I recently read Seth Godin’s blog Greatest Hits Are Exhausting, and it really hit home. We are enamored with what is comfortable and popular. But, as Seth so eloquently says, “Popular isn’t the same as important. Popular isn’t the same as profound. Popular isn’t even the same as useful.” Think about your favorite singer/band growing up. I am guessing after you bought the album you came to like most of the songs, not just those you heard on the radio. In college, I collected B sides from my favorite artists so I could expand my understanding of their music. Yet today we have fallen prey to the Itunes algorithm mentality both in music and at work. We pump out greatest hits stories to our candidates, employees, and customers instead of embracing our full, rich library of experiences. We focus on what we think our audience wants to hear at the expense of trusting them with our full story. And it is not working. According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Index , only 52% of respondents believe that businesses are trustworthy and only 37% believe that CEOs are trustworthy. The CEO rating is an all time low, with 23 of the 28 countries surveyed rating CEO trust below 50%. How can we react to numbers this dismal? Our best play is to tune our communications to be authentic, to share everything you can, and to read between the lines.
Be Authentic: Trust is earned, and broken, by how we engage with our teams. In Stephen M. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust, he talks about the “trust tax” most companies incur because employees don’t think their bosses communicate honestly. The tax is the expense of reduced speed and increased costs that result when people are distrustful. Communicating authentically is the number one action leaders can take to improve trust within their organizations. That means eliminating phrases like “achieving operational excellence” when the truth is “we need to reduce staff because we are eliminating this product.” The same is true with candidates. Imagine if you skipped over the first date politeness with candidates and let them know that “we are a global company with lots of opportunities and resources. However, we also have a lot of bureaucracy and politics, and you’ll need to be good at navigating that here to be successful.” Employees and candidates have already formed their opinions about whatever you are selling. Focusing on facts and transparency will go a long way in gaining their buy in and their respect.
Share everything you can. Layoffs and acquisitions are part of business. Employees know to expect them. However they also personally know Mary, who was just laid off after 30 years. They know that in the last acquisition jobs were lost and are worried about their security. Engage employees in dialogue- don’t subject them to a monologue. Share your personal thoughts and feelings about the announcement. Be honest about what is keeping you up at night- and ask for your team’s ideas on how to address your your concerns. The same notion holds true with customers. If industry news breaks about your company, don’t wait for the client to call you. Call them first and confidently share what you can about the news. If you are thinking of restructuring your sales team, share your thoughts and ask them for theirs. This is more than just a communication tactic. It’s how you build a reputation internally and externally.
Read between the lines. Great leaders have the uncanny ability to focus on the unspoken message in the room. Nodding heads don’t necessarily mean agreement or support. These is much to hear in the unsaid words behind an employee’s question. Leaders who focus on their talking points miss the message coming back at them. Invite the elephant into the room and host the conversation that needs to happen. Use questions, humor, stories, analogies, and data to engage the team. You may leave having had a totally different conversation than you planned, but likely it was the one that needed to occur.
Tina Turner once said “Making a greatest hits album is easy because you don’t actually have to do anything.” In today’s fast-paced, results-oriented world, there is comfort in repeating and replaying popular messages. But that approach tunes out new ideas and limits our possibilities. Retune your communications approach to drive engagement and business results. Engaging employees, candidates, and customers by being authentic, sharing everything we can, and reading between the lines will be music to their ears.