This is a bit of a different post today.
It begins with a letter.
I know you’re happy at the recent, positive, publicity for your organization that your PR team has been generating.
And I know you’re hoping that this will translate into a more profitable bottom line for the company.
But remember when you asked me, “What is the most important audience for us to reach in order to spread our message?”
I hate to break it to you, but there’s an extremely important audience you’ve been ignoring while you’ve focused on what everyone outside the organization is thinking and saying.
And that audience is your employees.
Do you remember when your senior staff put together an employee wine and cheese event to celebrate that particularly big win?
Image: vidalia_11 via Flickr, CC 2.0
Well, I do.
And other than the wine and cheese (which is always nice), what I remember most about it is how clear it was that your employees idolize you; to the point where, when you finally made one of your rare speeches, their eyes shone as if they’d just heard the Sermon on the Mount.
No disrespect to you, but I think you’ll agree you’re no JC … which made their reaction all the more remarkable.
You know what else I remember about that evening?
That, as much as they were thrilled to hear from you, they were shy about approaching you, though they clearly wanted to.
That, as much as they were moved by the eloquence of your words, they whispered””to others as well as to me””how they wished they could hear from you more.
This made me sad.
Sad that the outward perception of the organization is more important to you than that of those who make it what it is, by coming to work every day, doing what you’ve charted as their function in order to make the business succeed.
Sad that you let your board meetings and Gala events crowd your calendar to such an extent that they take priority over getting to know your employees, and keeping them abreast of what’s going on, on a more regular basis.
Sad that you are so uncomfortable talking to the people who make your business tick, that you see it as a chore, deferring it to one or more of your senior staff members, when really, your employees want to hear from you.
Not your COO, not your CFO””you.
You see, your employees are your most important audience.
I’m not denying the value of good publicity; far from it.
But have you stopped to consider that when you are constantly communicating with your employees, sharing the good and the bad honestly, giving them a behind-the-scenes look at what’s going on in other departments and with the business overall, that they could be your secret weapon, the best way to grow your community?
I get that you can’t talk one-on-one to every single one of your employees day in and day out.
That’s why you have an organizational structure and chart, after all.
But if you””not anyone else, you””take a little more time out of your day, week, month, to get to know them, to tell them what’s going on, their trust in you will grow.
And when the inevitable crisis hits (as it undoubtedly will) you’ll find you don’t just have employees at your side, you’ll have an army ready to do battle for you and get the company back on its feet.
Now, you tell me. What amount of good publicity can buy you that?
This isn’t a “real” letter I’ve written to a CEO, though it draws strongly from past experience in more than one organization.
It’s part of an ebook called “Dear CEO: Letters to the C-Suite from Experts on Vision, Culture, Community, and Integration.”
The letters contain the thoughts and advice we’d give the C-suite if we could, in the areas mentioned in the book’s title.
Image: Cayusa via Flickr, CC 2.0
They’ve been authored by people like Danny Brown, Beth Harte, Martin Waxman, Kellye Crane, Mark Schaefer, Justin Goldsborough, Heather Whaling …
… and the entire project was spearheaded by Gini Dietrich.
A veritable who’s who of our biz today, right?
So when Gini asked if I would contribute to it, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather.
You probably think I’m getting all gushy and mushy
because my letter is included in it.
I mean, that’s only the polite thing to do, right?
I was really touched when Gini asked me to participate, because while I have some notoriety, I’m certainly not in the same league as some of these folks.
So let me say it again: cor blimey!
When I received the final ebook, I was curious to see what everyone else had come up with.
And I thought it was a great read. Really.
Now, obviously, we all had an advantage here.
We were all writing letters to an imaginary CEO, so some of us were able to be perhaps a bit more blunt and direct than we might have to be in real life.
But isn’t that a great exercise in and of itself?
To be able to say exactly what you’re thinking, without worrying about how the client (if the CEO is a client) might react, or how one’s boss (if the CEO is one’s boss) might take it?
As I said earlier, I drew heavily on past experience when I wrote my letter, down to the wine and cheese event.
Because while I am not an employee communication specialist, I feel very strongly about building community from within.
