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I had lunch recently with a colleague who used this delightful turn of phrase: we all need to “check the frequency we’re resonating at.”

And that resonated powerfully at my frequency.

Since then I’ve been reflecting on the phrase, and how much truth sits within it.

If people (the right people) aren’t picking up what you’re putting down, then it’s simply not the right stuff.

And I see this play out so frequently in the work I do.

Time and again, in working with a client, we encounter some sort of “break” in the team or organization’s foundation – something essential isn’t working right, and the leader doesn’t understand why, or how to repair it.

And while analysis typically reveals several factors underlying the break, there are three archetypal situations that play out time and again. They are grounded in a frequency mismatch, and if leaders only had awareness of this, then resolution would be much easier to achieve.

The risks of mismatch are high. When employees hear words that don’t resonate, it quickly leads to a sense of “they just don’t get it” which in turn drives disempowerment, disengagement, and ultimately – potentially – attrition.

So where do I see this play out in my practice?

Frequency mismatch #1: Leaders speak in vision while employees speak in to-do lists.

A financial services organization announces the launch of a product suite designed to serve the (historically undesirable) “underbanked” population. And while this suite will contribute to revenue growth, much of its intent lies in its mission.

Leaders at this organization speak with great pride and enthusiasm about contributing to the financial empowerment of this population, while employees at the same company are still looking at weekly reports, monthly spreadsheets, and too many meetings that end without resolution.

In this situation, leaders are wondering why employee engagement isn’t on the rise, and why innovative ideas to support and promote the suite aren’t rising to the surface.

The answer is a frequency mismatch. Vision is powerful and has a rightful place on any stage.

But if leaders aren’t translating that vision for their teams – drawing the through-line from vision into spreadsheets and meetings (here’s why your work matters) then mismatch will prevail, and engagement and innovation will remain stifled.

Frequency mismatch #2: Leaders presume skill development to be a magic bullet.

A healthcare organization is struggling with efficiency and productivity. An employee survey indicates a lack of leader communication.

Survey responses state that teams feel inefficient due to a lack of necessary context and information that could enhance collaboration and prioritization.

The organization translates these findings into a case for a “communication skills training” for leaders. They launch the training, the leaders love it, and nothing changes.

Through follow-up interviews with employees a few months later, it is revealed that the issue was never lack of skill, but rather will. Leaders know how to communicate – they simply don’t have the time or motivation to do so.

So here we have another frequency mismatch. And the lesson is that while a skill-gap may be the answer – and frankly it’s the sexier option – it often isn’t. Leaders need to get under the hood of any issue, and check the foundation before providing education.

Frequency mismatch #3: Leaders actively encourage risk-taking, innovation, learning from failure… but none are forthcoming.

A professional services firm strives to develop innovation solutions to offer its clients.

Leaders encourage their teams to take risks, put “crazy” ideas on the table, get comfortable experimenting, etc. And it’s persistently not happening.

In speaking with their teams, we uncover the hard (but not surprising) truth: employees hear the words, but the words are unsupported by action.

What gets rewarded gets repeated.

In other words, employees continue to see rewards going to those delivering reliable success. Those being promoted are those delivering consistent results – not taking risks. “Crazy” ideas aren’t being piloted in any visible way, and risks that go awry are criticized more than rewarded.

The frequency mismatch here needs to be resolved by leaders being hyper-mindful of the behaviors they truly want to drive, and then demonstrating a real and visible commitment to them.

In our practice, we refer to the situations above as “cracks in the foundation.” They are the essentials that must be repaired in order for outcomes – and the employee experience – to be optimized.

What situations have you seen play out in your team or business?