Dear leaders, I often receive replies to leaders letters asking specific questions, typically around an issue or an experience and for my take, last week I received an email about “showing I care for my team members”.
Management is hard and getting harder, this is why managers have to choose to lean into IQ and EQ (and teach PQ aka political intelligence where applicable) and decide to go further, this is what I call career care. It is how to prove you are looking to support a team member’s career, not just when they are in your team. The sign of a good manager is how many of your team proactively ask you for specific feedback on mid and large projects and how many ex-team members reach out when they need support.
Here is a list of actions you can take to show you care:
Build long-term relationships with them: offer insights, and stories and introduce efficient 1-2-1’s and consider lunch and learns. Be formally informal, have coffee breaks, have walk-and-talks, and don’t make it always ultra-formal, you need to know them and their motivations, in formal settings these are lost. Sitting in a meeting room or just over video calls can feel too formal when situations can and do need more personal touches.
Introduce internal or external mentors: that will help guide them when they need to bounce ideas, consider new approaches and have a mentor process that guides you both
Act as a sponsor: when its the right moment for them
Listen, Listen Then Speak: it is time to listen not once but twice, listening especially when they aren’t saying anything is a sign of a great manager, this also shows you care. Remember those good teachers, lectures or managers, they reach out when you haven’t said anything and notice change, not the change
Encourage coaching: (this is an excellent use of L&D budgets) from the right internal or external coaches
Support decisions: Often a manager can over-coach or dictate what to do when, this is often a bad base to build support and show you trust them, offer ways to support their decisions and help shape their decision-making by offering frameworks like one problem two solutions framework
Spot the spark: This was my favourite element of being a department and business lead, spotting the spark within team members and helping them drive towards it. Spark is what makes someone interested, invested and keeps them intrigued for the future, spot that spark and help remove barriers, this won’t go unnoticed.
Unleash the superstar: Your job as a manager is to unleash everyone’s superstar, yes this sounds big but it is the best piece of coaching I give managers and department heads struggling. Unleash the superstar in your team member, enable them to be the best they can be.
Clear Paths To Success: As recommended in the previous newsletter two up two across matrix, this focus framework helps you to shape the next two steps up (if available) and two steps across, this is often the way you help a team member progress their career in your department or org or help them progress into another business line and help them to grow.
Management is an investment in time, energy and most often patience, these three skills are essential for both your success and their success. Making the time and showing your team member they are important and that you are fully committed is essential for you both.
Have a great week and remember you have the same rights as a leader (even as a CEO you have a boss or board guiding you) to go and seek mentors, invest in a coach and understand how to improve and where you can develop.
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Dear leaders, I am often asked “How do we make our big ideas work?”
The answer is simple really, it is the refining and qualifying of ideas.
Or the question should be reframed as: This is where ideas have to be transformed into qualified strategic bets.
Think Back & Set Others Up To Succeed: We have all been there, we have a brilliant idea, we set ourselves up to pitch the idea, we may have been invited for a slot in the Management Team Meeting and then you are faced with a barrage of questions, the idea feels like it is dashed in ten minutes. I have sat in the management team meeting and clearly remember a great idea full of potential dashed in under 60 seconds.
You have two options (1) refine and attempt another slot or (2) re-shape your idea into a qualified strategic bet.
Option 2 is the only way forward.
A quick note:
Pitching The Right Bet – this is where the right person and right people are vitally important. The structure and the delivery are essential, not only for the bet to succeed and be championed but for you to know who makes decisions to make and how to approach the conversation.
The reason why an idea is often counterproductive is it’s sounds half baked, it isn’t validated and qualified in your environment.
What decision-makers need is two simple things (1) confidence and (2) strong evidence that is shaped and qualified enough they don’t need to invest hours grooming, modelling the finance and re-shaping and re-prioritising existing work streams or roadmaps.
Move from idea to bet before attempting to pitch to senior management.
The Focus Idea To Bet Qualification
The BetBuild – Visalise the bet for all stakeholders. Use words, use imagery, even create a wireframe or potentially a prototype or provide a live example (in or outside of your market) that could enable visual people to understand it or play with it.
For those with time constraints or typically biased towards excel – add the table with the growth numbers.
