“Communicate your long-term goals to your team. Then communicate them again.” According to author and entrepreneur Scott Belsky, frequent communication is essential to keeping everyone aligned with a single purpose. In fact, Belsky recalled a conversation with one of his investors who was a CEO of a large internet company; the investor admitted to learning the importance of repeating his vision the hard way.
Belsky’s investor said, “I used to assume everyone on the team knew the grand vision, but an informal survey revealed the opposite. New employees had no idea what we were aiming for in the long term…” That’s when the notion of repeating key messages consistently over time clicked with this CEO.
Repeating a company’s core messages routinely is often overlooked by leaders because they don’t want to risk annoying everyone. In reality, smart leaders know essential information bears repeating again and again—especially as the team grows.
Consider the role of a sports coach. They have a vision for how the team should adhere to plays and what the team should do to improve. What if the coach only said everything once? Think about that. You can imagine the effect it would have on the season record.
Like athletes on a team, each of your employees has a lot to think about. They’re balancing their deliverables and personal development as well as managing up, across and down if they have direct reports. Not to mention they are responsible for communicating agendas with customers and the corporate community. When you consider all of the two-way communication your employees may be juggling, how many times do they need to be reminded of the larger collective purpose?
I had a great conversation with Home Depot’s former chairman and CEO Frank Blake who’s not only an advocate of what he calls “aggressive listening,” but also views communication as one of the most critical tasks a leader can do. Blake stresses the importance of creating a simple message that lends itself to being quickly understood and is personally relevant to everyone. If the message is something people can internalize, then it’s a call to action they’ll remember and pass on.
Once you’ve settled on a universal message your employees can embrace, Blake explains you have to repeat it over, and over, and over again. “You have to be consistent, otherwise your message gets lost as it moves through the organization,” he says. “I made it my goal that if I spoke with any one of my 350,000 associates and asked them what key things they should be focusing on, I’d get the same answer from everyone.”
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Blake knew he was succeeding at saturating the company with his vision if he was hearing the same answer when he walked the floors and listened to his employees. Blake was credited for restoring Home Depot’s financial health during his tenure from 2007 to 2014—an especially challenging task since it straddled the Great Recession.
As you move forward during your own cycle of disruption or effort to stay the course, consider the ways you’re interacting with your employees and how you convey your vision with urgency throughout the organization. Is it through small or large group meetings, one-on-one interactions or a town hall of sorts? Hopefully, the answer is all of the above. Get creative and uncover new ways of emphasizing your message. Hint: It doesn’t start and end with a one-page memo!