Businesses have been forced to innovate and switch gears quickly as they navigate the adverse conditions brought on by the pandemic. In some cases, they’ve been responding to changing customer needs, such as retailers introducing click-to-collect and curbside pickup. In other cases, disruption to supply chains has required them to source new suppliers or alter their product mix.
Whatever the case, these transitions must often happen quickly and require tight coordination between multiple departments—marketing, sales, product, IT—to ensure they go smoothly. Teams need to be aligned on a common goal and execute in sync for a project to succeed.
This makes having a deliberate approach to communications critical. As a leader, you need to lay out a clear mission and the path to getting there and disseminate that message widely to every party involved. Individuals like to consume information in different ways, and it’s your job to meet them where they are and repeat what they need to hear until it sticks.
I experienced this last year as CEO of data analytics company ThoughtSpot and I wanted to share the principles I used for my own communications in case others can benefit.
Last March, we decided to accelerate the release of our first SaaS product by 18 months because we knew that businesses would hasten their move to the cloud when the pandemic struck. The transition touched every part of our company, from engineering, sales and marketing to accounting and customer support. We needed to communicate the details of this change to all our employees as well as our customers, partners, and investors.
Here are the principles I applied to ensure the right message reached the right people in an effective manner:
Tell your story everywhere—over and over
Be authentic and get the information out—grammar and spelling don’t matter; deliver an accurate, meaningful story quickly, and be redundant. If 90% of the audience thinks you’re overcommunicating, that’s ok; do it for the other 10%. Nothing sticks until it’s repeated 20 times.You as the messenger may be bored, but it’s never about you anyway.
Some people prefer to read, some are visual learners, others like face-to-face meetings. Cater to them all, and deliver the information through every channel they want to receive it.
In our case, we provided updates in informal settings like our all-hands and gave managers materials to go through with their teams. I did a series of video blogs whenever there was something particular I wanted to convey—15 minutes of speaking informally into the camera to update our progress and remind people why we were on this path.
Our board wanted in-person updates and for our customers I did video calls. It’s on you to cater to all these preferences. You may overdo it, but it’s better to overcommunicate than not communicate enough.
This should also be a conversation. If it’s not bi-directional, it’s not useful. If there are no questions, doubts, or dissenting voices, people either don’t care or are afraid to speak up—which is equally bad.
Move outward from the center
Remove surprises and refine your plan by building concentric circles of all the people in the organization and start conversations from within.
When you have the broad outlines of a plan, take it to your executive team and ask them to poke holes in it. Encourage them to be brutally direct to help you refine the idea. Then take it to department heads, line managers, and so on.
Each time you expand the circle, your story gets tighter, so by the time you reach the outer rings your plan is as clear and stress-tested as possible.
Be clear about the purpose
If you want your teams to own a transformation, they need to understand the “why” more than the “what.” Convey why the plan is the right move for your organization and let your teams figure out the “how” and the “what.” That’s how you get buy-in from everyone.
Once you’ve defined this purpose, it becomes a lodestar for the company. When things are moving fast, people can lose sight of the big picture and make decisions that don’t align with the broader mission. Never let the team forget why the transformation is taking place. When people start questioning how a particular change contributes (or doesn’t) to the larger purpose, you know you’re doing it right.
Technology is moving faster than ever, creating pressure to innovate and stay out in front, and the pandemic has only added to this need to continuously evolve. In this environment, having a strong communications plan is essential. The good news is, there are more channels than ever to get your message out, but you need to use them effectively to keep everyone engaged and informed. Our SaaS rollout has been a success, and I attribute that mainly to our teams’ hard work and cooperation from our customers and partners. But I know that communicating a clear and compelling message also played a pivotal role.
Sudheesh Nair is CEO of ThoughtSpot, a business intelligence company that has built an intuitive Google-like interface for data analytics. He’s committed to building tools that democratize data access and ensure that every employee can leverage its benefits. Before ThoughtSpot, Sudheesh was president at Nutanix.