Effective CEO Communications
By: Bob De Contreras
The Importance of Effective Communications
Over 80 percent of our waking life is spent either sending or
receiving information. The ability to communicate effectively at work and in our
personal life is perhaps the most critical skill for everyone - especially the
CEO. The ability to communicate - to pass on ideas, discovery, experiences and
feelings - has allowed the advancement of the human race. Poor communication
leads to poor performance, yet it is common in the workplace. Luckily,
communication skills can be improved and the more effective the communication,
the better the overall performance and therefore the greater the level of
Some CEOs don't realize that communication is a two-way process.
In addition to getting your own message across, it is also important to listen
to and understand what others have to say-a technique known as "active
But an even more important communication skill that is often
overlooked by CEOs was expressed best by Peter Drucker, "The most important
thing in communications is to hear what isn't being said." Effective
communication allows CEOs to use all the other skills they have to the fullest.
The ability to motivate, delegate, organize, solve problems, and obtain
information all rely on the ability to communicate effectively with others.
Effective Communications Brings Business Results
Evidence suggests that bad communication is probably the cause of
most of the problems people encounter at work. It starts with an unclear company
vision, gets worse because of ambiguous personal objectives, and is exacerbated
by a company culture that evolves rather than being set by the clear
communications of the chief executive. Jack Welch, the past CEO of GE said it
best, "Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision,
passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion."
Effective communication can transform how well people work.
Imagine an organization in which everyone is kept informed, knows exactly what
to do, and has all the information necessary to do their job. The effective CEO
fosters teamwork, empowers key employees with responsibility and authority, and
communicates key information to the organization. These CEOs not only use
effective communication, but they also gain employee buy-in to the vision and
objectives, build employee confidence in the company and create respect for the
Setting a culture of sharing knowledge is critical to business
success. If, rather than keeping quiet, people shared their knowledge with
others, and problems were solved using everyone's knowledge, skill development
of less experienced people would dramatically increase. It would also allow more
delegation and facilitate problem solving. The CEO who operates this way creates
cohesive teams and builds uniqueness of purpose.
Think of the effect it would have on the performance of your
organization if culture drove everyone to feel motivated and empowered.
Communications Improvement Strategies
Getting your ideas across, helping your employees, and achieving
your ambitions all come with effective communication. Even though you may
already be a good communicator, everyone can improve on their current abilities
and approaches to communications.
One way to improve your communications skills is to take
advantage of local business organizations. Many business communities have
organizations like the Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED) which is
housed here in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. The CED is a place where
entrepreneurs can gather to share ideas and gain training on business related
topics. One CED program is a chapter of Toastmasters, where business executives
come to tune their communications skills with the help of their peers and using
the internationally successful Toastmasters program.
Other ways to improve company communications include implementing
an aggressive program of "Managing by Walking Around" (MBWA). The CEOs can't
communicate if they are stuck in their offices. Get out and walk the halls and
visit the cubes of ALL your employees. Ask questions about how the employees are
doing, what they are doing and how they are going it. Be interested or at least
act interested in your employees and the teams they work within.
Share information about the company freely. If the CEO does not
share the information, the employees will make up their own information - the
dreaded rumor mill. Share information in person in company meetings on a monthly
or quarterly basis. Implement a company newsletter/newspaper/e-letter and let
(demand) that every department or team contribute. Be consistent in your
communications. Many CEOs complain that they have set the company vision and
shared it with the employees, but "everyone is going in different directions?"
What they don't realize is that each time they share the vision they state it
slightly differently and the employees hear a different vision.
Be brief and only communicate the minimum required to get the
message across. To elaborate and elaborate slightly differently each time just
breeds confusion and lack of focus.
The most effective way of improving communications is to assess
your situation, identify and improve on your areas of weakness, and capitalize
on your strengths. Where do you start? Ask your employees.
Identify and publicize your vision. Assign responsibility and
authority. Build a team by including them in the business process. Make
communications a daily drum beat. Communications effectiveness starts in the
CEOs office - continues with MBWA - and ends in the CEOs office.
Effective CEO Communications Case Study
Management by Walking Around
By: Bob De Contreras
Our client called us to ask for help with his staff. He said,
"They don't have a sense of urgency. We have work we need to get completed and
sales volume needs to increase. But, no one, including my COO is acting like we
have goals and objectives to meet." He was very frustrated and he blamed himself
for being a CEO that did not know how to get things going.
