Posts Tagged ‘CEO’

Communication Skills Among Top 10 Tips for New Executives

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

A top executive recently wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal listing the top “10 Tips for New Executives”, and two important communication skills were among them. Fay Vincent rose to the top of three distinctly different enterprises, demonstrating that he knows what he’s talking about. He’s the former president and CEO of Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., executive vice president of Coca-Cola Co., and the eighth commissioner of Major League Baseball. He’s the kind of person we’d all like to have had advice from in the early stages of our careers, and his 10 Tips are insights he wishes he had known sooner.

The two communication skills he included on his list are

  • Listening for advice
  • Explaining your strategy frequently, stated in different ways

Why are these two skills important? Vincent explains that regular interaction with employees at all levels and listening to what they’re talking about is essential for effective leadership. You need to know what’s important to the people you’re asking to follow you. If anyone wants to talk with you, take time to listen to their views and if it’s a criticism, consider the person’s position and respond thoughtfully, even when you disagree.

Repeatedly explaining your core strategy will ensure that everyone is moving in the same direction and maximizing productivity. By rephrasing the strategy periodically, people at all levels, who may have different communication skills and vocabularies, will be sure to hear your meaning. In other words, let there be no doubt what success looks like in your organization. I would add to this that telling stories of “people caught doing things right” is a proven way to make your goals clear. People understand a story and can apply the lesson to their own jobs much more easily than they can “translate” a high-level mission statement. Are you listening?

Jack Welch on Leadership Communication and Performance

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

Reacting to the recent announcement that Microsoft would stop force-ranking employees, a practice often referred to as “rank and yank,” former GE CEO Jack Welch delivered a strong case for another approach. Calling the “rank and yank” approach to performance evaluations”a media-invented, politicized, sledgehammer of a pejorative,” he said that it “perpetuates a myth about a powerfully effective real practice called (more appropriately) differentiation.”

Much has been written about “rank and yank” approach used by companies in recent years. It can, and often does, result in the firing of excellent employees who happen to be on an exceptionally high-performing team. Under the system, the bottom-ranked employees have to go, even those who are strong contributors. If it seems self-defeating, that’s because it is!

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Welch states a strong case for differentiation, which, he says, is “about building great teams and great companies through consistency, transparency and candor. It’s about aligning performance with the organization’s mission and values. It’s about making sure that all employees know where they stand. Differentiation is nuanced, humane, and occasionally complex, and it has been used successfully by companies for decades.”

Welch clearly articulates the need for leaders to clarify mission (where we’re going) and values (how we’re going to get there)–a goal achieved through storytelling, as emphasized in my Corporate Storytelling® workshops. Aligning performance with mission and values is crucial. To achieve that goal, Welch advocates for honest, supportive performance evaluations that let employees know where they stand, where they excel, and where they need to improve.

With this approach, everybody wins! And everybody wins when someone is let go. That’s because only those who aren’t performing well enough are let go–after they’re given help in identifying where their strengths would be a better fit and supporting their efforts to find another job.

Leadership communications based on consistency, transparency and candor are the keys to building and retaining high-performance teams and building strong, enduring companies. The most powerful tool for clear communication is storytelling.

Tell Stories Worth Telling, Win Customers and Employees

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

“Fast Company” recently posted an excellent article on 10 ways that companies can bring core values to life, which emphasized that in today’s information-loaded environment, having a purpose that benefits your community is essential. The article reports that 87% of global consumers believe businesses “should place equal weight on societal issues and business issues,” and a study on meaningful brands found that “73% of existing brands could disappear and consumers wouldn’t care.”

Three of the 10 ways to bring core values to life align with three main points in my Corporate Storytelling® system. They are

  1. Make customers the celebrity of your brand story, explaining the benefits of your products/services
  2. CEOs must lead by example, enacting the values on a regular basis so that employees understand the desiredbehavior that will be rewarded
  3. Inspire employees to become brand advocates

Each of these can be achieved by clearly articulating a relevant story that engages your employees, customers, and community and galvanzies support for your mission. Stories are powerful communication tools for many reasons; chief among them are that stories touch people emotionally, act as glue that sticks your brand in their minds, and motivate them to promote your business.

The lesson here is that you have to work harder to cut through the information clutter, and the most effective way to do that is to tell a story worth telling–one that clearly communicates values your customers, employees and community share.

To ensure that your company’s brands aren’t among that startlingly high 73% that the marketplace doesn’t care about, read the “Fast Company” article and assess how well you’re doing on all 10 measures recommended.


Howard Schultz Tells Starbucks Story

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

As evidences by a recent post, I’m becoming a very big fan of Howard Schultz’s leadership of Starbucks. He not only clearly communicates his personal, and his company’s, core values, but he also demonstrates his commitment to those values by enacting them.