Untold Truth: The better the storytelling, the better the visuals, and the more exciting it is, the more it builds a connection to the idea.
The more qualified the tables and financial numbers are, the better the response from finance and core business decision-makers, if you don’t get the green light from the founder/CEO and their yes-no person the CFO the likelihood of this bet getting the leadership team’s full support is minimal.
Create A Definitive Exec Summary:
Think of an amended Amazon working backwards:
The bet in one sentence
Who is the customer
The benefits of the bet
& then to the company
The problem(s) being solving
Time to make an impact?
Measurable goals and metrics (show big number to wow moment)
Link to FAQ’s of the bet – think of the big questions ahead of time
Why We Should Stop X And Run Towards This – the important element that rarely anyone suggests to include is:
Why run towards this bet, and what advantages does it have?
Can it replace something already on the roadmap? (hint at projects struggling to make an impact or are earmarked for the future)
Or does it deserve people and money budget allocation?
If you can’t provide a realistic timeline with resource requests here, it is not qualified enough.
What Would The 3 Main Tasks Be – these have to be clear, they have to be fully thought through and be able to understood by finance, product and marketing alongside other senior members of the company.
Key Metrics To Success – what are the leading indicators that prove we are on the right track for this bet? What time frame are you suggesting?
Then clearly call out the 3 core metrics you will be using to understand success of the big bet over the first week, first month, first quarter, first year. This step in the process often will kill creative people’s idea and qualify them as a strategic bet.
Revenue Impact With Confidence – this is often the falling down of big bets within companies, being able to get into the excel master sheet, get into the existing budget or financial plan and apply other people’s logic into the idea and show how this will grow revenue (use common internal metrics like downloads, daily usage, churn reduction, number of qualified leads etc) broken down month by month. Unfortunately, this is also the issue most people have it is likely a guess as it might be brand new or it might be unproven in your market, arm yourself with confident data points and make realistic impact numbers.
The essential point to take away here is, unfortunately, even with the best prep, best financial modelling and brilliant pitch, the odds of an investment into bets can be low. Even as a c-suite leader your strategic bet might not make the cut.
This week, empower your teams by improving their working practices and creating the ability to pitch the highest qualified strategic bets to the business. A bank of brilliantly qualified bets is better than a recycling bin and miro boards full of post it notes.
Thanks and have a great week focusing your business,
Dear leaders, over the last year I have spent a large percentage of my time as a coach for CEOs, COOs, CMOs, VPs and a Product lead and separately as a mentor and as an external sponsor.
I am a huge component of having or finding the right level of support, whether that’s a mentor, a coach or acting as a sponsor. (I wrote about the difference in detail last year) Something most managers forget is it’s not either or, it is often a mix of the three or in some respects, it’s all three.
The TLDR Read Of What The Difference Is:
Mentors are typically free, a senior member of the team or another business who has held a similar role and donates their time and energy to help guide you or your team member
Sponsors are internal (and sometimes external) and help to promote and champion their team members or a member of staff who has the ability to go further and recommends them or pushes them forward for big projects and opportunities and add their clout behind them
Coaches are paid for professionals and specialists who will help improve the skills of their coachees and should have dates for goals.
Most senior leaders support their team members by acting as a sponsor, some will find their team mentors (often from their own network or from word-of-mouth referrals) or help guide them towards a mentor and then others will approve coaching over conferences and generic training.
What are you doing for your team members? Or what can you do to improve your connection and improve the sub culture of your org?
Ways You Can Support Team Members Or Yourself
Act as a mentor – mentorship is a time commitment and is an honour, support team members or supporting non-team members will help you and their career.
Remember reverse mentoring is also a great way to connect and learn about core subjects, one of the best examples I have heard was from a friend who reversed mentored a well known sports company CEO and helped guide them with Marketing and new channels (30 minutes every two weeks made the difference for her and exposure to the c-suite and for the CEO to learn about essential trends and apps they wouldn’t make the time for otherwise)
Act a formal sponsor – do you have someone in your department or within your business who hasn’t been given the opportunity to progress and you can add your weight behind them. Remember you can benefit from this and you can be negatively impacted if the opportunity isn’t seized. If you act as a sponsor don’t just push them forward, support your colleague and check in with them
Become a coach – I know you are likely particularly busy and time-constrained, however, coaching is a great way to expand your career, expand your knowledge of other businesses and a way to build another income (or fund a passion project)
This week, consider finding yourself a coach (there are many of us who really do help you develop) and help your team find the right mentor and coach (where budget applies) and consider how you can go deeper as a sponsor internally and champion them to the business.
