October 24, 2008

Why no one is listening to the CEO

A person is told a song title and asked to tap its tune to another person who has to try and guess what it is. The tapper is asked beforehand if they think the person will be able to guess it from their tapping – almost all say yes. HOWEVER only one in forty people actually guess it correctly. Why is this? It is because when you are told the song title you instantly hear its tune in your head (unless of course you have an “I can't remember how that song goes” moment!). The person trying to guess cannot ‘hear’ anything. They can’t hear the background tune you can. So while the tapper thinks they’ll be able to communicate the song no trouble – they fail! Before this turns into a music lesson, let me explain how this applies in the workplace. Let’s say the CEO wants to make a huge announcement. He calls all the troops together and shares a new goal the company is now chasing. “We need to maximize shareholder value” he says with gusto. Huh? The CEO can hear the tune in his head, of what this means – how, why, when, its effects etc. The workers are going “what the hell does that mean?!” and “why would we want to do that?” There is no link between that statement and their daily roles and responsibilities. They walk out of the meeting scratching their heads, while the CEO is thinking “That went fantastic! Boy we are going to overhaul this company”. Needless to say the shareholder value doesn’t end up ‘maximized’.

So how do you ensure EVERYONE can hear the tune playing?
First, use language a four year old could understand. NOT because your staff are imbeciles but because why overcomplicate things?
Second, put yourself in their shoes. Should they actually care about your message? It is super important to you as CEO because if you achieve it you get a $500k bonus at the end of the year….. workers probably don’t!
Third, make the message come alive. Not by creating an even fancier powerpoint presentation but by putting it in black and white and finding an innovative way to make it exciting. You can’t keep it alive by distributing an internal memo or putting it on a gold plaque at the door.
Forth – demand questions. Let staff absolutely grill you if they have to. By tearing your message to shreds, it will become evident if it really has legs and will succeed.

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