Successful CEOs and C-suite executives never underestimate the power and influence their message can have on the business. They realize that a crystal-clear message that generates strategically aligned decisions and actions is what separates high-performing companies from the also-rans.
However, many CEOs underestimate what it takes to formulate a message employees truly embrace and the work required to convert that message into desired business results.
Great CEO communicators don’t make this mistake.
They spend a significant amount of time working with experts to formulate their message. They get outside counsel to ensure that message is relevant and resonates with stakeholders up and down the organization. They also put control mechanisms in place to ensure the message does not get diluted as it filters its way through the organization and into the customer experience.
One of the great CEO communicators was the late Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric. Like him or hate him, he knew how to convert a message into action. In Jacked Up, an account of Welch’s leadership at GE, the author describes how Welch took the time to review every senior-level presentation his leadership team delivered. Some would say he did this because he was a control freak. However, great CEO communicators see the genius in this disciplined action.
Welch put this process in place to make sure his message was understood by leaders, translated correctly, and delivered consistently up and down the organization. Great CEO communicators realize this is just one of many control mechanisms they must put in place if they want the message to manifest itself into desired business outcomes.
As MIT research fellow Michael Schrage once wrote in Harvard Business Review, “Understanding the importance of being understood is what makes great CEOs great communicators.” However, in today’s always-on, noisy, and hyper-connected business world, being heard (much less understood) has become extremely challenging for CEOs. That’s why CEOs must be extremely intentional about formulating and managing their message. To do this, they need to get outside counsel, put rigorous processes in place, and follow a disciplined cadence.
Is this a priority for you? Let’s see. What’s your message around the company’s . . .
- Business priorities in the current fiscal year?
- Primary market or customer opportunities?
- Latest organizational change initiative?
- Recent merger or acquisition?
- Vision, mission, values, and culture?
If none of these are relevant, pick one of your top initiatives. What message are you delivering to ensure its success? Do leaders understand the message? Are they translating it correctly and consistently? Is that message driving desired actions from frontline employees? Is your message positively impacting business results?
In the article referenced earlier, Schrage went on to say:
If people can’t constructively enhance and advance the CEO’s essential message inside the enterprise and out, then something is profoundly wrong with either the people, the message, or the CEO.
Are your strategic initiatives being communicated in a consistent, comprehensive, and effective manner?
If not, does the blame lie on your people? Your message? Or the fact that you have not yet put all the pieces in place for you to become a great CEO communicator?
 Michael Schrage, “Great CEOs See the Importance of Being Understood,” Harvard Business Review, December 16, 2016.
This article is an excerpt from James F. O’Gara’s book, 40+ Ways to Increase Organizational Clarity, Alignment and Performance. James is also the CEO and founder of OnMessage, a strategic B2B communications consultancy based in Dallas. OnMessage specializes in translating go-to-market strategies into compelling stories that accelerate growth.