Dear leaders, this week I wanted to offer something a little different.
I keep a note (you know by now I love and recommend note-keeping to everyone) of all the best and worst pieces of advice throughout my career and upon some regular reflection here are the top 50 pieces of leadership advice I have received.
I have added links to the frameworks built from these or will help you apply these pieces of advice into action in your workplace.
The 50 best pieces of leadership advice throughout my career
This week’s leader is Jason Allan Scott who is company helps businesses and business leaders with their podcast presence. Jason works with the likes of the space-as-a-service leader and 5 questions leader Caleb Parker and many others in helping to tell better audio stories and help brands stand out in crowded markets.
This is why I wanted to reach out and ask Jason to share his wisdom to help you improve and deliver better messaging in more authentic ways.
Today you will learn from some brilliant gems:
How to improve your audio presence (whether for yourself or your brand)
Where not to go wrong (many are right now)
How to get your personality across well (this is what makes you stand out)
Why Podcasts are way more than just an audio file now and how you should step up
Q1. You help companies create, produce and land their audio presence (with podcasts), what do you think most companies miss when it comes to podcasting and creating a branded podcast that lands?
There are several elements to creating a branded podcast that lands for business. You need to focus on the central idea ( while remembering that people want to be entertained first and educated second) while telling stories.
“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”
Remember that you have an audience, an audience you can turn into ambassadors and clients for your business, so you need to play to them constantly. For shows to hit home they need to have a “product” a show that is regular, that follows a formula and has a strong structure delivered with Authenticity.
Q2. Where do leaders go wrong with their podcast appearances and how could they create actual authentic thought leadership with their own podcasts?
Most leaders go wrong with their podcast appearances due to not listening to the questions asked, not knowing the format of the show and who the show serves. Almost all podcasts have an approximate recording length they are trying to hit. For my shows, it’s 27 minutes. As a podcast guest, you indeed want to tell good stories, but wherever possible keep your answers punchy and tight. This gives the host(s) air time and allows them to ask more questions and get to their standard segments, etc. without running short or having to rush the show. Wanna sound authentic, laugh. Laughter is contagious, even when spread via audio. Lead the laughter and lighten the mood for the listeners.
You don’t need to speak perfectly when in the “spotlight”. If you stumble over your words, feel free to make fun of yourself. Again, speaking like yourself will translate far better than trying to sound like someone else. Also as a bonus tip use the host’s name when you answer the questions.
Q3. Podcasts can be hard for many inexperienced leaders to put across their personality and importantly the business messages for their companies, is there an ingredient in your secret sauce you could offer that would help founders and c-suite execs really land podcast appearances?
The podcast is an ingenious digital marketing tool, offering an alternative — and highly effective — means of promoting your brand, demonstrating your authority, and reaching a captive audience. Over the last few years podcast consumption is on the rise with over 57 million active listeners.
Although your podcast is targeted at a specific audience, you should assume that listeners know very little about the topic you’re covering. Use clear language that they’ll understand and avoid blanket statements at all costs. Many people use podcasts as background noise and mentally tune in and out, so it may be helpful to redefine terms from time to time.
Podcast guests, thought leaders, should listen to at least two podcast episodes of the show they are going on. You want to have a feel of the cadence of the show. Get an understanding of the flow and bits of the show and see how you can authentically be you in those moments. Write down a description of the typical listener and why he/she or they listen. This is as important to the host as it is to the guest but if you understand the audience and their motivations for listening. Take time to write down a persona description of the representative listener, or avatar. Prepare at least 3 stories you can unfurl at any time. The truth is that being a great guest or host is the same, its about telling stories. Always have at least one to three things the listener can use after they stop listening to the show.