In a talk at the University of Denver’s School of Business, Schultz tells the story of how Starbucks has survived during the economic downturn, turned around a precipitous decline in business during those years, and also rekindled the fire for the business that for many reasons had nearly burned out among many of the company’s employees (known as partners). His return to the position of CEO after almost eight years as Chairman sparked a renaissance based on tough decisions and an astounding commitment to retraining employees and re-energizing his own–and the company’s–social consciousness.

This story also is told in his books, Pour Your Heart into It and Onward! Both are recommended reading.

Watch Schultz’ talk at the University of Denver:

Starbucks Story Is about Passion and Authenticity

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Starbucks is proof positive that passion and authenticity can drive a company to huge success. Founded in Seattle in 1971 by two guys who sold whole bean and ground coffee as well as tea and spices in a retail store in Pike Place Market, Starbucks originally set out to educate consumers about dark-roasted coffee and the wide variety of beans and teas in the world. The founders were comfortable being small and selling only bagged products for customers to brew at home. The company grew by leaps and bounds only after Howard Schultz, now chairman, president and CEO, got involved.

Hired in 1982 to head up marketing, Schultz became CEO in 1987 after leaving the company for a while to start his own business. When he returned to take the top post, Schultz convinced private investors that his vision was achievable. Aiming for a national chain of European-style warm, inviting neighborhood cafes, he and his management team grew the business from a company with 6 stores to a national chain of 1,300 stores and 25,000 employees–within 10 years! Now a global company of more than 20,000 stores and 151,000 partners in 62 countries, Starbucks is still an organization run on passion.

Schultz had been bitten by “the bug” of high quality coffee and the classic Italian cafe culture in 1981 when he first sipped a cappuccino at a neighborhood coffee bar in Italy. He’ll never forget that pivotal moment–and he still loves sharing that experience with the world. He was certain Americans would enjoy the experience just as much as he did, and in some communities Starbucks is, in fact, the “Third Place” gathering spot that Schultz envisioned. And his concept caught on to a far greater degree than he originally imagined.

As he says in his first book, Pour Your Heart into It, How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, “People connect with Starbucks because they relate to what we stand for. It’s more than great coffee. It’s the romance of the coffee experience, the feeling of warmth and community…. Starbucks strikes an emotional chord with people. Some drive out of their way to get their morning coffee from our stores.”

Based on an authenticity that permeates the culture, Schultz’s leadership emanates from his contagious passion for coffee. The mission “to inspire and nurture the human spirit–one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time” inspires store managers, executives and partners at all levels. Management decisions, as well as the one-on-one interactions between baristas and customers, are evidence of their commitment.

Starbucks has proven, as Schultz says, that “a company can grow big without losing the passion and personality that built it, but only if it’s driven not by profits but by values and by people. If you pour your heart into your work, or into any worthy enterprise, you can achieve dreams others may think impossible.”

How about your organization? Is the leader’s passion evident? Is the vision clear? And what about you? What dreams do you have for your own future that passion and authenticity will help you achieve?

Five Words Fundraising Stories Should Elicit

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Speakers naturally are gratified when a crowd gathers around them after a presentation, exclaiming how great they were and how impressive their work is. But how closely do you, as a speaker, pay attention to the meaning of the comments you’re hearing, particularly when you’re helping to raise funds for a non-profit organization?

Much of the feedback fundraisers hear is, contrary to their beliefs, not expressing support of their cause, according to The Rev. Eric Foley, founder and CEO of Seoul USA/.W. He says that when a person tells you after a fundraising presentation, “You’re great! Man, I could never do what you do,” that person is saying that s/he never will do what you do–or support what you do. The person is telling you that your organization’s story didn’t touch the individual’s heart.

Having trained more than 1,300 Christian organizations in the art of fundraising, The Rev. Foley has concluded that five key words tell you whether your presentation was a success. Those five words are, “I see myself in you.”

When you hear those words from an audience member, you know you’ve made a connection and won over a new donor. How often do you hear those words after a fundraising presentation? How might you improve your stories to elicit those words?



CEO Provides Rich Benefits to Retain Tech Workers

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Even though workplace satisfaction studies consistently find that what matters most to employees is recognition, the CEO of one Seattle-based company is enriching the  employee benefits package in hopes of retaining his top-flight tech workers. According to a recent column by Brier Dudley in the Seattle Times, Alex Algard of has been writing a lot of big checks to show his appreciation for “a talent pool and just an overall talent level that’s at an all-time high in the company. So for that reason it makes sense to actually spend more time and effort in investing in retention as opposed to just recruiting.”

