CEOs work hard to manage their brands and balance the demands placed on them by a variety of stakeholders. But what do employees and executives really think of their corporate leaders—and how do CEOs perceive themselves? These are some of the questions we set out to answer in a new study from Domo and CEO.com.
Our recent report underscores that employees want to hear from CEOs at least once a month as they look to them for inspiration and motivation. And when it comes to the frequency of CEO communication, there’s definitely room for improvement.
My own experience has shown that CEOs who are skilled communicators tend to create strong alignment and company cultures and, as a result, drive strong company performance.
One great example is my friend, Marc Benioff, CEO of salesforce.com. Fifteen years ago, Salesforce set out to transform the software industry as well as the model for corporate philanthropy. I was struck during last year’s Dreamforce conference how Marc is still articulating that same company message at every turn. Salesforce is the one of the most well respected software companies on the planet and there’s no doubt in my mind that Marc’s communication skills have been a huge factor in rallying all stakeholders behind the salesforce.com movement.
Unfortunately, as our report shows, not every CEO has nailed the art of communication. As an example, I had an opportunity to listen to a CEO of a multi-billion dollar company talk to a large group of investors. He was an incredibly smart and strategic executive, but it was painfully obvious that he did not want to be on stage. In addition to defensive body language, he failed to share any vision of how his company would be leading the industry into the future. He became animated only when introducing the speeds and feeds of the newest product line. He enjoyed being a product salesperson.
Needless to say, inspiration was lacking – and it impacted both the culture and the way outsiders felt about the company. Inside the organization, it was hard to identify any crusaders. Outside the company, the reaction was “ho-hum” whenever the company name came up. I know there are multiple factors impacting stock price (performance being key), but I believe that this particular CEO’s inability to inspire and get into the hearts and minds of stakeholders contributed to the company’s stock price being stuck in the same uninspiring place for years.
So, let’s say you’re a CEO who wants to be a better communicator. There are many lessons to share, but I’ll limit myself to two points:
1. Think big!
You need to articulate why your company exists — beyond the products you actually sell — and use every opportunity to share that message with your key audiences, especially employees. Contributor Carmine Gallo wrote a great piece in Forbes about how CEO Howard Schultz when talking about Starbucks, never talks about it as a coffee company. Surprising? Rather than getting caught up in “product salesmanship” like the CEO in my earlier story, Schultz talks about being in the business of building a company that treats people with dignity and respect. It’s your job as CEO to make sure everyone understands the cause they are getting behind and why.
2. Use multiple channels.
In their book The Social Employee, authors Mark and Cheryl Burgess advocate for executives to become social business leaders. I couldn’t agree more. It is time for CEOs to go beyond email and the company meeting to communicate with their organizations. In this article for Forbes, I explained why CEOs who aren’t leveraging social media are doing their stakeholders a massive disservice.
For employees, social media enables a new level of transparency and a direct view into what is important to you as CEO that never existed before. Personally, I’ve seen company alignment and culture develop more rapidly at Domo than it ever could have before, and in a more meaningful way.
Domo’s culture is palpable. There is an understanding throughout the company that we are doing something much bigger than building software. We are on a mission to delight customers and transform the way business is managed. It’s my responsibility to inspire employees around this cause; social is proving to be extremely effective way to achieve that goal.
Communication is an important part of inspirational leadership. Work it in the right ways and it will work for you.
A complete copy of the report is available for download at CEO.com.