How do you best communicate with today’s mobile & social workforce, and particularly millennials? How do you engage them and inspire them to stay, and commit to your company? Unlike their predecessors in the GenX or Baby Boomer generations, millennials are already predisposed to leaving your company sooner — often for greener pastures where they see more opportunity, a bigger vision, more autonomy, or the chance to make a difference.
CEOs need to do better. They need to communicate more, setting a consistent drumbeat of vision and inspiration. Many leaders might be surprised to learn that there is some low hanging fruit here. Let me explain.
Creating a Winning Culture
I was lucky enough to have been at ExactTarget (an early SaaS email marketing company) beginning in 2001, and through the entire journey of this marketing technology company. We had a remarkable culture we called “Orange” which supported our rapid expansion on our way to our eventual acquisition by Salesforce in 2013. Throughout this journey, CEO Scott Dorsey set the pace with an email to the entire company every Friday.
I asked Scott Dorsey about the impact of his committing to this regular company communication, and the impact it had on the company. Here’s what Scott had to say: “I started officially sending out my ‘Friday Note’ in 2009 and never missed a weekly email for over five and a half years. It was a simple and very impactful way to highlight accomplishments for the week and keep the lines of communication open with our 2,000+ employees. It showcased the transparency in the company and helped us keep our unique ‘Orange’ culture as we scaled the company — one of the defining factors to our overall success at ExactTarget.”
Having lived this journey at ExactTarget, and seeing the positive effects it created, I can tell you it is a best practice. I also brought this to other companies and partners with whom I’ve worked, and it is an especially strong tool for those in the fast-moving SaaS space. Simply, there is no substitute for great CEO communication.
Here are the top reasons your CEO needs to start this week:
1. Executive communication is a top reason employees stay…or leave.
A recent study by Human Resource Executive Online showed that employee retention is top of mind for most CEOs and HR professionals. When asked what they consider to be the three biggest challenges facing their organizations today, participants most frequently said “ensuring employees remain engaged and productive,” at 36 percent, followed by “developing leaders,” at 28 percent.
A Forbes article by Louis Efron titled, “Six Reasons Your Best Employees Quit You,” Efron cited “No Vision” and “No Connection to the Big Picture,” as the top reasons for employee attrition. “Most employees don’t get out of bed each morning trying to hit a profit number. In the majority of companies there are only a handful of people that truly care about it or, in some cases, even understand exactly what it means to hit that number. As a manager, don’t confuse your financial objectives with vision. Vision feeds financials and not the other way around.”
It is the CEO’s job first and foremost to get this balance right. Regular communication, every Friday, is a great place to start.
2. Your company will become more nimble, move faster, and achieve more.
Scott Burns knows well the alignment and pace that this single habit can create in a company. As CEO of GovDelivery, Scott initiated a regular email to the company and immediately received positive feedback from his employees. “GovDelivery is focused on the public sector and we were consistently able to function at a uniquely quick pace,” reported Burns. “My regular notes helped me communicate and reinforce our goals, while the organization was able to align and create momentum that evaded most in our sector. The return from a little bit of my time was tremendous.”
In 2016, some 17 years into the tenure of GovDelivery, the company still saw significant growth — driven by a talented, engaged team.
3. Employees will feel more connected to you, your vision, and your goals.
Many in leadership roles are inspiring leaders, but too often, their employees see very little of them — especially in a large, hierarchical organization. Often there are several layers of org structure between the CEO and the overwhelming number of employees. This gulf creates distance. It creates a void and feeling of disconnectedness.
If lack of unity is the ill, the cure is better, more clear and more consistent communication.
Also don’t get hung up on the format. Email is still great for communicating in a corporate setting, especially since the HTML format allows you to augment with pictures, charts and videos easily. However, you need to ensure your email is mobile friendly — plus, you need to meet employees in the systems they use. Start learning to use chat, text, Facetime, Skype and Slack. Repeating your email note in Slack, for example, will go a long way for making employees feel connected, and they’ll love that you’re using their tools! Or better yet, use a tool like Structural that all of your employees engage with regularly.
4. Common causes align, inspire and motivate.
We all want to feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. A commonly overheard phrase in business group dynamics is “we all want to be in the boat, rowing in the same direction.” I think this is the best metaphor there is. Daniel James Brown’s book, “The Boys in the Boat” was a true story of the United States Rowing team that defeated Germany in the 1936 Olympics, by doing just that — rowing in the same direction more effectively than perhaps any team, ever.
The book’s jacket outlines the challenge; “It was an unlikely quest from the start — a team composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers…” So, alignment, inspiration, motivation and their singular goal of winning was the only thing that held this ragtag crew together.
The coxswain is the rowing team most similar to the CEO. The coxswain is responsible for steering the boat, and coordinating the power and rhythm of the rowers. Have you ever watched how a coxswain does this? They sit at the front of the boat and call each stroke for the team. They ensure each is timed to perfection. Without the coxswain, the rowers might all go at their own pace, or worse yet veer off course. Such is it with the CEO and communication.
Teams want to be led. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They’re counting on CEO’s and other key leaders to consistently reinforce the vision and shared cause to inspire their success.
“If you could get all of the people an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”— Patrick Lencioni, from “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”