It sounded like a communication problem and we started talking to
management and staff to see if we could find the problem. We got answers like,
".he doesn't know what we are doing and he keeps changing the assignments and
the priorities." Or ."he doesn't know how much time it takes to get these
projects done or how many changes we are getting from the client." Or ."he said
our company vision is to be a product development and delivery company, but we
end up custom developing on every project - we're a services company."
With that (a very long story made short) we recommended that our
CEO start Managing by Walking Around (MBWA).
The Problem Addressed
A common productivity problem of many CEOs is that they are
remote from the detail, out of touch with their people and their customers. As
W. Edwards Deming, an American who introduced the idea of quality management to
the Japanese, put it: "If you wait for people to come to you, you'll only get
small problems. You must go and find them. The big problems are where people
don't realize they have one in the first place."
Management by Walking Around was developed by executives at
Hewlett-Packard in the 1970s. It became popularized by a book written by Tom
Peters and Robert Waterman in the early 1980s. The two discovered that companies
that had top managers engaged in interacting with employees and customers were
more successful than those with isolated management. The two believed that this
success was due to leadership that "wandered" outside the executive suite.
Rather than micro-manage employees, Management by Walking Around allowed for
informal communication and a decrease in bureaucratic lines of communication. It
also allowed for CEOs to communicate organizational values and management
philosophy at a personal level.
Where it Works
At first, employees may suspect that MBWA is just an excuse for
managers to spy and interfere unnecessary. This suspicion usually falls away
quickly when the walk arounds occur regularly, and if everyone can see their
MBWA has been found to be particularly helpful when an
organization is experiencing change. Change could include reorganization, growth
in a start-up company, a sales slump, a merger and significant new hiring.
However, to be effective, MBWA has to have been a regular practice before the
change or stress arises.
Tom Peters, the guru of "In Search of Excellence", saw managing
by walking around as the basis of leadership and excellence. Peters called MBWA
the "technology of the obvious".
What CEOs and Managers Should Do
The key to Management by Walking Around is communication between
the CEO, managers and employees. The concept allows managers to be walking
around with their eyes open asking questions like crazy and trying to understand
what the employees are doing. A Vice-President at Hewlett-Packard described
Management by Walking Around as "the business of staying in touch with the
territory all the time." This is done by being accessible and approachable. In
short, a Management by Walking Around program gets the CEO and managers out of
their offices and onto the floor making contact with employees.
Here are a few tips to assist you in that same pursuit as you
Manage by Walking Around.
Appear relaxed as you make your rounds. Employees will
reflect your feelings and actions.
Remain open and responsive to questions and concerns.
Observe and listen and let everyone see you do it.
Ask employees what rumors they have heard, and address them.
Make certain your visits are spontaneous and unplanned.
Actively make a point of speaking to all employees seen each
Offset demoralizing actions and events by emphasizing what
went well, and use the experience as a learning opportunity.
Talk with employees about their passions -- whether family,
hobbies, vacations, or sports.
Praise in public and give feedback in private.
Ask for suggestions to improve operations, products, service,
Try to spend an equal amount of time in all areas of your
Share non-confidential information with employees, and ask
for their input and response on issues.
Ask staff, "What can I do to help you with your job, and what
am I doing that gets in your way?
Catch your employees doing something right and recognize them
Convey the image of a coach --- not an inspector.
Encourage your employees to show you how the real work of the
company gets done.
Listen 80% of the time and talk 20%.
Set goals each month on ways to accomplish Managing by
MBWA works best when you are genuinely interested in employees
and in their work and when they see you as there to listen. It sometimes
requires follow-up. When you can't answer an employee's questions on the spot,
get back to them with an answer within 48 hours.
I once knew a CEO who was a basketball fanatic. Everyday he would
find a few minutes to MBWA. But, he had a unique approach. He would grab his
basketball off his credenza and start dribbling down the hall. Everyone in the
area could hear him coming. As he entered an employee's office or work area, he
would toss them the ball. Sometimes they would pass the ball back and forth as
they talked, sometimes they would take turns just bouncing the ball. The ball
forced the encounter into a very relaxed and informal conversation.
You don't have to have a basketball, but find your way to walk
around and have casual conversations with your employees and you and they will
know exactly what's going on, what's important and find that sense of urgency.
Brought to you by:
Bob De Contreras
RTBA | Cary | Greensboro | Raleigh | Research Triangle Park | North Caroliina
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