For many years, when asked what I do for a living, I have replied, “I make the complicated simple.” Bringing clarity to the organization is the leader’s (and the communicator’s) obligation, no matter what else their job descriptions might include. Some of the best articles I’ve read this week underscore this sentiment.
What are we trying to accomplish here?
In “Repeat After Me: Your Company Needs a Mantra,” Shane Snow, on the Fast Company blog, explores the concept of providing clarity in its most basic form: the mantra. A good mantra, he notes, must be short, memorable and able to inform the company’s day-to-day decisions. It must be actionable. “Think different.” “Make something you love.” “Be relentless.” All three of these examples provide the direction to drive decisions and actions. (When I posted this link to Twitter, one follower responded that his company’s mantra is “Whatever.” Problematic at best.) Does your company have a mantra?
If you follow me on Twitter (@bzhenry), you know that I’ve made content curation in organizational communication a hobby. This blog post highlights the best of what I’ve read in recent weeks.
Karen Martin, in “To Boost Both Productivity and Morale, Start a Campaign for Clarity” (also on Fast Company), advocates for an all-out assault on ambiguity, naming three areas that need special attention: annual goals and priorities, problem-solving capabilities and work processes. Martin argues that until an organization has consensus on what’s important, the ability to search out definitive answers when difficulties arise and well-defined processes to support a high score on a metric she refers to as “percent complete and accurate” work, it will continue to perform poorly. Her advice: Start a campaign for clarity.
What difference does it make?
John H. Fleming and Dan Witters easily explain the answer to this question in “Why Employees Don’t ‘Get’ Your Brand,” in the Gallup Business Journal. Their research looks at brand alignment – a concept that can be measured through agreement with the statement, “I know what my company stands for and what makes our brand(s) different from that of our competitors.”
In many industries, lack of brand alignment is particularly acute in nonexecutive and nonmanagerial employees, yet these employees are the mostly likely to interact with customers. The authors’ research also shows that American consumers who are familiar with a brand and can successfully identify its key elements give approximately double the amount of business to that brand compared with consumers who are familiar with the brand but unable to identify differentiators. In short, your company is leaving money on the table if your employees don’t “get” what you’re about and communicate it when dealing with your customers.
So what can you do?
In “What Leaders Do When They’re At Their Best,” on the Fast Company blog, Drake Baer interviews Jim Kouzes, coauthor (with Barry Posner) of the bestselling book Leadership Challenge. Kouzes talks about five important practices, one of which is “inspiring a shared vision.” This brings us full circle to the idea of the mantra. “Our collaborative ideology is our greatest differentiator,” isn’t going to inspire anyone. Leaders – and communicators – need to articulate and exemplify the mantra. Make the complicated simple.