Listen to what team members are telling you. We often get our most valuable feedback when we shut our mouths and open our ears.
We are all competing in an attention economy. From pings and dings to blinks and rings, companies and content constantly compete for our limited time and attention. How do great leaders turn down the noise and tune in to the messages that matter most? What does it take to be heard above the noise? And how do we create communication that cultivates community and connectedness in a distributed, distracted world? To address these questions, we started an interview series called “Can You Hear Me Now?: Top Five Strategies Leaders Use to Diminish Distractions & Win in the Attention Economy.” As a part of this interview series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jamie Levin.
Jamie Levin is a strategic communications consultant with 15+ years of experience spanning internal and external communications, events, community initiatives and engagement. As a versatile executive with an excellent record of achievement as a collaborative partner supporting business objectives and bringing vision to life, she has demonstrated her commitment to being a proactive leader and innovative problem solver who is recognized for implementing effective team building skills, successfully identifying engagement opportunities and employing cross- functional initiatives to support company culture, and utilizing creative business building analytical and problem-solving skills. Jamie prides herself in being an excellent communicator who is strategically adept at translating strategy into a sound agenda that directly connects to overall business strategy reinforcing a people-first mentality.
Thank you for making time to visit with us. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is one of your most memorable moments, and what made it memorable?
One of my most memorable moments from a business perspective was partnering with my CEO, at the time, who I looked up to very much (still do to this day and will always) to lead an initiative aimed at giving back to the community and supporting the Palm Beach County chapter of the American Heart Association, an organization with the mission, “To be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives.” With him at the helm, and placing his trust in me, and with the support of fellow team members and community partners, we were able to raise the most money in Palm Beach County Heart Walk History with him leading the charge as the Chair of the Heart Walk. Many years later, for so many reasons, this initiative and the time spent supporting it is even more memorable.
What is the most unexpected twist in your career story, and what did you discover from your detour?
The most unexpected twist in my career story happened shortly after I relocated to Miami, FL from New York City. It was early on in my career, and I was working at a boutique PR agency in Miami following a year of experience at a larger firm in NYC where I focused on media relations and learned from the best. After only a few months at the firm in Miami I was recognized for my performance with a promotion. I was very appreciative and accepted the additional responsibility with open arms. Literally three weeks after my promotion I was recognized in a different manner…I was fired. At the time, it was daunting and confusing, as I had just been promoted only three weeks earlier and now found myself in a new city without a job, but I also felt a sense of relief. I wasn’t happy. Being fired was the best thing that ever happened to me. About two months later I secured a great job working with the largest Hispanic construction agency in the United States managing their magazine and leading their PR initiatives. The work was meaningful, I was challenged, I learned a ton about myself and what makes me happy and had a lot of fun at the same time.
According to a recent Harvard Business School study, the most essential communication skill for leaders is the ability to adapt their communication style. How do you adapt your communication style?
The first step to adapting communication style is being open to candid feedback which means listening. It’s absolutely imperative that communicators, and really everyone, are willing to listen. Throughout my career, I have learned so much by listening to others — listening to their feedback, their perspective, even their thought process. I also ask a lot of questions which provides me the opportunity to listen even more! While I may not always agree with what they are saying, I value their opinion and while it may not be applicable at the moment that is shared with me, I can almost guarantee that it will come into play at another point in my career.
Clarity is critical as well. What lessons have you learned about how to communicate with clarity in our distributed world of work?
Today, so much of our news is consumed via email, a Teams (or other channel) chat or even a text message. A lot can get lost in translation. I mean really, when was the last time you left a voicemail (many voicemail recordings request that we not leave a message) so someone could hear the inflection in your voice? How many times have you heard from someone that an email you wrote and sent was interpreted a different way than what you intended? Enter the power of perception. We must consider, at least try to consider, all of the ways in which our written communication can be perceived. The same message may need to be written in a different tone or even delivered via a different channel depending on the audience, even if everyone works for the same company. If effectiveness is of importance, which us communicators highly value, then tailoring a message to a specific audience will always hold value, even if it means additional effort and time spent.
We often discover what works by experiencing what doesn’t. Tell us about a time when your communication didn’t lead to the desired results and what you learned from the experience.
Quite a few years ago, when I was working for a large company the team was very invested in the idea of an internal social media channel for team members to connect. It was just around the time when social media was really being recognized as a valuable channel to reach customers and so many internal team members were hoping this would be a great opportunity to leverage the hype for team members to engage. We looked at it from many angles and had lots of conversations surrounding the topic. Many thought I was a naysayer because I kept voicing my opinion that we already had multiple channels to manage and I was of the opinion that the internal social media channel would be just another channel to manage that wouldn’t really hold much value when thinking about our associates.
