversation—comments, questions, complaints, anecdotes—and by all those countless decisions, behaviors, choices, and attitudes on the part of leadership that so often “speak louder than words.”
What’s the common denominator here?
Like anything else in business, it’s imperative to manage these three voices. In order to manage them, you must first see them. All three function as communication.
Only when an organization’s formal, semi-formal, and informal voices are all sending much the same message, only when they are facilitating a mutually respectful dialogue with employees, only when they are honoring the nobility of an organization’s values, and only when they are encouraging the alignment of behavior with strategy, can the organization reach its fullest potential.
Otherwise, it’s a roll of the dice. The semi-formal and informal communication will prevail over the formal communication, and employees will perceive a lack of integrity and thus a lack of leadership.
The key point to remember is that an organization’s formal (or rhetorical and official) voice can never operate in a vacuum. It must either compete with or complement the semi-formal (institutional and programmatic) and informal (individual, relational, and behavioral) voices. Your credibility hangs in the balance.
If left unmanaged, the three voices will generate their own messages. Each message may contradict the last, and employees may be left in a state of confusion that sets the stage for cynicism and complacency or even contempt.
But if managed well, the three voices can resonate throughout the organization to clarify and reinforce important strategic priorities.
A broadly integrated, widely decentralized system of communication is a vital management tool to deploy strategy and leverage change. Semi-formal communication and informal communication are critical. Pay particular attention to them.
We have heard something about a rainbow. What is it?
The Arceil Rainbow is a proprietary model that illustrates the importance, impact, and implications of communication in support of business leadership. It is the structure for the framework we mentioned. It portrays the deployment of business strategy in four successive stages of employee orientation: awareness, understanding, acceptance, and commitment. These four stages are driven by the three voices we just described. It is essential to minimize gaps between and among the three voices.
Why is the Rainbow important?
People in business have to be very practical. In manufacturing and production, they also tend to be left-brain, analytical, and linear thinkers. They need a structure in order to organize their thinking and see their role in a big picture. That’s why they use blueprints, flowcharts, spreadsheets, and layouts in their day-to-day work. It is why auto manufacturers build clay prototypes and architects create three-dimensional balsam models.
The Rainbow helps leaders see their communication in full context. They suddenly appreciate the need for much more and much better communication, and they see their own role with clarity. Even more important, they have a practical tool to guard against confusion and misunderstanding, and they are newly sensitivity to the fragility of their own credibility as leaders.
Tell us about the Gear Box model.
In this proprietary model, we use the analogy of a car’s transmission to illustrate multiple levels of alignment around awareness, understanding, acceptance, and commitment. The four stages are dimensions of employee orientation and disposition toward a company’s success and growth. The gears correspond to levels of alignment. The best level is at the top: strategic focus, curiosity, passion, and courage. It is overdrive. The worst is at the bottom: reverse. In between are three intermediate levels: park, neutral, and drive.
This model stimulates a good deal of analytical discussion. We use it as the foundation for a self-assessment and for developing communication strategies. In workshops we take certain cells ─ confusion or ambivalence, perhaps ─ and search for examples in the workplace. Once we isolate them as real-world phenomena, we can probe for their causes.
Tell us more about the workshops.
Our high-impact workshops are designed to help managers become top-notch leaders. We set the stage by distinguishing the work of leadership from the work of management, and then we explore the implications on communication. Then we introduce the Rainbow and Gear Box models as well as a framework of principles for effective communication. We also identify specific responsibilities, and we demonstrate why these responsibilities are important and necessary.
The workshops are highly interactive, but we also tell lots of colorful stories that illustrate our key lessons. Evaluations of these workshops are consistently high; on average, 95+ percent of participants recommend identical workshops for their colleagues. To maximize their impact, we recommend one workshop for every 16 to 24 participants, though we can make larger sessions work.
Our primary offering is a three-day workshop. The first day focuses on the similarities and differences between leadership and management and between engagement and alignment. The second day concentrates on communication as the energy of leadership. The third day delves into the ancient concept of servant leadership and the importance of emotional intelligence.
Who attends your workshops?
We prefer to begin with the senior management of an organization – be that a company, division, manufacturing plant, distribution hub, or whatever. After that, it is a question of how far down you want to drill the concepts of grounded, strategic leadership communication. Some clients stop at senior management. Others extend it through their managerial and supervisory ranks. Still others use e-learning and their own in-house trainers to acquaint all their employees with the basic framework.
We can’t spare an entire day. Do you offer keynote speeches to help us get started?
We certainly do. Our founder, Thomas Lee, is a professional member of the National Speakers Association.
How do the e-learning and in-house training work?
We can develop it for you or work with you to create an interactive, computer-based training module in the Rainbow methodology. Participants develop a basic knowledge of the subject in just 90 minutes. We also train and certify your in-house trainers to deliver our program to general populations. In the future, we plan to have e-learning available on our web site. We also have online learning opportunities available.
Tell us about your webinars.
We are developing a curriculum of four pre-recorded webinars, which you can distribute to your staff or post to an intranet. Each is about 30-45 minutes long. They’re well-suited as a brief introduction to our concepts or as a means of reaching dispersed personnel. Please note that they are not of sufficient depth to serve as a substitute for a workshop. The curriculum consists of:
Communication Is the Energy of Leadership
A simple, grounded explanation of the differences between the work of managing and the work of leading, with a description of the communication (both the style and the substance) that works best for each. We will establish that communication is the essential energy of leadership, introduce the five axioms of leadership communication, and describe the twelve archetypes of leadership (e.g., visionary, moral, heroic), with real-life examples of each.
