It all starts from the top. That couldn't be truer than for communications. The CEO and management team set the context, agenda and tone for every company's brand and operation.
A quick scan of the leaders at several top global brands reminds us of the power of leadership communications. The great brands -- from Apple to Coca Cola, Toyota to Disney, IBM to Nike -- have top executives who evangelize their brands from the top down, and both inside and out.
In this issue of Marketing Coach, we interview Evelyn Rodstein to take a look at the best practices for executive communications. Evelyn has a deep background in leadership development and talent management, having served as a head of talent at five global Fortune 100 companies, a big four professional services firm and an entrepreneurial middle market company. She currently has her own consulting practice in executive development.
The challenge for each reader is to determine how you can contribute to improve your company's executive communications, as well as that of your leaders and colleagues to ensure an impactful shared vision and culture. If you are not a CEO or head of corporate communications, you are encouraged to share this up.
"The CEO message can be a powerful tool for motivation, but it can also backfire."
Question 1: How do you construct the CEO message?
Rodstein: A good CEO message needs to: 1) communicate a clear and compelling vision and strategy that aligns the company, 2) give employees confidence that the CEO is in charge, able to make tough decisions and grow the business, and 3) win the hearts and minds of employees.
When a CEO message works it creates the opportunity for each employee to "make the CEO story their own" and adapt it to their own unique experience. For example, if a CEO talks about how important innovation is and the employee has an experience where one of his/her ideas is adopted, the employee will have his own personal commitment to innovation. The employee will tell his/her family this story. It is no longer only the CEO's message. It becomes mass customized as each employee creates their own story
A CEO message can be a powerful tool for motivation, but it can also backfire. Messages that are not realistic can create skepticism and emotional distance from the CEO's message. That's the "say- do" gap. As in: "do as I say, not as I do."
The CEO message needs to be consistent with the employee's daily reality. The CEO says s/he wants innovation, the employee has an idea shut down by their manager; the damage is worse than if the CEO never stated the message at all.
The CEO also needs to regularly engage with all levels of the organization through meetings, drop bys, participating in training and team brainstorming sessions. The CEO is there not just to talk, but also to listen intently and engage. There are many social media and live mechanisms to communicate with employees. The core to effectively utilizing all of them is staying authentic.
There has been a lot written about "story telling," but a key role of the CEO is "story listening." The CEO needs to listen to their employee's stories, alert to disconnects and questions. When possible the CEO can incorporate employee stories into their own narrative.
Question 2: How do you get buy in and engagement from the rest of the Company
Rodstein: There is a difference between the roles of CEO, senior leadership and middle managers. Many change, communication and brand initiatives die as they roll out through senior leaders and middle managers.
The first step is making sure the senior leadership team is on board and driving the message. The CEO has to have an authentic conversation with the senior leadership team that results in sincere commitment and personal ownership. This does not happen without constructive descent during the leadership team discussion. It's easy for people to "yes this stuff to death." Frank conversations foster ownership.
Each leader needs to integrate the CEO message into their own unique perspective on leadership -- what it means to her and him.
Then, business leaders need to engage their middle managers. Again, without honest team discussions and constructive dissent, the message can die. It is at this grass roots level that many great ideas will percolate and help drive the message and make it a reality. The business leaders should encourage idea generation, constructive dissent and exploration of say-do gaps.
Question 3: How do you make the brand come alive for the culture of the company?
Rodstein: People love a brand when they experience it as their own, resulting in ownership and pride. You can encourage employees to talk about their experiences with the brand and what the company can do to measure up to the brand promise in town hall meetings, training programs and problem solving groups.
Authenticity is essential. A brand promise must be delivered on internally at the employee level. If the message is to be "respectful to customers," but managers are not respectful to employees, you may get a cynical response.
Question 4: How do marketing and leadership professionals work together?
Rodstein: When I work on culture and transformational initiatives, I work hand-in-hand with marketing to build the brand internally.
Marketing can work with talent executives to integrate the brand into human resources (HR) practices, leadership programs and organizational processes to make the brand come alive.
The CEO has to encourage, reward and foster this collaboration. In many companies these leaders and disciplines are treated as silos. There is too much evidence to support that the results are more effective when marketing and HR share responsibility and deliver a shared program. It's a natural partnership.
Marketing Coach is a publication of Ivy Cohen Corporate Communications, Inc. ICCC helps companies build reputations and differentiate in a competitive market through brand building, public relations and strategic communications.
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