Q4. Podcasts have become way more than just audio, with an explosion across visual and video platforms like TikTok and Instagram, how do you guide busy leaders to get the most out of their appearances on industry podcasts?
Create, Curate and Repurpose.
Create the content on a podcast, clip out the magic moments, the parts that you want people to remember and the parts that you know will resonate. Then take those clips and make them into small snippets for the various platforms. Put it on YouTube and take off the transcript and put it into ChatGPT and ask it to summarise into long sentences and 15 points the show. Then make a newsletter and send that over LinkedIn. And then create a twitter thread with the same content you used on the newsletter but add images, memes and gif’s.
Q5. What three things can you suggest for leaders to land more podcast appearances within their niche?
Ask, ask and ask.
If you’re looking to be a guest on a podcast, you have several options:
reach out to podcast hosts directly
connect via podcast guest placement services
market yourself as a podcast guest and wait for creators to reach out
you should first assess whether a podcast is actually worthy of your time.
Follow the steps below to identify which podcasts are worth pitching to.
Look at the reviews – Looking at the reviews of a podcast should give you an indication of whether listeners are raving – or ranting – about the podcast. While some brands may hold the belief that “Any publicity is good publicity”, it’s worth considering how being on a particular podcast could affect your brand’s reputation.
Google Top Podcasts in Your Industry – The simplest way to find podcasts that are relevant to your industry is to do a quick Google search. You can use key terms like “entrepreneur podcast”, “cooking podcast”, “finance podcast”, and the like to explore podcasts that may be looking for guest speakers like you. Then, shoot the podcaster an email to see if they are open to guest interviews.
Master your messaging – Make sure you have your messaging down, and if you’re trying to sell something, be sure it’s relevant to the podcast’s audience. Consider offering a freebie or discount to that audience, which you can track via a unique URL or affiliate platform, so you can see which podcast appearances are actually driving sales.
A huge thanks Jason for sharing so much value, reach out and connect with Jason
Dear leaders, company-wide values are something many organisations have introduced over the last ten years.
Values to me are your company culture in simple words or phrases to keep you on track.
Evolution: Values are an evolution, they are centralised beliefs that drive the business forward and are the guide on how to act and connect as professionals within your business.
Some institutes and professional organisations have had values for decades and they never change. From in the home dressings, to the welcome packs they receive, to the onboarding and offboarding from the organisation.
In a recent Focus (strategy + culture) workshop, a c-suite leader asked me why values (I prefer principles) are so important to their business specifically.
My response was simple:
Without values how do your people know they are working in the agreed way?
How do they know they have the working mentality that is rewarded?
How do they know if they can challenge each other or leadership on how they are acting within work?
One set of values I tend to share with alphas is the England Rugby Values, they are simple, transferable and create a foundation to build on top of.
The values cover the sport’s main directive sportsmanship
It incorporates how important the team is, rugby cannot be won without the whole team.
In rugby, you have to respect the officials, unlike in football (soccer) the referee has to be respected at all times. You have to respect your fellow players (teammates and your opponents). At the end of a hard-fought match, every player shakes hands and is respectful
When representing your country is supposed to be the biggest honour. Enjoying playing and representing your country is essential to win
Being disciplined in a game like rugby is critical, one mistake is often punished and the ability to stay disciplined when opponents might not be playing fair is critical. Showing discipline is a simple but strong overarching value.
I think it is safe to say you could roll a slightly tweaked version of these and be happy with them.
The key to winning is: values have to be super simple to remember, understand and have guidance on why.
The Process:In that same workshop:
I asked the leadership team to write as many values as possible and then we discussed each and then they selected the top six that they respected and could see driving the business forward.
The values were then presented to the wider team and were expanded upon
They were then added to the onboarding flow for new starters
The six values were added to the entrance wall as you enter their London-based HQ as well as pinned in their slack channels. I believe there is even office swag in the works.
An exercise the leadership team agreed upon was to explain and discuss these values from the first interview and the successful candidates had to agree upon these values as they joined.
The leadership team then associated each value with the leadership principles we co-created and has become a real driving force for the business.
Like most frameworks, this sounds simple but was challenging and hard work for the leadership team and the wider business to adopt. It takes time, energy and someone apart from the CEO pushing it forward.
