When I was deep in the trenches of senior leadership several years ago, I
discovered a vital piece of information that every leader needs to know. And,
as I check in with leaders now, it is apparent that most of them have not yet
had this ah-ha moment.
Are you ready for it?
You are right, it isn’t rocket science. In fact, you probably have often made that choice too. Let’s talk about why, and what you can do about it.
If you work for a fairly major corporation, you may hear these comments as you roll out a new initiative:
“I’m not going to spend much effort here. It’s just another flavor of the month. Things will be back to normal in a month or two.”
“Oh, this is new for us. But, I heard that company xyz is rolling out almost exactly the same thing. They must have hired the same consulting firm. I don’t think much will come of it; it won’t distinguish us from the competition.”
Even smaller companies are plagued with the same cynicism if you share too much information all the time.
We’ve been coached and counseled on the concept of transparency – making sure that information
is being shared and people understand it. We don’t ever want to get in a position of being accused of
hiding information from the people you work with.
Here is the downside to this coaching:
People are bombarded with information. It’s noisy, everyone wants their attention and quite frankly,
most of the time it isn’t worth the time it takes to focus on and process the messages. The messages
are repetitive; there isn’t anything new; and, according to statistics, less than 30% of our employees are
engaged enough to listen.
It will take time for people to notice, but the first step you need to take in correcting this problem is to switch to demand-driven communication. Make sure that the information you share is exactly what your employees want to know and that it is delivered in language they understand.
Gregg Baron, author of Leadership Without Excuses: How to Create Accountability and High-
Performance, says that employees want to know three things:
1. Who are we, and how do we make money?
2. How are we different from the competition, or how are we trying to be different from the competition?
3. What do our customers really need, and how can we work together more effectively to address those needs?
Your co-workers need to know the values of the organization, and what it is there to do. You don’t need fancy lists of philosophical language and mission statements that have been wordsmithed to death. You need simple statements about what is important, and what the ultimate outcome should be. That, in and of itself may be what distinguishes you from the competition, and should also answer what it is your customer really needs.
Leave out the marketing hype about your branding, drop all the acronyms and industry specific
jargon, and forget the glossy brochures. You’ve heard of the KISS principle – Keep It Simple and
As a character-based leader, take the time to talk to people. Listen to their questions, learn from them.
Work with your leaders first until they get it, and then help them help you create your message. The
one you will repeat over and over and over, until you can do it in your sleep. Don’t change a word.
Keep repeating it in all the conversations you have with people, whether it is in the hallway, the elevator, or
in meetings (one-on-one or group). Talk about it until you are ready to gag on the words, in exactly the
same way. You may even want to lie down and play dead if you have to give the same talk one more
time. Once you get to this point – look around. Your co-workers are starting to have their own “ah-ha”
moments and have begun to take action around the strategy.
You’ve done it. You’ve got their attention at this point. NOW they are listening.