Everything communicates: your company name, logo, and tagline; your web and social media presence; the format and theme choice of your pitch deck; what you wear; how you talk; where you office; and on and on and on...
How do you prioritize where you spend your time communicating? How important is it to tailor your communications from one audience to the next? What are effective ways to get feedback, to make sure your messages - to customers, to employees - are getting through or not? How transparent should you be and when do you choose disclosure, versus holding back?
These questions and more are everyday considerations for COMMUNCATIONS in a fast-moving new venture. Share your experiences with company communications...the good, the bad, and the surreal.
One thing that I preach to my classes is that "it’s not who you know, but who knows you.” That’s a bit of a twist on Steve's statement in the Ebook - "...the cliché “it’s not what you know, it’s who” is especially true in entrepreneurship..." - but I find it to be a valuable one.
People that have gotten to know me through community service, church, Georgia Tech activities, golf, and more, have made major contributions to my career. I tell students that everything they do, no matter how mundane, is observed and measured by someone. That someone may be their next major investor.
Communicate for clarity.
When leading a new business venture, what you say is always interpreted through the lens of your title. Too often, words get misinterpreted, misconstrued or applied to a context beyond what you intended. As a result, I am vigilant about paying attention to people’s responses.
I find that what matters most — is not what I said but what gets heard. To make it even harder, often what is heard is what the person wants to hear. I have been known to ask others, “Did I really say that?” Thankfully, the answer that usually comes back is “No, that is not what I heard you say.” Leadership requires interpersonal bandwidth. It can be exhausting as I have to adapt my communication style to the unique needs of my audience multiple times a day. In the end, it is time and energy well spent as it will lead to tailored and clearer communication.
The closeted CEO
Being a CEO is busy business. Being a mom and a CEO in the summer time is extra busy business. You have to juggle kids’ camps, vacations and summertime fun all while running a business and fundraising. Summer is also VolunteerSpot’s busiest time of year prepping for back to school. It can get a little overwhelming.
Unplugging and recharging is important – but unplugging for the full vacation schedule of my extended family of academics is impractical and impossible for a startup CEO. I can't just disappear for days at a time. SO – I’m thrilled I have a tech startup and can work from anywhere. It’s exciting when that means working from Prague, London, Seattle or the Oregon coast. It’s much less glamorous when that means working from the walk-in closet in the family’s rented beach house so my kids and nieces and nephews don’t interrupt client calls as they joyously bound in from the beach.
Many CEOs say they actually consider themselves to be the “Chief Communications Officer.”
It’s really important that everyone – team, partners, customers, and other stakeholders – understand the evolving vision. It needs to feel inclusive and stakeholders need to feel like they’re on-board for the ride. They should never have to hear significant changes to the vision second-hand, when things have shifted.
This is especially important in a fast-moving, startup-oriented situation, because people often feel like they signed up for the initial mission, but then circumstances require that the vision radically changes over the course of a year. If you don’t bring them along, step-by-step, they can feel quite alienated.
When it comes to information, are you in the flow or are you a reservoir? Does information start at your desk, stop at your desk, or move through you? All great teachers are learners and all great learners are teachers, they are part of the flow, not holding anything back.
Every time you learn something, see a good book, article, Youtube video, or blog post, do you pass it along? Are you always keeping your eyes open for ideas and information that can help your friends as well as yourself? If not, you are just a puddle on the information highway. We learn through sharing!
The other side of good information flow is the ability to be complete and concise, which seems to be rarer and rarer these days. I know we are all in a hurry, but you will save everyone, including yourself, a lot of time in the long run if you take the time to think before you type (or talk) and make sure you include all the info someone might find helpful.
I cannot believe how many friends I have where my email and other digital conversations go like something like this (in this case, someone coming to see me):
(Me) “What time do you land?”
(My next email) “What airport?”
(next email) “What airline?”
(next email) “Renting a car or taxi?”
As compared to …
(Them) “Here are my complete, concise plans…” (perhaps, as simple as forwarding the body of an original email reservation)
Or I get this …
(Colleague): “Jack is coming to the office.”
(Me) “Jack who?”
(C) “Jack Jones?”
(M) “Don’t remember him, where does he work?”
(M) “What does he do there?”
(M) “What is he coming to see us about?”
As you know, this can go on for email after email after email, or text message, or whatever system you use.
Slow down and think and everyone will be better off, better informed, and have more time for more important things than going back and forth with each other all day.
Proper communication to the external constituency includes; Content - is it written in a manner that a broad audience can grasp the essence and status of the company? Is the language in 'reader-speak' and not 'entrepreneur-speak?' Context - are the topics the right ones that cover the broad areas necessary to communicate the company is being built properly, regardless of the idea or tech (review the Bell-Mason Diagnostic for more details). Cadence - are the updates frequent enough to efficiently update those stakeholders and investors such that they can quickly get up to speed without having to spend too much time on each update/company (presume the investor/stakeholder has multiple companies they are monitoring)?