Do I Really Need Help?
To me, it’s obvious that communications coaching can benefit almost any executive. But TCB editor Dale Kurschner suggested to me that it may not be so obvious to many professionals, who already think of themselves as reasonably put-together. So he turned the tables on me one beautiful summer day on the patio of Crave West End and asked me to explain the relevance of what I do. It’s off the record whether vodka tonics were involved.
DK: I’m going to play the skeptical CEO. Why should busy businesspeople take time out of their packed schedules to improve how they come across to people? I mean, they’ve gotten where they are by doing something right.
RR: When I was a TV reporter, there were people who were good spokespeople for their organizations and those who hurt their brands with every word they spoke. I just wasn’t in a position to help them improve their sound bites. Professional athletes look to their coaches to help them move to the next level. In sports, it could mean the difference between a huge title or an early start to the off-season. In business, getting some coaching to fine-tune how you communicate could mean the difference between keeping customers and losing them. I’ve coached CEOs whose very words could change their stock price. Do you really want to take that risk when speaking to external audiences, either through the media or at various events?
Communicating to insiders
DK: Perhaps there’s a case for some fine-tuning when I speak to the outside world, but I’ve done pretty well with my employees and other inside players. I don’t see a need for coaching when it comes to communicating internally.
RR: We’ve got a highly competitive job market when it comes to talent. If you want to hire and keep great employees, how you communicate within the company really does matter; I think of some of our companies that often get cited as best workplaces—SÃ¡lo, Dale Carnegie, Goff Public. What is it about those companies? Executives and management are communicating effectively in order to get people on board during changing times and tides. When the entire team enjoys good morale, there’s a greater chance they’ll stay. You cannot just snap fingers and get good morale. You grow it by using powerful messaging and then staying consistent. I urge clients to showcase winning results by communicating them within the company and to the outside world. Part of that intentional strategy comes from a coach reminding you to both celebrate and publicize victories.
Return on investment
DK: There are so many things competing for my budget. How can I know coaching has a true return on investment?
RR: You see a lot of polls out of Gallup relating employee engagement with loyalty and productivity. Studies about trust actually measure how much more profitable companies are when employees trust their leaders. Those results are all various facets of powerful communication at play. According to Manchester Cos., a performance improvement, board governance, and litigation advisory firm, miscommunication bleeds corporations of as much as 25 to 40 percent of their annual budget. Do you really have that kind of moolah to waste?
DK: Sometimes speaking in front of people or even on-camera can be awkward. I will admit, there’s a lot to keep track of between my hair, what I’m wearing, what I’m going to say.
RR: A coach knows the various technical issues involved with any communication setting. Leaving that to her can allow you and your team to focus on the message. You’ve seen my previous columns about audience analysis. I go through all data points with clients about target audiences before advising them on what to wear—what will offend versus what’s powerful in any given setting. Vocal-behavior coaching might include helping people not shout or to speak up, depending on the setting and their tendencies. Part of having a coach is letting that person’s expertise take over so you can focus.
DK: Speaking of the media, my CFO and legal advisors prefer that I say “No comment” to reporters. Not giving details prevents missteps. Isn’t that accepted practice by now?
RR: That’s one way to look at it. But the subtextual message of a “No comment” is that you have something to hide. Or worse, you don’t really care what your customers need to know when something newsworthy happens to your brand.
Some local examples include Target ex-CEO Gregg Steinhafel’s national interview, when he seemed rigid. He may not have said “No comment” exactly, but he certainly did not help his brand. We’ve seen good examples come out of GM with CEO Mary Barra, but she’s also had some missteps.
The bigger point is that if you say something besides “No comment,” you are more apt to be given a pass when you’re not as articulate as you’d like to be. When you continue to evade questions, you will hurt your image, even if you and your company are completely in the right. I had a great example a few years ago of a company who hired me to prep them a year ahead of some big layoffs. They didn’t want any media attention, but in the event they got any, they wanted to be absolutely golden with their response.
Roshini Rajkumar is a communication coach, host of News & Views on WCCO Radio, and author of Communicate That! For additional communication tips, visit CommunicateThatBook.com.