Go Bigger? Another evolution to values is DNA documents – they are becoming a fixture in sports teams and some large organisations have their version that their teams sign up for. Helping them to know the history and the journey they will be going on and where success is. I personally think some organisations will need this and for others, without a long history, this will be a leap too far.
Boil Down? A mantra based on values: You could even attempt to boil it all down to a single mantra that is lived and breathed.
Dear leaders, this week I am going to answer a private question I received via email about how to handle crisis comms and share my C-R-A-S framework (from my previous days as a CMO & CGO and now offer to my advisory and coaching clients).
Frameworks are always popular on the leaders letter newsletter, so happily steal a copy of the CRAS framework, you can use it within your business and leadership team or share it when someone else is struggling.
Step 1: Clarification
Internal First: what is happening, why is this happening, and how did we get here? How we got here is vitally important to question and answer.
How do we mitigate risks and what is the goal of this crisis? The goal is really important, what goal do we need to aim towards and how are we going to hit this goal? With this plan of action, you will mess up.
External: What is the essential storytelling exercise we are going to have to go on and what story do we need to tell? Without being able to tell the what of the story and what are the key narratives in four short paragraphs, you will really struggle to align yourself internally and gain or regain the respect from your customers.
Risks Vs Benefits: Create a risk vs benefits matrix where you review your risks and any benefits from your actions (this is an actionable pros and cons list)
Step 2: Reality
What is the reality and how do we align around this?
What do the next 1-3-6-12 months look like? The next day or week seems the most important but often is the next few months, as you will see the impact on the bottom line, how you are searched for or used and then you may see an impact on the quality of candidates when you are hiring.
Document all of the above and have an open document (with the same premise as the transparent decision document) anyone can see (remember view only privileges) and have an open channel to ensure everyone can ask questions and find out the reality. Create an update cadence (hourly, daily, or weekly) for the teams to follow.
Step 3: (The) Activities
Create a list of the proactive or reactive actions required – you will have reactive actions to take, especially when people ask why and when.
What do we need to say? Do we need to say anything? Deadline: When do we need to say it?
What is the situation now? And then what is the next situation? Now and next are often disjointed, it is important to connect the two together
Who is going to be the truth-teller (founder, CEO, spokesperson, Operational lead, Marketing?)
Essential Question: Will an internal email, slack/teams message or screengrab impact this (the truth)? If you have said anything that contradicts what you have said internally to externally will a leaked email or screengrab discredit you?
What is the full timeline? How do you take the steps forward and know what happened and when we are taking action (if any)
How do you reduce this all down into a few bullet points so anyone can understand? Think of investors, non-exec directors, think of advisory boards, shadow boards etc
Step 4: Stepback & Feedback
This is listening and analysis mode:
What is the feedback you receive?
What is the internal feedback?
What is the external feedback? Can you cut through numerous rounds of opinions and understand the actual pieces of feedback
How do you log and revisit the process to understand how to learn from this? Action: Create a home (wiki or intranet) where this information lives to reduce any issues raise again and how can we learn from this when we may have issues in the future?
And how do we inform the important stakeholders of an (AAR) after-action review moving forward? – The analysis is essential as is the review, most overlook the after action review
Go and have a great week ahead and remember a crisis is worth planning for and having the frameworks in place to protect your people and your performance.
Here are the other free focus / leaders letter frameworks to use
Dear Leaders, this week I ask five questions to David Siegel. David is the CEO of meetup.com & led Meetup through the pandemic, for a company that is built around connection and real-life community you can imagine the hugely negative impact and the fight for survival David and his team went through and how they bounced back, through brilliant and deliberate leadership.
David’s book is an essential read, it is my essential company culture books to reads, I also buy it for my exec coaching clients and when I run workshops I enforce the exec team to read Decide & Conquer: 44 Decisions That Make or Break All Leaders.
Onto the Q&A, this is fascinating and brilliant.
Q1. You led Meetup throughout the pandemic in near-impossible circumstances, what is the biggest lesson you took away as a business (and people) leader?