Which means no matter how great your external relations efforts might be, your efforts at communicating internally have to be equally good.
I have, as a matter of fact, said something pretty close to this letter to a certain CEO.
(Alas, it only worked for a short period of time. Maybe I should send that CEO the ebook to see if it makes a difference.)
Now, I think what’s great about an exercise like this
is that it allows one to frame one’s thoughts, and refine one’s approach.
So that if the moment comes, one can seize the opportunity, knowing one is prepared.
And thanks to Gini’s generosity, I’m able to pay the exercise forward.
Here’s the deal:
If you like the concept of the book, will you share – in the comments below – what you would say to a CEO if you had the opportunity?
What words of wisdom would you pass on?
Or what frustrations would you – gently – vent?
In other words, what would your letter to the CEO be?
five 10 copies of the ebook – which otherwise costs $40 – to give away (earlier I was holding five for another place to give ’em away, but WUL is better, right?), and I’ll give ’em to the folks whose “letters” resonate the most with me.
You don’t have to write an epic, but do share what you’d say – or have been dying to say – if given the opportunity.
And if you win the ebook, I’m pretty sure you will find the letters not just a good read, but thought-provoking as well.
Not to mention a great addition to your library.
So. Let’s get to it.
What is your letter to the CEO?
[…] Dear CEO: I’m Right Here But You Don’t See Me – by Shonali Burke, waxingunlyrical.com […]
[…] SavaitÄ—s mintis: “Your employees are your most important audience“. […]
@padmaja.nagarur Of course I won’t hold it against you! It’s on its way. Thanks again for taking the time to write your letter, I really appreciate it.
@Shonali @padmaja.nagarur Yaaay thanks Shonali! Don’t penalize me for seeing this late! Here’s my email address – email@example.com. Hope to stay in touch!
@HowieSPM @Shonali I concur Howie; employees are your greatest asset and the employee comes first, not the customer. However, that’s why hiring the right employee, the right culture is critical and makes it a lot easier to retain and maintain a happy workforce.
@HowieSPM Communication is key, IMHO, and I’m always amazed at CEOs who want to lock themselves away and not talk to anyone. I mean…!
@bdorman264 Yes, REALLY! And you’re very welcome, though if @ginidietrich hadn’t let me give away a few, no one would get ’em, so props to her.
@Shonali Really? That is so cool. Sweet! My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you so much.
Being a student of business since 1985 if you want to find best in class companies, look at their internal culture. They all have commonality including great treatment of employees, instead of Management/Shareholders vs Employees. To put it simply. Employees fall in the Asset side of the Balance sheet. Most businesses put employees on the Cost side. Just see Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin.
One interesting aspect of this is when employees are on the cost side…the cost goes up. You must pay people more to keep them working for you unhappily. Your turn over goes up. It is harder to attract talent.
And it starts at the top. The best managers I have worked for all have open doors, communicate, and listen very well with the employees.
Great post @Shonali
@padmaja.nagarur W00t, you’ll get a book (send me your email address, please)! I particularly like this line: “You might want to have this pinned up on your board prominently amongst all the awards and recognitions you’ve won.” Great touch.
@NancyD68 That was very eloquent and touched me greatly. Thank you so much. Will you send me your email address for a book, please? And I really appreciate the time you took to write this; I can tell it came from very deep inside you.
@bdorman264 Love it. You’re getting a book. :) Do I have your email address?
I know our company is just starting out. I know we are all wearing multiple hats. It would be really great if I could once hear some real praise come out of your mouth instead of sarcasm. I feel taken for granted already and that is not a good thing.
In only a few short months, I have made excellent connections via Twitter and commenting on blogs. I have been being myself, and trying to offer assistance where it is appropriate. I feel sometimes that even though I have been doing all of this, no one cares except me. That feeling absolutely kills me. I go to bed some nights with chest pains, wondering how we will make all of this work when you are so hard to get in touch with.
I have been promised health insurance for months now. I have now been told one of the other bosses does not want it, so we will not be getting it since there are only four of us and one of our staff is overseas. I have been living without health insurance for years. Years. Last year, i was hospitalized without insurance. I am not asking for much. I am asking that I get some health insurance so that the next time I get sick, I don’t have to choose between whether to go to the doctor, or pay my water bill.
