Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Three Holiday Wishes from Signal Bridge Communications

May your responses be nimble.
May your crises be small.
May your messages be crisp.

All the best for a warm holiday season and great communications in 2011.

Bill Salvin

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Communicating Like a Mediocre Middle Manager and Missing the Real Audience

I'm loathe to offer critique on the President. After all he rarely critiques my speaking engagements. But there's a good lesson for middle managers in the remarks and Q&A the President gave Tuesday at the White House on the tax cut deal he made with Republicans. (Editor's Note: This is not a political post, but rather a communications post.)

Middle managers have the toughest communication job in any company. They have to represent unpopular and often controversial positions to the rank and file. They also have to represent the rank and file to senior leaders. That requires a delicate balance especially after a deal has been made.

Like it or not, a middle manager has to own the decision that has been made. Certain audiences may find parts of the deal distasteful, but a deal is a deal and when it is time to sell it, there needs to be strength. The President communicated like a mediocre middle manager, unhappy that the new boss is making him do something he doesn't like. For example:
"Because of this agreement, 2 million Americans who lost their jobs and are looking for work will be able to pay their rent and put food on their table.  And in exchange for a temporary extension of the high-income tax breaks -- not a permanent but a temporary extension -- a policy that I opposed but that Republicans are unwilling to budge on, this agreement preserves additional tax cuts for the middle class that I fought for and that Republicans opposed two years ago." (bold emphasis mine)
The man had a good deal to announce. People think government doesn't work any more and this is an example of representative government working. Nobody got everything they wanted, but everyone got something. It is how it is supposed to work. I learned that in 8th grade in Mr. Gloudemans's civics class.

Listening to the President I had the image of former line employee who, after being promoted to management,  had to explain management's plans to his old co-workers. In this case, the old co-workers are Democrats who are quite unhappy with the President.

I understand the President has to communicate the hows and whys of his compromise to Democrats, but the White House Briefing Room seems ill-suited for that. It doesn't get much more powerful as a speaking platform. It's a great place to celebrate the victory (and this is a victory). Connect with the Democrats in a different forum; maybe go talk to them directly.

Here are four takeaways for middle managers:

  • Once a decision has been made, you own the deal; even the parts you don't like
  • Make sure the messages match the forum for maximum impact
  • Negativity rarely persuades people; focus on positive outcomes
  • Acknowledge opposition but offer context for the decision and ask for support

The bottom line goes to my friend (and mentor) Jerry Krone with whom I used to work. He said "You're going to be held responsible for what you say, you may as well say it like you mean it."

Bill Salvin