- “Talented But Lazy”
- “Professional Role Model”
- “Cleverly Disguised As An Adult”
- “You Read My T-Shirt; That’s Enough Social Interaction For Today”
When I see a unique T-shirt saying, I find it interesting to quickly analyze if the saying is reflective of the wearer’s behavior. Sometimes it is dead on - like the summer intern who was calm, cool, and very much a “professional role model” despite the high energy level of the large group of five and six year-olds around her. Sometimes the T-shirt saying is ‘misleading’ – like the young man at the basketball court who still needed work on his jump shot to be talented.
This same exercise can be applied to organizational communication. Picture an imaginary T-shirt. The front side is the organization’s message and the back is how employees really feel about the message. Sometimes there is complete alignment. Other times, employees’ perceptions are very different than leaders. And, when perception gaps exist, it can create discontentment, disengagement, and resistance to change.
Here are a couple of examples from past clients who have used the T-shirt exercise:
- (Front) “Supporting & Improving Our Neighborhoods”
(Back) Picture collage of multiple employee volunteer events
- (Front) “Quality First”.
(Back) “It All Depends!” Picture of a calendar with the last two days of the month marked out with a red ‘X’.
- (Front) “Commitment to Superior Shareholder Returns”.
(Back) Picture of closed factory gate. A sign on the gate reads - “Ongoing shut downs & layoffs”.
- Avoid confirmation bias. Leaders can’t just look for evidence that supports their decisions/actions. They must also pay attention to perceived misunderstandings and/or animosity – even if known to be incorrect.
- Be proactive! It can reduce the potential negative consequences of ‘conflicting’ perspectives.
- Determine key actions, events, and/or behaviors that triggered the perception gaps.
- Balance rational and emotional elements in your explanations. Bombarding people with only facts and data isn’t enough especially, if there are perceived fairness issues.
- Be consistent. Employees need to hear the same messages and clarifications from all leaders at all levels.
- Don’t expect immediate results. Generating understanding takes clarity, credibility, consistency, and time.