If you want happy and engaged employees, you need to take care of them. Hearing “good job” or getting health insurance is not asking for very much. I canceled the parade in my honor, I thought that might be pushing it. Really, I just want you to realize that while you are traveling to Columbia, and I am watching your cat for you, i am plotting to pack up and look for an employer who will respect me.
We are not your mirrors. We are all people.; We have needs too, and these are really basic needs. If you can’t keep good employees happy, don’t be surprised when you don’t have good employees.
I understand that you might not have enough time to read through an employee’s rant. And I also realize that I’ll have to make mine an elevator pitch.
So here goes – 1) You’ve got to believe in your employees’ vision as much as they do in yours.2) Weigh every word you speak ’cause your employees hang onto every one of them.3) Never tire of doing what is right and not just what you think is right because what goes around comes around.
P.S You might want to have this pinned up on your board prominently amongst all the awards and recognitions you’ve won.
Yes we know the economy is bad and has a direct reflection on our revenues, but where are you? Is sitting on all those boards and being gone days at a time helping us address our most pressing needs? Should I be updating my resume?
This is my life and my livelihood and I will charge a hill for you, but do you care as much about your business as I do?
When you are here, your door is shut and you isolate yourself from everyone. When is the last time you walked around the office and asked how I was, how my family is doing?
We have great people who work very hard but haven’t had a raise in 3 years. Yes, we are thankul we still have a job, but I don’t sense any excitement or enthusiam from the workers; do you think it is because you are so removed from us?
We are following your lead Mr CEO, please give us something genuine to rally around, to truly be happy about; we are there for you.
@Shonali Oh wow and a big phat YaY with a side of WooHooo :)! Thank you very much Shonali – really thoughtful of you – but you know you don’t have to do that right?
As for my email address – it’s email@example.com but if you prefer I would be happy to send you my gmail instead. Actually that might be better. Going to your DM.
@Griddy You know what, Griddy – you’re getting a book. Because we NEED CEOs to see this stuff. And what you wrote is practically a letter… so you’re getting one. Email address, please… and thank you for the terrific add to the conversation!
@Krista You’re so kind, thank you. It drives me nuts when I see internal bridges being broken in an effort to build external ones. That’s half of what I’ve done at various jobs – building internal bridges, but there’s only the “PR person” can do, y’know… so much depends on the CEO.
“Why not think of a company’s heart as its employees?” I love that.
@Narciso17 W00t – you just got yourself an ebook, my friend! Not because you wrote a letter, but because I love your sense of humor, empathizing with the CEO and paying attention to what I wrote (“Cor Blimey!”). Great job, NT!
@3HatsComm I think the next ebook @ginidietrich puts together will star you front and center. :p
Of course I don’t mind @Griddy but I would SO love to see your letter as well. And I don’t have to dangle the ebook in front of you, I know. :) You are awesome to stop by – thank you!
Not sure what I would write Shonali. I’d be silly and ask for a job. Or a consulting gig. ;-)
I’d be brutal, suggest firings and cutbacks across the board; I have issues with waste and overlapping jobs and too much time and effort ‘looking into’ doing thing than actually getting them done. I’d tell Apple and Coke that sure, I get branding and stock valuations and awareness but still, every time I see an ad for their products, they’ve wasted that money (I’d buy anyway, so my eyeballs aren’t the ones they want). I’d really want to know why the smartest, hardest working, bestest employee on the front line doesn’t get salary and compensation options like the management level staff. I’d want to know why they don’t listen to their employees, suggest they consider their employees’ opinions in picking which social programs to support or which benefits packages to offer. Okay, so maybe I would have a few things to write. FWIW.
@ginidietrich @Shonali @GautamGhosh You eloquently took one of my things: Dear CEO, show us WTH you do all day!
The staff of thousands have no connection to, never see or hear from the workings of the higher ups. So this deal, that merger, endless lunches and dinners and elbow rubbings doesn’t always translate to the rank and file, trying to do a job; all they see are outrageous salaries and golden parachutes and absurd bonuses for running companies into the ground. FWIW.
