Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The CEO holiday letter: 3 tips for getting employees to actually read it

The year-end letter from the CEO or another executive team member can be a great way to build engagement and make a human connection. But only if it’s done well. A two-page composition that’s one long, dry sentence after another is not going to be read word-for-word by employees, if at all. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when working with leadership on an employee letter or email:

  1. Don’t ghostwrite it: Or at least don’t make it sound like someone ghostwrote it. If the exec doesn’t have the time or inclination to write the piece for himself or herself, do whatever you can to channel his or her voice. What are the words and phrases this person uses frequently? If they like something, are they more likely to describe it as really cool, awesome, outstanding, fabulous or terrific? Is there a word or phrase they use frequently to reinforce an idea, like “absolutely” or “no doubt?” If you don’t have frequent contact with this particular leader, search online for videos of interviews or speaking engagements to pick up details of how they speak. Even better, get five minutes of their time to talk about what they want employees to get out of this communication.
  2. Show some personality: Tribe’s national research with employees indicates that they want a personal connection with their leadership teams. They want to feel like they know something beyond business facts about the person behind the title. Some more introverted leaders resist talking about themselves because they think it comes off as self-centered or bragging. Explain that it’s humanizing rather than hubris. If the big boss is training for a marathon or writing a detective novel on the side, that’s the kind of personal detail employees are craving.
  3. Cut roughly 20% of what you wrote: Or even 30%. Take a look at what you think is the final draft and figure out how to make it shorter. If it’s a letter, absolutely do not let it be more than one page, and try not to fill that page with ink. If it’s an email, three or four brief paragraphs is probably about as much as employees will read. Employees are much more likely to read it if it’s short and sweet.

Interested in improving your leadership communications? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Letter from the CEO: Tips to Get Employees to Actually Read It

Having the CEO or another leadership team member write a letter or email to employees is a huge opportunity to build engagement. But only if it’s done well. A 500-word missive that’s one long stuffy sentence after another is not engaging and will bore employees long before they get to that final paragraph. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when your communications plan includes leadership communications of that sort:

  1. Don’t ghostwrite it: Or at least don’t make it sound like someone ghostwrote it. If the exec doesn’t have the time or inclination to write the piece for himself or herself, do whatever you can to channel his or her voice. What are the words and phrases this person uses frequently? If they like something, are they more likely to describe it as really cool, awesome, outstanding, fabulous or terrific? Is there a word or phrase they use frequently to reinforce an idea,  like “absolutely” or “no doubt?” If you don’t have frequent contact with this particular leader, search online for videos of interviews or speaking engagements to pick up details of how they speak. Even better, get five minutes of their time to talk about what they want employees to get out of this communication.
  2. Show some personality: Tribe’s national research with employees indicates that they want a personal connection with their leadership teams. They want to feel like they know something beyond business facts about the person behind the title. Some more introverted leaders resist talking about themselves because they think it comes off as self-centered or bragging. Explain that it’s humanizing rather than hubris. If the big boss is training for a marathon or writing a detective novel on the side, that’s the kind of personal detail employees are craving.
  3. Cut roughly 20% of what you wrote: Or even 30%. Take a look at what you think is the final draft and figure out how to make it shorter. If it’s a letter, absolutely do not let it be more than one page, and try not to fill that page with ink. If it’s an email, three or four brief paragraphs is probably about as much as employees will read. For a blog, you can go a little longer, but still, short and sweet is more likely to be read.

Interested in improving your leadership communications? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Authentic CEO Communications That Are Super Easy On the CEO’s Calendar

tCEOs are busy. They don’t always have the time, or the inclination, to pen their own material for employee communications. Having a leadership blog or letter to employees ghost-written by someone else, whether an internal communications professional or an agency, is a commonly accepted solution to that challenge.

But employees can smell fake a mile away. I was once in an elevator in a large corporation with the CEO’s latest blog posted on the wall. It was a nicely designed piece, with a photo of the smiling executive. Two employees who happened to be sharing the same elevator were chuckling at the ruse. “Oh yeah, like he really wrote that.” I glanced at the copy, and agreed with them. It read like a press release that had been revised by committee.

Yet it’s important to employees to know what the CEO is thinking. They want to know that he or she has a vision, that there’s a plan for the company’s future, that the work that they’re doing in their individual jobs contributes to some greater plan for success.

At Tribe, we’ve found a few ways around this conundrum. They all can be achieved with a very small chunk of time in the CEO’s calendar and result in authentic communications employees can trust. They also don’t require huge budgets.

1. The Q&A: This is the simplest possible solution. Rather than guessing what the CEO is thinking, just ask. Tribe has used this method for several clients on a quarterly basis. Here’s just how easy it is to do:

  1. Book 20-30 minutes on the CEO’s calendar once a quarter for a phone call
  2. Prepare a handful of questions related to the company vision, one of the values, a current business challenge or strategic objective
  3. Have a nice conversation with the CEO and record it (We usually use an iPhone and the Voice Memos app)
  4. Have the conversation transcribed (We use a professional transcriber, but any intern could handle it)
  5. Construct a Q&A column using quotes from the transcript (Most CEOs appreciate you cleaning up any stumbles or grammar faux pas)
  6. Have the CEO review it, make any minor tweaks, and you’re done

2. Leadership Video: Tribe recently shot a year’s worth of monthly videos in one day, requiring about 20 minutes per member of the leadership team. The CEO was interviewed on all 12 subjects, but that took only about an hour of his time. We covered everything from the Vision and Values to building a customer-centric culture to the balance between people and technology. That gave us enough material for more than a dozen ninety-second videos, each featuring the CEO and several other members of the leadership team commenting on the same theme. (We have a Tribe person off camera doing the interviewing, and then of course delete all that in the edit.)

3. Podcasts: If you don’t have the budget to shoot video, or if your CEO is shy about being on camera, use the same process above to record audio rather than video. Edit into short podcasts you can post on your intranet or email to employees.

Interested in trying some new forms of leadership communications? Tribe can help.