Long story short, my opinion was of the minority and so onward we proceeded with the initiative to create an internal social media channel. Funds invested, and more importantly lots of time. A few months later while looking at engagement rates the story was told, and unfortunately (or fortunately, a bit selfish I’ll admit) my perspective was confirmed by the numbers (not something we can often do in PR and communications by the way), the efforts required to maintain this channel were not supported by the engagement rates and impact, the funding, or the time. The team ultimately decided to transition the social media channel, designed to support open two-way conversations, to a learning management system.
What advice would you offer to other leaders who are struggling to have their messages heard and actioned?
Listen. Take the time to survey your audience, learn from their feedback and take into consideration. Think about it — if you oversee a monthly internal e-newsletter for a company of 20,000 people, isn’t it important to know what people throughout the organization are interested in reading about if you want to be heard? If you’re not into basketball, do you watch it on TV or are you more likely to change the channel to watch MLS because you’re into soccer? We have to capture the attention of our audience by sharing interesting and relevant information. Let’s be honest, most people already receive too many emails and have a hard time keeping up, so the internal newsletter (for purposes of this example) needs to be enticing for a team member to open it, or even notice it, in a sea of hundreds of unread emails in the inbox.
I also recommend that people find a mentor who can open our eyes to other ideas and share best practices. I have found that it’s been beneficial for me to have a mentor outside of my organization. I’ve had mentors throughout my career who I’ve never even met face-to-face, yet I have learned so much from them. In addition to a mentor, identify additional people and organizations who you respect and keep an eye on what they’re doing — you might get an idea, a different perspective or even confirmation that what you are doing is working and is aligned with other organizations and people who you look up to and value.
Leading a distributed team requires a different communication cadence and style from leading a team in person. What are five strategies any leader can deploy to improve communication and clarity when leading a distributed workforce? Please share a story or example for each of you can.
1 . Be transparent. The more transparent we are with our team, the more transparent they will be with us. No secrets, just honesty. Always provide transparent feedback, be mindful of how it will be perceived (and recognize that people interpret feedback differently), but don’t sugarcoat things or tip toe around.
2 . Trust your team and show them you trust them. In today’s work environment with many working remote, hybrid or across a wide geographic footprint, trust is critical.
3 . Communicate. We are communicators so it would be hypocritical of us not to communicate. Always maintain open lines of communication and be sure to keep all team members informed. Of course, should the team be apart this can be more challenging, but make sure that all team members are aware of what is going on and be clear.
4 .Listen. Listen to what team members are telling you. We often get our most valuable feedback when we shut our mouths and open our ears.
5 . Engage. Engage with team members. Don’t just delegate, work alongside a team member on a project or have check-ins along the way (without being a micromanager of course…remember trust). Everyone can learn a lot about one another, including getting insight about strengths and weaknesses while also providing different perspectives on a project, that ultimately help the team be more successful. Engaging also shows interest and it’s imperative that we take an interest in the work product of our teammates as well as our teammates as individuals.
What are the three most effective strategies to diminish distractions when there is so much competing for attention?
- Prioritize. There will always be added more to the list, but it’s how you deal with the list and recognize what is a priority and what can wait, or perhaps what can be delegated to a fellow team member, that will impact efficiency as well as effectiveness.
- Listen. I know I come back to listening often, but if you listen carefully you likely will get help prioritizing whether it’s from leadership, from fellow teammates or from associates you don’t get to connect with often who know the target audience well.
- Turn off. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. Believe me when I say I need to take my own advice, but I am much more efficient when I take a break. The work will always be there, but if you don’t take a break from it you will burn out. If that’s the case, you don’t have to even think about distractions.
What is one skill you would advise every leader to invest in to become a better communicator?
I think after reading this interview people would expect me to say active listening, but I’m going to go with public speaking on this one. How one presents is of extreme importance. Some people are just born great public speakers, they don’t mind standing up in front of a room and could talk about anything as long as they’re prepared (there are some people who could do so even without being prepared). Other people need more practice, or in some instances confidence, to get comfortable even with the idea of public speaking. The reality of it is, whether in a large room or at an intimate networking event, how we present ourselves holds a lot of value. After all, we only have one chance to make a great first impression.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Invest in our youth.
How can our readers stay connected with you?
Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.