My Little Diddy Would a Little Something Like This (Without My Small-Caps ‘Social-Ese’):
I know it’s been a rough year. What with the whole economy, the product not selling as well as you’d like it to and all. You’ve got a lot on your plate and a bevy of things that need to get done fast. Your time is precious – I get that. This is why I thought that what I have to tell you is important enough to share.
You’ve got to loosen up. Take a breather and have some fun. Take the afternoon off and try to get some perspective on what can help the company – a less stressed and refreshed you.
Before you say ”˜Cor Blimey’ take a breather. I know this is a big thing to ask, so try to schedule some time away over the next few days (next week if you have to). And, hey! How ”˜bout you give the rest of the company some play-time with you. It would do everyone some good to unwind, too. Couple that with some down-time with an executive and you’ve got something great. You were once in that new guy’s spot…remember?…I’m sure it would’ve done you some good to bowl a game or two with the CFO or do an obstacle course with the managing director.
Chances are, you’ll probably get some good ideas, better understanding of the industry in your team and (ironically) increase productivity with the company.
A happy team goes the extra mile because they believe in the company and know that they are making a difference. And they can only get that if they are being heard. And this can start with a little bit of fun.
Give it a Thought,
Cor Blimey, Indeed…!
Big Noise Communications
By the way – I know you wanted to us to write our own letter to a CEO but I hope you don’t mind me commenting & simply sharing a couple of my thoughts instead.
Great letter, Shonali– I share in your frustration with how CEOs and company leadership too often value or prioritize their external audiences and not the internal audiences (ie. staff). Doing so erodes the company culture and leaves it vulnerable if a crisis ever were to strike its reputation. It’s like a human body: it can’t function properly without a healthy heart, so why not think of a company’s heart as its employees?
I honestly can’t write a CEO letter because we share so many of the same perspectives on the value of internal communications! But I’d be interested to see what others contribute, so this should be an interesting conversation for sure.
@Shonali @GautamGhosh Sounds great to me!
@GautamGhosh Brilliant. You just stopped me in my tracks, Gautam. @ginidietrich I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that if you do another ebook, GG should be a contributor.
Gautam – the book is on its way to you… I don’t even have to wait for more letters to come in to know that this is one of the five. Congrats!
@ginidietrich Aw, that’s such a nice thing to say, Gini. And just for you, I’ll say it again: cor blimey! :p
I love this letter Shonali! Cor Blimey indeed! ;)
And yes, yes, yes, to the points you made here.
“Your employees are your most important audience” – No truer words have ever been spoken.
I’m a firm believer that it is the employees that make a company. Not the other way around. Google, Zappos, Walmart, Bank of America, and any Fortune 500 company or even smaller one did not get to where they are simply because of their names in general. It’s the hard working folks behind them that make them what they are.
Get to know your employees – for your company’s name depends on them. Your job security may even depend on them. You often need those that work under you a hell of a lot, and if you expect them to stay by your side – during the good times and the crises – then you better give them the time of day. Common sense really.
After all – if you’re a CEO and not the owner of the corporation – you’re still an employee – regardless of your title. And at some point during your career – you were at the same level as those who work for you today.
Internal communications between any level of the organization is imperative.
Just my 2 cents.
Excellent write up Shonali. Such eloquence.
I have a few CEO’s I know that I’d love to send this letter to haha.
My letter to a CEO would be:
Yours is a very lonely job. You really can’t share the details of what you go through on a day to day basis. You hear people trying to ingratiate themselves with you, or people who have no idea about the innards of your business give you advice
No wonder you find it difficult to continue being effective. No wonder CEO churn has gone up. No wonder you want to get the most amount of money as a form of “compensation” (the word really lives up to its meaning) and when they tie that compensation to the stock price no wonder you take risky decisions and endanger your company.
How, I often wonder, do you still on the majority do the mostly right things?
Maybe we all could learn a little from you.
Cor blimey?! LOL! That, in and of itself, was worth the read here! From the first time I met you online and the first time I heard your wonderful accent to the debates we have around our profession and our recipe sharing, you have become someone I call friend. So you absolutely are in the same league as everyone in the book. Your letter was among my favorites. The first time I read it, it gave me chills.