The Foundation of Trust and Transparency – Part 2

Essential Executive and Internal Communications Topics

by Todd Johnson, President of Kollective

Part 2 in a 3-part series
Read Part 1 here

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Transparency

If trust is the foundation of all strong, positive company cultures, then transparency is the primary path to achieving that trust. I focus on transparency because it is an actionable topic. There are of course other ways to drive-up trust, but transparency is the main one I focus on herein.

Strategy

Transparency on strategy is something everyone would expect to see on the “essential communications” list. It is somewhat obvious, but it is also hard to do correctly. Quite often organizations end up sharing goals under the guise of strategy. Financial targets, growth rates, etc. are not a strategy. They may be the measurable goals that you assign to determine success, but they are not the strategy. Communicating strategy is about walking employees through how you plan on meeting those goals as well as how they translate to each business unit.

What employees want to understand in terms of strategy include topics like:

  • The key elements of success for the company
  • A product line expanding to new price points, and why
  • Opening new geographies, and why

How to measure success is key to include, but should not be the center of the discussion. I typically see the best strategy slides presented at either Board Meetings or at meetings with financial analysts (for public companies). Those slides may need some edits, but they are usually more on-target in terms of covering strategy than most all-hands decks. Transparency is about showing people what you are doing as a company, why, and how they fit into the plan.

Customer Empathy

Most employees care deeply about what their company does for customers. They may work in finance or in manufacturing and rarely interface with customers, but most want to know how customers use their company’s solution to solve complex problems.

Developing customer empathy amongst employees involves setting a tone, or creating an understanding, that is driven by knowledge and consistency. Knowledge in this sense means being informed about what the company does for customers and how important it is to them, and consistency means maintaining this empathy on a day-to-day basis within the business.

What We Do for Customers

Bringing customers in to speak to employees directly or through video is one of the most powerful ways to create customer empathy. Oftentimes customers have a way of verbalizing what matters most to them that stands out clearer than the company’s marketing messages. First-hand customer accounts also help employees better grasp the critical nature of the products they deliver.

Regularly featuring customer success stories in your communications is effective, and fun, but sometimes sharing a story about something that went wrong can be even more powerful. Years ago, an old employer of mine built high-end systems that were used to render animation for major movie projects. At one point, we experienced a quality issue with a new product that impacted our shipments for a few months. Internally, this did not seem catastrophic since we were sure we would make it up at the end of the quarter.

However, for one of our big animation customers, it was a disaster. The customer was working on final renderings to support the launch of a feature film and our issues were impacting their schedule to the point of potentially delaying the launch of the movie – ouch!

In the end, we rallied and loaned the customer some incremental gear, and after extraordinary work on the customer’s side, they made their deadline. A number of employees from the customer company had to work around the clock and sacrifice weekends because of our issues. Hearing their story directly made a strong impression on our team. From that day forward, we promised to keep the customer perspective front and center in everything we did.

How We Help Customers Achieve

Another way to make strategy come to life for employees while continuing to drive home a consistent message of customer empathy is to highlight the ways that enable the company to gain new customers. Building products that expand the company’s usefulness to existing customers and allow it to serve new ones is something people take pride in. From the start, illuminate what you are trying to help the customer achieve.

Customer Feedback

Regularly sharing with employees the letters, phone calls, tweets and other communications that come from customers is also very valuable. With good feedback, mentioning specific employees the customer may have congratulated is of course a great motivator, but the general sentiment also goes a long way.

You may not always have A+ reviews, but the words of a frustrated customer can still be used to your advantage. Negative reviews provide an opportunity to open a conversation about how the company may need to improve. Of course, in these cases, do not call out specific employee names since public embarrassment is not an effective way to build morale.

Directly linking both good and bad customer feedback cases to company strategy, to drive improvement and support specific goals, is also an excellent connection to make. In this way, you can build a very specific image in employees’ minds why improvement in this area matters so much.

Read Part 3

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