When the pandemic hit, Meetup faced an existential crisis that could have destroyed our 18-year-old company. Until then, the focus of our business had always been about bringing people together IRL (in real life) to make connections. When COVID-19 hit, we had to ask ourselves whether our mission was more about meeting IRL or about fostering connections. Our answer was clear: we are a connections company. For the first time in our history, we allowed groups to meet online. And it was so fortunate that we did. Online Meetup events and groups helped millions of our members get through the most isolating periods of pandemic.
I won’t downplay how rocky that period was. Running a company called “Meetup” in a time when no one was meeting was a tremendous challenge. We saw decreases in many key metrics including the number of events on our platform and event RSVPs, which negatively impacted our revenue. As a leader, my focus was on transparency. If the company had challenges, my job was to address those challenges head-on so we could find solutions. Building trust during a crisis by sharing the good, bad, and ugly was critical. The crisis is behind us, but our culture of trust and transparency will continue to strengthen the company.
Q2. You wrote brilliantly about your 44 decisions to make and break all leaders, which one do you feel are the most important to start with?
First, thank you. Of all my decisions for new and seasoned leaders, I think I need to start with what I call “Decision 0,” which is deciding whether you should take the job in the first place.
One of the most hazardous biases in decision making is the sunk cost fallacy. This is the tendency for people to be biased toward actions because they overvalue the time, money, or other investment they’ve “sunk” into an action. Most of us don’t appreciate that this time spent preparing for anything is gone. Our job is to make the best decision we can. People are often reluctant to reject a job offer after they invested so much time in interviewing. The fact is, the time spent interviewing is gone and it has no bearing on whether the job is a good fit.
Before I became the CEO of Meetup, I went through no less than 27 interviews with WeWork (our corporate owner), followed by meetings with every Meetup vice president. After three months and hundreds of hours of interviews, it would have been easy to accept the position based on my time commitment alone, but I knew that time was gone. I needed to make a decision based on the facts about the role and the company I’d be working with, and I strongly considered not accepting the role in the first place.
I caution all leaders (and even non-leaders) to make the right decision for you and not be influenced by how much time was spent leading up to a decision.
Q3. The power of community is a key message throughout your book, what do you think CEOs (and their leadership teams) should truly understand about community and then embracing community into their business?
Hundreds of studies have found that community is one of the most important elements to both a happy work life and personal life. Yet, having a strong sense of community is also on the decline in nearly every country and age demographic. Early humans relied on community to survive and the need for community is hard-coded in us.
Meetup is the ultimate source for building community, whether it’s personal or professional. Many companies—IBM, Microsoft, Google, etc.—use Meetup to enhance their communities and build user networks. Community drives employee retention, motivation, collaboration and ultimately results in greater success. As more companies move to remote work, the importance of community is becoming more evident. It is incumbent on every leader to incorporate community building into their business.
Q4. What are your three leadership non-negotiables for your exec leadership team?
First, no assholes. The members of my executive team are all kind people. We spend more time working with colleagues than we do our spouses in some cases. I only want to work with high integrity, empathetic individuals. Life is too short to do otherwise.
Second, they must have a data-driven approach. Leaders shouldn’t ignore their instincts when making a decision, but we always need to look at what the data tells us. We need data to size gauge the impact, priority, and opportunity of any choice.
Last, I look for the ability to embrace change. Leadership requires adaptability. And if a leader is not flexible then they won’t be able to steer the ship for their team during times of crisis. The ability to listen and change one’s approach based on data and experience is one of my top priorities when looking for a leader.
Q5. How has your professorship at Columbia university helped you to develop your leadership?
I’ve always believed that when you teach you have the greatest opportunity to learn. For nearly ten years, I have been teaching undergraduates at Pace University and then graduate students at Columbia in the entrepreneurship and strategic planning program. My former students have gone on to found startups that have helped millions of people around the globe. Having even a small impact on their path to success is incredibly enriching. One of the reasons I wrote Decide & Conquer was due to my interest in helping people beyond the 70 students in my class. The book has now been read by more than 15,000 people and is being translated into Chinese and other languages. I consider the book to be an extension of the concepts we learn in class. I’m incredibly fortunate to have the opportunities to teach and learn that I do.
