Of the gazillion management quotations, out there, I find a few are genuinely powerful and clarifying. One comes from John Maxwell: A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.
That idea should resonate with both current and aspiring business leaders because it speaks to how they can unlock the latent power they have to be effective message managers and grow the business.
How many of your direct reports—or even colleagues generally—can crisply communicate your value proposition, differentiators, or stories of customers or communities your organization has served? Of the managers who are pretty competent in doing so, how many are coaching others so that their abilities ultimately translate into an organization-wide competitive advantage?
Organizational and team leaders have a wonderful opportunity every day to be effective message managers and scale that great message through employees, suppliers, distributors, current customers, and others. Many do not recognize the degree of the opportunity or how to take advantage of it.
Using Maxwell’s “know, go, and show” language, here is the application for leaders of today and tomorrow.
Know: Effective Message Managers Know the Right Words, Facts, and Stories to Share
I have heard exasperated managers lament the times when employees (who, in their words, “should know better”) tell customers inaccurate things or fail to create a great customer experience. Why does this happen? Employees often feel overloaded with companies’ vision statements, mission statements, advertising, sales messages, product information, service expectations, and the like. Moreover, that information is too often wrapped in jargon and warehoused in ways that make it inaccessible to most of the very people who are expected to share it.
Effective message managers pare it down to the essential must-knows for anyone who ever talks about the organization (which, of course, is everyone inside the organization!). Those must-knows might include the full portfolio of products or services the company offers, its differentiators, the needs of target customer segments, and some customer stories that illustrate value. They also keep the message simple, clear, and fresh—interesting enough that people actually want to share it.
Go: Effective Message Managers Go the Way and Set an Example
The most effective leaders I have seen would never ask others to share a message and not actively do the same themselves. Colleagues throughout the company—from senior to junior, customer-facing or not—look to leaders’ behavior as an indicator of which changes are actually important.
Truly effective message managers commit those new messages to memory, use them in customer conversations, and share the lessons he or she is learning with colleagues. That doesn’t mean the leader is perfect with the message—no one can be–but rather that the leader sets a good and public example.
Show: Effective Message Managers Show Others How to Do It Themselves
A Fortune 500 CEO I have met is known inside his company for his excellent “elevator pitch.” I have heard him do it and have even seen other employees mimic the way he does it. But those other employees, even senior managers, were also prone to say, “That’s his pitch. I could never actually do that myself in front of a customer.” Unfortunately, that meant the CEO could not scale the message.
The answer lies in active coaching, typically by the middle managers who are key to organizational change. Effective leaders show their colleagues how it’s done (even if it doesn’t seem perfect…or maybe especially if it doesn’t seem perfect). Then, everyone—including new hires―can gain the skill and confidence to walk the new talk.
Any effort to transform customer level conversations will require lots of care and feeding. Effective message managers model the message every day—and they make sure colleagues across the organization are regularly reminded of the must-knows. They also equip managers to serve as message coaches within their teams. The benefits to both business growth and employee engagement make the effort more than worthwhile.
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