A former chairman of a major corporation recently gave us some sage advice. He started off with a question: "Jeff and Rich, do you know what 'CEO' stands for?" Before we could respond, he blurted, "Not what you think! It stands for 'Customers', 'Employees' and 'Owners'." From there, he proceeded to describe how important it is to communicate effectively with each of these stakeholders in your business.
His advice was music to our ears. We couldn’t agree more. Business is filled with risk, but with effective business communication you can avoid internal, commercial and financial risks. In fact, with communication flowing, you can actually create unforeseen opportunities.
Consider these pointers:
"C" is for Customers
How well do you know the needs of your customers? How well does your customer know your goals, capabilities and plans? We hope your answer to both questions is "Really well!" In our experience, communication with customers is critical for success. If you keep your customers tuned in to your business, you’re more apt to understand your customers’ wants and needs and to be able to satisfy them, and then they’re more apt to do business with you instead of the competition.
"E" is for Employees
Communicating with employees is essential for success. All too commonly, people assume that because their business is "small," employees know what’s in the mind of management. Au contraire! A team that isn’t working together toward the same goal can lead to misunderstanding, inefficiency and even lost opportunity. Because cash-poor small businesses are more sensitive to mistakes, put extra emphasis on keeping employees completely informed and coordinated. This will reinforce that they are part of the team, and that will lead to better attitude and effort all around.
"O" is for Owners
Communicate regularly with shareholders and stakeholders in your company, whether they be investors or lenders, or anyone else who may own stock in your startup business. It sounds obvious, but when you’re preoccupied with the day-to-day details of your business, it’s easy to forget. Go the extra mile to provide updates to the money people to better manage expectations and create confidence.
Preferably, as the CEO, you should personally write the communiqués. The money people want to hear it from the top, so give it to them the way they want it. If you delegate this task, you run the risk of valuable subtleties and nuances getting lost. By doing it yourself, you can express the ideals of the business, your values and personality, and key objectives.
With the recipients now identified, here are some additional tips to consider:
Reserve the Razzmatazz
When communicating directly with your C-E-Os, you will engender a higher level of confidence more rapidly if you are candid and direct. In this day and age, people generally have a short attention span. So be clear and get to the point in your communications with key business stakeholders. Even if the news is bad, it’s going to come out sooner or later, so it’s best if they hear it from you. When providing an update on the company’s status, save the flowery prose for your advertisements and get right to the “bottom line.”
Calendar Your Communiqués
One of the easiest ways to ensure effective communication is to create a schedule. This serves two functions. First, it reminds you when you should be getting out your next update. Second, the regular schedule helps manage readers’ expectations. They can rest assured that the upcoming monthly update will put their curiosities to rest.
"How often is often enough?" Basically, our answer to this question is always the same. It’s very difficult to over-communicate. If you’re uncertain, just start communicating. Then ask the recipients if they’d like more or less frequent interactions. They’ll love you for being so interested.
With this in mind, pick up the phone. Set up a meeting. Write a letter and snail mail it. Maybe blast out an email with an update. But whatever you do - communicate! Because when it comes to business communication, you better know your CEOs.