Dear leaders, internal communication and gaining cut-through with messaging have never been as important as it is today. Just ask all those tech companies making mass layoffs primarily through email.
The most important element most leadership teams and “leaders” are messing up on is keeping their people updated, enabling them to make the right decisions and repeating their message over and over again until the whole business can repeat it whenever they are asked what is our strategy and why we have the goals we have for the next 12 months.
So, this week I bring you 5 questions with content and comms specialist Sonja Nisson, her answers will help you craft, reshape and drive your comms forward in whatever state you are in currently.
Q1. You specialise in creating valuable content to communicate with your audience. What are your three go-to tips for leaders to improve internal communication?
I know from experience how important, and how tricky it can be, to get internal communication right. I worked as interim head of content design for a large building society through the first wave of the Covid pandemic. We had difficult messages to communicate to our worried teams. My Valuable Content principles came in useful, but it was a tough test. When creating content for an external audience you often don’t know how it lands. With an internal audience, if it misses the mark, you know about it! I learned a lot.
I think of valuable content as win-win communication: information that’s relevant, helpful and valuable to you and your business (gets your message across, helps you achieve your goal too) and equally valuable to your audience too (answers their questions, helps them achieve their goal).
Whether you’re communicating a message or creating an article, a video, a podcast, or a talk, to be valuable it must hit the sweet spot between what you want to say and what your audience (be that external or internal) needs to hear.
With this in mind, here are 3 top tips for anyone who wants to improve the value of their communications.
First, be crystal clear what it is you want to say. What’s the big idea – the main message you want to get across and why? Get that straight from the start. NB: Don’t try and say everything in one communication, focus on one message at a time.
Next, work out who you’re writing for and where they are at. What questions do they have in their mind around this topic? How can you answer those through your communication? Put the reader and their hopes, questions and fears at the heart of the piece of content you’re creating. Empathise and address these in your content. Make it more ‘you, you, you’ than ‘we, we, we’.
Make it actionable. It helps the reader to do something new or to change hearts and minds. So what’s the purpose of your communication? The goal? What do you want your audience to think, feel or do differently? Decide on the goal, and make that clear in your content. Tell people what you want them to know, think or do.
Q2. You help brands get clear on their story. What is one ingredient to your secret sauce in helping brands become clearer on their story?
I’d say, go back to your roots to find the essence of your story. Founder stories are personal, powerful, memorable and magnetic. Good companies are born out of conviction, a quest to right a wrong or do things differently and better. Go back to the beginning to find the source of your story.
Q3. What is the best piece of advice you would give to leadership teams trying to gain cut through with their brand?
Work out and communicate what you believe in and stand for as a brand. Make your brand mean something with a single, inspiring, meaningful message at its heart. Find your north star – it’ll all flow from here.
As a starting point to that clarity and cut through, I’d recommend conducting research with people outside your organisation. It’s all too easy to become inward facing. Listening to your stakeholders – your clients, partners and other supporters – is the most useful exercise you can undertake to understand your business, from the outside in, to see how your brand message lands.
“Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” Marty Neumeier, The Brand Gap
This type of external brand research is a powerful catalyst to help you confidently shape your future direction and message, so you cut through and deliver your mission with greater impact. You’ll be amazed at the value of the insight you get back.
Q4. Brands are increasingly losing their brand identity, is there a common theme that leaders should look out for at the start of the year?
Recognise that the world is changing fast. Your business will have evolved and changed a lot over time too. I think the start of the year is the perfect time to assess how you’re seen by the outside world. Is your brand still relevant?
I’m a big fan of the work of Al Reis and Jack Trout, and their book – The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing (summarised nicely here). Law #12, The Law of Extension rightly highlights the irresistible pressure to extend what you do and the equity of your brand.
“The key is to be the best in your niche, and not try to be all things to all people. Less is always more. The narrower the focus, the better you’ll be able to fortify your position in the mind of the prospect. In order to address new markets, create a new brand, rather than extending the equity of your current brand into the new market.”
I think leaders should use this opportunity to carefully review their brand and positioning. Is it still relevant? Is it focused enough? Is it inspiring – for people inside and outside your organisation? Time for a refresh and renewal?
