Two fast, simple ways to improve your communications–and why most CEOs would rather not.

Last year, a client showed me a letter his new i-bankers had written describing his company to potential investors. It was already in circulation. It stunk. “This letter is incomprehensible,” I told him. It won’t persuade anyone.” “I know,” he grumbled. “That’s what I thought, too.”

When it comes to telling the company’s story, most top executives routinely make two mistakes.

  1. You defer to “communications experts”, discounting your own knowledge.
  2. You assume you already know everything your employees do.   You don’t.

Here are two simple techniques you can apply very quickly to improve the focus and persuasive power of your communications. Be sure to read the last paragraph of this post.

You know a lot. Lock your door and review your company’s current communications. Look at them from an outsider’s point of view, that is, skeptically. Then tell yourself what you think of them. You know your company, markets and customers. Your products and services. Your competitors. And you’ve got more at stake in telling your story successfully than anyone. Now, list the shortfalls in your current communications as you see them. Then call the appropriate parties into your office, tell them what’s needed, and keep sending them back to the drawing board in fast cycles until you know in your gut that the work is right. By factoring your own expertise directly into the development process, you can begin to turn things around in days.

But you don’t know everything. We always begin our engagements by interviewing some of our new client’s staff. Because they know things that the CEO does not. Employees who communicate with customers have valuable insights into what triggers a favorable response. For instance, one client used to invest in expensive advertising that positioned his office supply chain around quality/price—until he found out what his order-takers already knew: that flexible delivery was what customers really cared about. I’ll bet 99% of CEOs agree that their people are sitting on critical information. So why do we uncover so many opportunities that we never heard about in the CEO’s office? Invest a few hours in open conversation with your customer-facing personnel. We guarantee it will pay.

Why 7 out of 10 of you will fail to act. Doing what I described above would cost nothing and yield plenty. Still, most executives will not act for the simple reason that they don’t want to endanger current assumptions. Finding out what you’re doing wrong can be invaluable—but it can also force you to scrap existing plans, programs, contracts, etc. Some of your senior people will be upset by this. My advice? Do it anyway. The success of your organization depends on communicating as effectively as possible. Stay personally involved in the process. And if you need any specific advice, email me.

–McK

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