The Critical Link of the Front-Line Manager
Just how important are front-line managers supervisors to your organization's success? Put it this way: Everything depends on them. Yet research shows that few front-line managers and supervisors communicate with clarity and credibility, and few understand their role in the overall process of strategic execution. In this powerful webinar, you will see just how front-line managers and supervisors must adapt to the changing needs of the workplace in the 21st century.
A Systematic Process for Building Employee Engagement
Only 28 percent of employees in the United States, and only 21 percent of employees worldwide, describe themselves as engaged. Disengagement costs between 2.1 and 2.5 percent of all economic activity, equal to $410 billion to $485 billion per year in the United States alone. It also alienates the truly engaged employees, who leave for competing companies with cultures that reward high-performing people. This webinar will explore the challenge of engaging employees. You will get specific strategies that have been proven to work for building sustainable engagement.
Strategic Communication for New Initiatives
An introduction to the powerful Arceil Rainbow model for credible, compelling communication of strategic purpose and priorities. We will define strategic communication, introduce the four stages of strategic communication, and explain the three voices with which every organization speaks, explicitly and implicitly, every day. We will show you how to use the Rainbow model analytically, to determine the root causes of confusion and cynicism in your workplace, and strategically, to plan for clear, credible, compelling communication.
What is the foundation for your thinking?
We have benchmarked the process of leadership communication in approximately 30 major corporations, and we have been brought in to work in quite a few others. Our breadth of experience brings real-world grounding to our observations and insights.
How does all this fit a change initiative?
Most companies face the need for change, but they approach change as a linear process requiring good management and controls. We see change quite differently. We believe change is essentially a challenge of leading people, and we are convinced that every organization needs collateral leaders up, down, and across to back up the principal leadership.
Many business managers are strangers to the hard work of genuine leadership. They don’t think in terms of leadership, and they don’t embrace the hard work of leadership. As a result, they frequently miss opportunities for change. Companies without depth of leadership tend to resist change, to bog down, and eventually to stagnate.
Management and leadership are complementary. Both are important. But each has its own thrust. We think of management as the work of organization and production. Leadership, on the other hand, is the work of change and inspiration. Increasingly, companies are realizing they need talented leadership, as well as responsible management, throughout their operations. The opportunities for real leadership in business are almost limitless.
Both management and leadership make use of communication. Successful managers are typically skillful at communicating explicit and often urgent instructions and expectations. However, they are not necessarily skilled at communicating change in an exciting and credible way, which requires greater dialog, trust, and involvement. Because many managers are not skilled at leadership communication, they are not comfortable doing it, and so they tend to avoid it. We repair that.
Don’t you regard leadership communication as a process?
Yes, we do. Indeed, it is an essential one, not an optional activity that leaders undertake to be nice. Communication is absolutely critical to leadership.
However, unlike most manufacturing operations, leadership communication is not a linear process. We think of it as an iterative process, requiring a great deal of redundancy and attention to critical ancillary issues such as speed, sincerity, access, and credibility, and also as a culture that encourages or discourages people from exchanging information, ideas, and instincts.
Above all, it is a very human process. That means it must take into account such factors as inattention, forgetfulness, fear, distrust, uncertainty, speculation, camaraderie, sensitivity, bias, exaggeration, insecurity, nuance, and pride.
Our organization is beset by confusion, fear, and resistance to change. Can you help?
Through decades of experience, we know just how easily a counter-strategic message (i.e., an inadvertent message that runs counter to the organization’s real mission, goals, and strategy) can develop from nowhere and seep its way through a workforce. The adverse effects can be very costly: misunderstood priorities, lack of focus, erosion of engagement, denial of change, fear of full participation, lingering hostility. This strategic misalignment cannot go uncorrected.
That’s where we go to work. By applying the Rainbow retrospectively, we analyze the communication environment for counter-strategic messages that have managed to take root in a plant. We identify the unintended causes of those counter-strategic messages: frequently, things that a management team has inadvertently said or done, or inadvertently neglected to say or do. (These oversights happen on their own in the best of companies. It isn’t a matter of accountability so much as intervention and correction.)
Then we play the Rainbow forward, not unlike due diligence. We develop an integrated strategic communication plan that pays special attention to the myriad ways in which a management team communicates implicitly through the semi-formal and informal voices. The high-value business result: broad engagement around true strategic priorities, so that an organization can dramatically improve its success.
You can reach us in multiple ways:
- By email, we're at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our days are typically full, so please allow us time to respond.
- By telephone, we're at +1-650-464-1770. It's wise to email us before calling. That way, we will have your contact information in writing, and we can schedule a convenient time to talk.
- Please note that we're usually in the Central U.S. time zone. Leave a clear voice-mail message if we don't answer.
- On LinkedIn, we're at www.linkedin.com/in/leadershipexpert.
- On Facebook, we're at www.facebook.com/arceil.leadership/. That's @arceil.leadership.
- On Twitter, we're at www.twitter.com/LeadAloud. That's @LeadAloud.
- Many of your preliminary questions may already be answered in the About, Speaking, and FAQ pages on this site.