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 business success.

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 listening."

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 management team.

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 benefits.

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.

  1. Appear relaxed as you make your rounds. Employees will reflect your feelings and actions.

  2. Remain open and responsive to questions and concerns.

  3. Observe and listen and let everyone see you do it.

  4. Ask employees what rumors they have heard, and address them.

  5. Make certain your visits are spontaneous and unplanned.

  6. Actively make a point of speaking to all employees seen each day.

  7. Offset demoralizing actions and events by emphasizing what went well, and use the experience as a learning opportunity.

  8. Talk with employees about their passions -- whether family, hobbies, vacations, or sports.

  9. Praise in public and give feedback in private.

  10. Ask for suggestions to improve operations, products, service, sales, etc.

  11. Try to spend an equal amount of time in all areas of your organization.

  12. Share non-confidential information with employees, and ask for their input and response on issues.

  13. Ask staff, "What can I do to help you with your job, and what am I doing that gets in your way?

  14. Catch your employees doing something right and recognize them publicly.

  15. Convey the image of a coach --- not an inspector.

  16. Encourage your employees to show you how the real work of the company gets done.

  17. Listen 80% of the time and talk 20%.

  18. Set goals each month on ways to accomplish Managing by Walking Around.

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:                                                         [BACK]

            Bob De Contreras                                                  
            Rich Kramarik                                                     


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