A View from Blue Grotto

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Communicating like a CEO

An MIT Sloan Management Review article by Paul Argenti, Robert Howell, and Karen Beck caught my eye. Though the article was published in the spring of 2005, their topic is still timely: The Strategic Communication Imperative.

The article begins by lamenting the age old challenge of ‘from strategy to implementation.’ How do you get from point A to point B? Or more importantly, how do you get your company – your direct reports, the guys and gals in accounting, the folks in production, even the janitor – to all be going in the right direction on that point B path? And, then, how do you communicate that map to your other constituencies: shareholders, Wall Street, federal regulators, and your customers?

The strongest argument of the authors is that the CEO is seen as the chief communicator. The article gives excellent real-time examples of how important communications are to, well, communicating. Thoughtful planning in how you communicate will get you a whole lot further than a press release and a prayer.

Often, communications strategies are born out of a crisis. But as these CEOs illustrate, crisis communications are not the same as having a communications strategy. A communications strategy is really a new opportunity to articulate your messages.

Here’s my top five take away based on the CEO’s reflections:
* Communications professionals need to have a seat at the strategy-making table. Don’t relegate communications to a marketing function. Consider it a senior level priority.

* Communicating with key constituencies is obviously important, but how you interpret constituency responses as they relate to organizational strategy is the real bonus. Communications should be a two-way street.

* As companies grow in complexity, consistent communications become paramount – consider the variety and layers of your audience.

* Because audiences may over lap – your suppliers may be your customers for example, it’s important to have “harmony” in your messages. Make sure you are not sending mixed signals, and assume that your audiences are savvy enough to access all your messages.

* And, maybe most importantly, messages need to be truthful, based on something real. That’s a given. Again, assume your audiences are pretty darn savvy, and with Google – they have access to just about everything you say.

And here are my top five of the CEO’s quotes:
“A key part of strategy is communicating it.” Michael Dell, Dell Inc.

“You can’t execute strategy if you can’t communicate it.” T. Michael Glenn, FedEx

“The only way to communicate is to communicate with passion, face-to-face, all the time with the same messages.” Lewis Campbell, Textron

“You can never over communicate.” Henry Silverman, Cendant

“You only have to go through one or two communications debacles as a senior executive to understand the importance of communications.” Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo

Well said.

Email me with examples of how you have elevated your communications to a strategic proportion.

For a copy of the article: http://files.cxo.com/ep/uploads/WorkshopArticle.pdf

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

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