CEOs share why overcommunicating is a strong leadership strategy

All leaders have their blind spots, these disconnects between how they suppose they’re displaying up on the earth and the way their workers understand them. Throughout a whole lot of interviews with CEOs about the important thing leadership classes they’ve realized, one of the crucial constant themes we’ve heard is their rising recognition that they need to make an additional effort to shut the hole between how a lot they suppose they should talk and what their workers need and want from them.

It is one of many key rules of leadership: There is no such factor as overcommunication. All leaders need to repeat the strategy relentlessly and remind workers of the “why” behind the work they’re doing, regardless of how redundant the messaging could really feel to them.

“At first, I questioned what number of instances I’d need to say the identical factor,” mentioned Andi Owen, chief government of Herman Miller, the workplace furnishings firm. “Then I noticed that there are eight thousand workers, and in nearly each venue I’m in, persons are assembly me for the primary time. I’ve to repeat the core message again and again as a result of my job is to set the path, talk, and be inspiring. I believed I’d spend a lot extra time doing another issues, however most of my day is spent speaking.”

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Owen’s perception was echoed by Christopher Nassetta, the CEO of Hilton Worldwide. “It’s important to watch out as a chief, significantly of a large group,” he mentioned. “Yow will discover your self speaking the identical factor so many instances that you just get uninterested in listening to it. And so that you may alter the way you say it, or shorthand it, as a result of you’ve gotten actually mentioned it so many instances that you just suppose no person else on earth might need to hear this. However you possibly can’t cease.”

The necessity to continuously remind individuals of the strategy can appear puzzling. In any case, persons are good, and presumably they will bear in mind the important thing parts of a easy plan from week to week.

One reply is captured in an perception from Marcus Ryu, the chairman and cofounder of Guidewire, which makes software program for the insurance coverage business. “I’ve come to understand that regardless of how good the persons are who you’re speaking to, the extra of them there are, the dumber the collective will get. And so you can have a room filled with Einsteins, but when there are 200 or 300 of them, then you definately nonetheless have to speak to them like they’re simply common individuals. Because the viewers will get larger and larger, your message has to get less complicated and less complicated, and the bullet-point record needs to be shorter and shorter.”

A second cause why repetition is so vital is that companies, simply as in nature, abhor a vacuum, and if leaders aren’t saying something, then workers will provide their very own narrative, and they’re going to typically go to a darkish place, spinning conspiracies or worst-case situations. Uncertainty creates free-floating, contagious nervousness.

“Individuals learn a lot extra that means into issues that you just didn’t essentially intend to have that means,” mentioned Christy Wyatt, the CEO of Absolute Software program, a cybersecurity firm. “Individuals will make up tales within the white house.”

One vivid reminder of this rule performed out when she was main one other agency, known as Good Expertise. Like most Silicon Valley corporations, it had a kitchen stocked with free snacks and drinks. The corporate determined to modify the distributors that provided the snacks, so there was a week when provides ran low earlier than the brand new vendor took over.

“[Since] we hadn’t mentioned something about it, and the meals was beginning to run low, individuals began saying, ‘There’s layoffs coming; unhealthy issues are going to occur,’” Wyatt recalled. “I truly needed to say in an all-hands assembly, ‘Guys, it’s simply the nuts within the kitchen. That’s it.’ However individuals search for symbols, and so they search for that means the place possibly there isn’t any. So now we’re overcommunicating.”

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Lastly, leaders have to be ready to be teased for endlessly repeating the strategy. In case your workers roll their eyes and say what you’re going to say earlier than you open your mouth, think about that a victory as a result of they’ve internalized the message. Attending to that time requires way more communication than you may suppose, and in all varieties—all-hands conferences, e mail blasts, webcasts. All these approaches are essential to struggle the collective brief consideration spans in organizations.

“You inform individuals, ‘Right here’s the place we’re headed and these are our priorities,’ and then you definately simply sense how typically persons are wandering,” mentioned Laurel Richie, the previous president of the Girls’s Nationwide Basketball Affiliation. “I at all times say that a part of the job is preserving all of the bunnies within the field. You begin with all of the bunnies within the field, after which anyone will get a nice thought to go do one thing else, and also you go assist all of them come again and get in line, after which a bunny over right here pops out. So the extra the bunnies are getting out of the field, the extra I notice I simply haven’t completed a adequate job speaking what our priorities are and what our focus ought to be.”

For leaders in any respect ranges, the lesson is clear: When unsure, say it once more.


This text tailored from Bryant and Sharer’s upcoming e-book, The CEO Test: Master the Challenges That Make or Break All Leaders, releasing with Harvard Enterprise Evaluate Press March 2021.

Adam Bryant is managing director of Merryck & Co., a leadership growth and senior government mentoring agency. He was a journalist for 30 years, together with at The New York Instances, the place he created and authored the broadly learn “Nook Workplace” column, for which he interviewed greater than 500 CEOs and different leaders.

Kevin Sharer is the previous president, CEO, and chairman of Amgen, the world’s largest biotech firm. He additionally taught strategy and administration at Harvard Enterprise Faculty for seven years.