Pamela Scott asked:
(c) 2008 Pamela Scott
This article is directed to the CEO, but it can help anyone in a management position communicate more clearly with staff.
Glenn, owner of a midsize professional services firm, describes his situation: “Every January I give a state of the company address to the troops. The usual stuff: how we did last year, where we’re going this year, how excited/optimistic/cautious I am about the future, and so on. And for the next 12 months, every year, managers and staff ask me where we’re going, how we’re doing, etc.
“What am I doing wrong? I keep telling them what they want to know, but nobody seems to get it.”
What’s going on
This example demonstrates why communicating effectively is so tough. Think about these points.
Nobody – and I mean nobody — has the same perspective as the CEO. The CEO sees how myriad pieces come together. He or she is really alone in this position.
Managers have been told what’s going on, but they are human beingsthey have their own concerns. They each have their own turf or silo to take care of and be held accountable for.
The general staff know what they do on a daily basisget in by 8 a.m., out by 5:30 with luck, make calls, take care of the project, do good work. But they lose sight of the company’s strategic goals and plans for the future.
What to do so they get it
Start with asking yourself some critical audience analysis questions. What do they (your managers, staff, and/or stockholders) . . .
– Already know?
– Want to know?
– Not want to know?
– Need to know?
– Not need to know?
When the CEO speaks, it’s like hearing the booming voice of the wizard in “The Wizard of Oz.” Everyone is wary, particularly in a tough economy. So the CEO has to think through the perspectives of everyone in the audience and figure out to deliver the message. This applies whether it is a small firm or a multistate firm with hundreds of employees.
No one can read minds. Clear communication from the CEO is absolutely essential for a firm to be successful.
When addressing a large, diverse group of people, you have multiple needs to meet.
1. Some listeners/readers want a history of how we got to where we are. This is a favored approach for many left-brained types. So, you tell your story from a chronological standpoint. “In 2006, we were here… In 2007, we…”
2. Upon hearing that, other folks will think, “Here we go again. Same old, same old.” And they will stop listening. These are likely the folks who want the big picture: “Where are we going in 2008? What new markets are we looking at? What new and exciting opportunities do we expect to find?” They are looking to the future and new possibilities.
3. You also have the group that wants to hear the logic behind these plans. This group can come across as challenging the CEO and his thinking. Their challenges can come across as micro-managing or as if they think the CEO weren’t thorough in his thinking. For this group, the CEO needs to enlighten them on the thinking behind your decisions.
4. Then there are the folks who always want to know about the impact on the people.
What’s a CEO to do?
Sit back and think about your audience and your message. Start with what you want the outcomes to be from your speech or presentation. Some call this reverse engineering; I think of it as starting from the end and working backwards.
To begin your message, set the framework for what you are going to talk about. For example, “I want to take the next 20 minutes to recap where we’ve been, where we are going this year, and what we expect a couple years down the road.” I’m being very loose in my wording. You would be more specific in terms of “couple years.”
Set the tone of the message. “Last year was a mediocre year. We’re expecting similar outcomes this year. However, we are putting things in place to ensure the firm grows in the next couple of years.” Keep it simple. Be specific. But this is not the place to quote your P&L.
Then tell them the story.
A. Since you have given a framework for your comments, which makes the folks in No. 2 above happy, you can go to No. 1 and give the history and financials.
B. Tell more now about the future and expectations. Remember to convey the logic behind your decisions to keep the folks in No. 3 above at bay.
C. Focus on the impact on your people, point No. 4 above. What opportunities do you expect? What new education or training can they take advantage of?
D. You’ve heard it before: Tell them what you told them. Recap, highlighting the points you most want them to remember. Listeners and readers always remember the last point they heard before they remember anything else you said. If you want to downplay information, put it in the middle of your speech.
The CEO as Storyteller
The CEO needs to be the Chief Storyteller. Take time to craft a story that conveys your message in a way that your staff can understand.
Remember: Numbers may drive the business, but people drive the numbers.Â®