Among the benefits that Algard has added for his 100 employees are new MacBook Pro computers with Retina displays, $700 chairs and $1,500 hydraulic desks so that individuals who prefer to work standing up can raise the desk by pushing a button. Other amenities include a remodeled office space, a total of $2 million in bonuses last Fall, and a four-day trip for employees and their families to popular Whistler, B.C., site of many events during the 2010 Winter Olympics in nearby Vancouver. The trip was in addition to an unusual vacation policy; employees may take as much vacation as they choose–as long as they get their work done.

The enriched benefits package comes at a time when is recruiting more talent for a planned expansion of its services. “Algard explains that “we can’t really over-invest in our employees because (each one) makes such a big impact on the overall business.” And in an area populated by a number of technology companies competing for top talent, rich rewards are apparently more important than recognition–at least for now.

Whole Foods CEO Advocates Return to Values and Purpose

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Identifying, crafting and telling values-based stories are the core of my Corporate Storytelling system, so I was excited to read a story recently in The Seattle Times about the importance of values and virtues to Whole Foods co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey. In a book he wrote with Raj Sisodia, marketing professor of Bentley University, Mackey makes the case that the power of a free market depends on creating value and strengthening society by practicing “higher virtues”.

“If everybody is always calculating what’s to their advantage, and no one comes with generosity, or kindness, or compassion, or forgiveness–higher virtues–your society starts to break down,” Mackey says. “I actually think that’s what’s happening in America right now.” He went on to explain that a sense of Judeo-Christian values served as the foundation of American enterprise for most of its history, and added that the resulting empathy and caring for others softened the forces of self-interest. But as America has become increasingly secular, the ethics that drove business have been lost, and as a result, trust in institutions, both public and private, has disappeared.

As a society, we have to find our purpose again, Mackey believes, and likewise, “business needs to rediscover its purpose….”

In their book, Conscious Capitalism, the Whole Foods leader and his co-author argue that business must integrate the needs of all its stakeholders. Rather than seeing the world through a win/lose perspective, conscious business leaders need to be creative enough to “deliver multiple kinds of value simultaneously.” As you’d expect, that’s the guiding principle of Whole Foods. For example, Mackey explains, he can quickly consider every major stakeholder’s needs and interests and determine whether Whole Foods is delivering value for each group. “If (as the result of a decision we’re considering) somebody is losing, then really we haven’t been creative enough, and probably it’s not a good decision.” As a business rediscovers a higher sense of purpose–one focused on creating value for employees, suppliers, investors and customers–it can create value for all stakeholders, he says.



How One P&G Manager Learned the Power of Storytelling

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

The news reporter in me always enjoys learning “the story behind the story,” so I was fascinated to read how storytelling caught on at Procter & Gamble. And because P &G products are used in millions of households and organizations, I expect you’ll enjoy the story related in Paul Smith’s new book, Lead with a Story.

Director of Consumer Research for P&G, Smith relates in his book how at first he was perplexed by the long-time CEO’s behavior during Smith’s first presentation to the head of the company. A.G. Lafley didn’t look once at the slides Smith had so carefully prepared; instead, Lafley had chosen a seat at the head of the conference table–but with his back to the screen! What’s more, he didn’t once turn his head around to view a slide.

Only  later did Smith realize that “he wasn’t looking at my slides because he knew something that I didn’t know until that moment. He knew if I had anything important to say, I would say it.” In other words, his CEO was listening for a story!

In an excerpt of Smith’s book published in TLNT, he also relates how P&G came to appoint a statistician as official corporate storyteller. Read about it at



CEO Requires Good Grammar

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

At first glance, one CEO’s hiring requirement–excellent grammar, regardless of the job–may seem a bit extreme. But Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, the largest online repair community, and founder of Dozuki, a technical documentation company, makes a good case for his stance.

As one whose ears scream “Ouch!” when I hear or read all-too-common grammatical errors, I understand and sympathize with Wiens’ irritation at improper use of the English language. And after reading his rationale (for starters, he says people who regularly make grammar mistakes (and I would add spelling errors) “look stupid”), I have to agree with the points he makes.

In Wiens’ article on the HBR Blog Network, his reasons for the grammar-centric policy include the following:

  1. those who “write for a living” need to be grammar experts
  2. good grammar establishes credibility, especially in an age centered on online communications
  3. people who don’t pay attention to the details of grammar don’t pay attention to the details of their jobs, either–regardless of their specific responsibilities

He sums up his perspective by saying, “In fact, when it comes to my whole business, details are everything…. All applicants say they’re detail-oriented; I just make my employees prove it.”