As I’ve mentioned, words matter. Especially words from the boss — any boss. CEO, COO, executive vice president, manager, etc. Regardless of how high up on the “boss scale” you are, what you say, particularly in writing, makes a huge difference to current employees, prospective employees and customers.
Case in point:
In the midst of the “Great Recession,” a media company with about 60 employees was struggling mightily to meet the revenue goals put forth by the president. Sales were a large part of the company’s revenue and more than half of the workforce were sales people. One afternoon, every employee received an email from the president expressing great dissatisfaction that the monthly sales goal had not been met. The problem? Monthly sales had reached nearly $2 million but the goal had been $2.5 million. The entire message was only five sentences long, was terse and reeked of anger and disapproval. Additionally, after stating the revenue numbers were not where the company wanted to be and the only thing to do was to “learn from it and move on,” the president then offered a small bonus for all employees if the $2.5 million goal was achieved.
The intention, I surmise, wast to let people know they needed to work harder to reach the revenue goal set by the president and that there was a reward for everyone if the goal was reached. The takeaway message was:
* Nearly $2 million simply wasn’t enough money in one month
* Undefined, but clearly dunderheaded behavior of employees resulted in this travesty.
There was no acknowledgement of how hard people had been working (particularly the sales staff) to reach a very respectable number, no ideas on how to pump up sales even further, no methods put forth on how the non-sales staff might help achieve the goal and earn their small bonus. PLUS, it placed the huge sales revenue numbers right next to the small bonus amount, making it appear minuscule in comparison. In short, the only thing this message motivated people to do was fantasize about TP-ing the president’s office. It was buzzed about between colleagues and resentment built.
In addition to not being a shining example of leadership, this communication was not a valuable addition to the goals of the business. Simply wording things a bit differently and adding a few ideas on how to achieve the goal set forth would have made it into an actionable, motivational piece.
I am a big believer in a first line of defense for all executive communications, internal and external. All executives should have a trusted “buffer” person, preferably someone well-versed in the art of words, public relations and marketing, to read over all communications before they are sent out.
This shouldn’t be someone in human resources or a legal department making sure everything is in line with policy, though, if you’ve got complicated legal/HR documents or issues, those experts certainly should see relevant communications. In fact, it’s even better if you’ve got an outside resource (with a strict confidentiality/non-disclosure agreement) who can look things over with a fresh eye and from outside the office politics bubble. If you’re an executive and you’re not taking advantage of such a person who will, ultimately, make you look better and benefit your business, find that person today.
In the meantime, executive communications should ALWAYS:
* Be in line with, benefit and advance the goals and mission of the business.
* Be professional.
* Be authoritative, but considerate. No matter how angry you are, it never benefits you (or the company) when you sound like a total ass.
If you’re the boss, how do you communicate effectively with your employees? If you’re an employee, was there a time your boss came across like a total jerk?