By Beth Noymer Levine, Founder, SmartMouth Communications
There is something about winning, about being the best—possibly the best in the world—that is hardwired into the human spirit. It’s just there. No matter what your field of play—sports, medicine, education, the arts, or business—you have very likely daydreamed about, if not actually strived for, being the very best at what you do.
Most leaders have imbued their organizations with this same drive to win and have put into place a training regimen to capture the gold. Consider these: Mission. Values. Excellence. Accountability. Productivity. Efficiency. Words like these are rightfully part of the lexicon of organizations that strive to rally their employees to achieve greatness. But too often an important word is missing in the pursuit of a winning performance or a world-class reputation: Communication. No one is making communication a part of the training regimen. That’s probably because communicating is assumed to be something people just do, like breathing. Yet it’s not.
I view communication as the everyday currency of business; it’s how we get things done. Our success is ultimately determined by interactions with employees, customers, communities, suppliers, shareholders, regulators, and other stakeholders. And while most organizations have a mission statement, and many articulate a set of core values—for how they conduct their business or treat each other and their customers—most overlook standards, goals, or guidelines for communicating. Communication is actually the channel for executing a company’s mission, its values, and its expectations for excellence, accountability, productivity and efficiency. How else could these be realized?
In a fascinating random sampling of the websites of twenty large, well-known companies—including Coca-Cola, General Electric, Amazon, Google, Samsung, FedEx, Starbucks, Southwest, Delta, Nike, American Express, Merck, Proctor & Gamble, IBM, Home Depot, LVMH, Fiat Chrysler, Bank of America, Microsoft, and DuPont—I found that only one explicitly addressed communication. Sixteen of these corporations are on Fortune’s “Most Admired Companies 2014” list, but it turns out that only Delta highlights communication, and does so repeatedly, in its “Rules of the Road”—a mission- and value- laden manifesto created under Delta’s post-bankruptcy CEO Richard Anderson, who took the helm in 2007.
Flash forward to 2014, and Delta is being lauded as the top-performing U.S. airline. An article in TheStreet even quoted an airline industry analyst who called Delta the “king of the jungle.”1 While it may be a stretch to attribute such success solely to Anderson’s explicit directives regarding communication, they are quite likely contributing factors in Delta’s winning game strategy.
When it comes to how organizations communicate, I am struck by how corporate leaders strive for excellence and efficiencies in so many operational areas, yet are willing to settle for merely adequate—or worse, time-wasting—when it comes to business communications. Meetings, presentations, and speeches are so often where and how business gets done, but in these settings mediocrity abounds. Many companies in the manufacturing sector even subscribe to the tenets of the Lean Movement yet tolerate flab and time-wasting in communications.
Tolerance of mediocrity in business communication is my pet peeve. It’s not only the mediocrity itself that bothers me, it’s also the acceptance of it and the lack of action taken to remedy it. There are simply too few people calling phooey, or if they are calling phooey, they don’t know how to change things for the better—how to raise the bar.
I believe you can start with this: Make medal-worthy communication skills a core value. Then get to work on making them a core competency.
The five principles in Jock Talk—audience-centricity, transparency, graciousness, brevity and preparedness—make a great “starter set” of core communication values that demand excellence and enhance performance—yours and your organization’s.
Communicating is not as effortless as breathing—just as placing in the 200-meter butterfly isn’t as effortless as simply swimming. It requires focus, hard work, and the desire to master it. Excellence in communication needs to be an expressed organizational value, and it needs to be valued starting at the top. Only then can you and your team begin to see yourselves on the gold-medal podium.
Communications coach Beth Noymer Levine is an expert in helping Fortune 500 executives, professional and world-class athletes, and other high-profile individuals effectively think about, prepare for, and deliver their messages to important audiences. The founder of SmartMouth Communications, Levine has written speeches, developed messaging strategies, and coached business executives, politicians, other professionals, and, notably, athletes. Her clients have included members of the Utah Jazz, the U.S. Ski Team, U.S. Snowboarding, the U.S. Speedskating Team, and several collegiate athletes. A native of Boston, Levine has a degree in economics from Franklin & Marshall College, has completed a post-MBA program at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, and holds certificates in training and in coaching from the American Society for Training and Development.
Levine is also the creator of the “SmartMouth Public Speaking Toolkit,” a five-star-rated mobile app for iOS devices available in the iTunes store (app.lk/smartmouth). Her book, Jock Talk: Five Communication Principles Exemplified by Legends of the Sports World is available at Amazon, 800-CEO-READ and Barnes and Noble.