Q5. We live in a content overload world. What are your three top tips to cut through the noisy feeds and really land?
If you want to connect in the sea of noise you have to really push it on the value front these days. Create and share stuff that’s “inherently valuable, surprisingly human or unexpectedly useful.” That was Joe Chernov’s advice in a recent interview and I think he’s so right.
Get your intentions right and your actions will follow. When it comes to creating and sharing content ‘help don’t sell, talk don’t yell, show don’t tell’ is the very best mantra to hold in mind. I’ve found that there’s a paradox at the heart of all good communication: the more you help, the less you ‘sell’ your idea, the more impact you’ll have. To truly connect you have to genuinely care about those you’re communicating with.
Be warm, personable and relatable. People want to hear from humans, not corporate robots. Share your excitement, your hopes, but also your fears. Intimacy and vulnerability is a trust-builder. Not just the polished corporate version of yourself but the human side too – real, messy stories with genuine authenticity.
Write for one, help many. Have a real person in mind with every piece of content you produce. Can’t think of WHO it’s for and how your content will help? Then the content is unlikely to connect. Write for someone, always. If what you create helps or inspires one person then chances are it’ll help many others like them too. But write for everyone and it’ll fall between the cracks. It always helps to have someone in mind.
Yes, the content game – internal or external – is not an easy one but that’s an opportunity, not a blocker. You can do this. You CAN create meaningful content that makes a real connection.
NB: You’ll notice that my first 3 tips involve doing some thinking upfront. I’m a big believer in planning before you start writing. I have a simple Valuable Content Planning Template to help you here – if anyone would like it, please just shout.
Dear Leaders, the most under-respected and most under-discussed element within leadership meetings and around the boardroom is “what are the factors at play” and how do we influence and then action them.
Knowing The Factors At Play: I recently discussed the forces at play with a new business unit with a large organisation’s leadership team and they struggled with being able to know what were their forces at play, how to find them and then understanding which were internal forces and then external forces.
Forces at play are often out of your control, there are shifts within markets or industries that you can never influence but will greatly impact your business for a number of years ahead.
Economic Factor: Right now we are all experiencing a tough economic environment and many customers have done the wise thing for them to cut their spending, there is a however, not understanding the nuanced factors at play is almost criminal to how you operate and how you then review teams performance and company performance.
Covid Chaos To Crisis: If you have read or listened to recent quarterly earnings (since Q2 of 2020) they have had to blame external factors, when then pushed many CFOs and CEOs struggle to articulate what the deeper factors were (apart from supply chain issues) and how they could change these and influence positive change without many layoffs or numerous rounds of layoffs.
Layoffs for big tech have unfortunately been necessary for most, however, addressing the people side of balance sheet management only doesn’t often change the actual performance of a business, often just the spreadsheet view and you will bad practices, poor decision-making and other operating holes too late and then more misses for quarters to come.
Action: Making Factors Work – Understanding the factors, then categorising them and creating a plan of action (applying to your one company-wide strategy) and then through each departmental plan helps you to reshape and reframe issues.
Here is how you can categorise factors and work out how to reduce anxiety and friction and those you have to take action on:
Want To Influence
Don’t And Can’t Influence
More Than Just Another Unactionable List
This framework works on whiteboards, spreadsheets, miro boards and notion boards, you should keep a running weekly to monthly record (often asynchronously works best) and this enables you to make smart decisions and address/readdress issues and lagging indicators more frequently rather than having to jump straight to headcount freezes and layoffs.
Essential To Truly Know: Dashboards and your internal data often only tell you the surface-level information, the analysis section is imperative and this is where your factors come into their own. Storytelling takes you to the next level.
FYI: Executed right, these factors will appear on your transparent decision document, letting your company know you (and the leadership team have heard and acted upon ideally collaboratively) have made important decisions and then how you got there and why these factors matter, with the actions required to address said issues.
This week consider how you add this framework and workflow into your management meetings, empower department leads and your business analysis (data insights etc) team to feed in weekly or even ad-hoc and discuss these factors regularly,
Thanks and I’ll land back in your inbox next week
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PS/ It is well worth reading how Charlie Munger refers to the forces at work and how he operates with or against them.