If you’ve worked in a large organization, you’ve seen it: Mixed messages from executive leadership. It’s tough to get consensus. And even tougher with lots of C-suite people who want to be heard.
But lack of consensus isn’t just an opinion- or ego-problem, it’s a major drag on your company’s momentum and impact. Here’s the damage that occurs when leaders aren’t unified:
- Fragmented Messaging. Without a common understanding of where the business is going and how it intends to get there, teams move in different directions. Alignment falls apart. Time is wasted. Money is invested without measurable results, and your audience gets eight different impressions of who you are as a company.
- Diluted Messaging. Think about a crowded restaurant with 16 different conversations. It’s a wall of noise, each voice indiscernible and undecipherable. That’s what your audience hears when you don’t have a unified message. It’s familiar, but weak, unclear and not loud enough. There’s no cohesion. Soon, your audience gives up and moves on.
- Messaging without Credibility. Whether we’re talking about a person or a company, the less predictable you are, the less believable and believed you are. Some will publicly chastise you for that inconsistency. Indeed, talking out of both sides of your mouth is a virtual wrecking ball—and a swift path to reputational collapse.
Understand the Consensus Challenge
It’s hard to get leaders on the same page with core messaging. But it helps to understand where they’re coming from:
- Many leaders can’t help but look at the business or an initiative through the lens of their particular expertise.
- Corporate politics, power struggles and egos can block the way to agreement and alignment.
- Some execs haven’t been exposed yet to the benefits and beauty of a unified message, and may not see reason to invest in the process.
Consider the Message Platform as a Fundamental Fix
Ready to put an end to perpetual messaging battles?
Try a message platform. It’s a concise, laser-focused document that reflects the most important ideas you want key audiences to consistently hear, believe and internalize about your business. It is, in fact, a way of getting consensus one time instead of every time.
A message platform becomes the North Star that keeps everyone on the same page: from executives, to spokespeople, to marketing and sales teams.
It’s a great tool. If it gets used.
Gain Executive Buy-In as You Build
Creating a message platform doesn’t guarantee people will use it. This isn’t the Field of Dreams.
How you create the message platform is important. Don’t work in a vacuum. If consensus and internal unity are your goals, executives must be involved at key points along the way. This is how you bake consensus into the process itself.
A few tips for getting leaders to embrace the process and, ultimately, the platform:
- Hear from leaders individually. Candid conversations and 1:1 meetings bring richer, deeper insights. Every voice is heard clearly and unadulterated, without the tempering or posturing that can occur within a group setting. And get intentional about your invitations–even the “difficult” leaders should have a chance to speak. You’d be surprised how much people soften when they feel heard.
- Speak to the people who matter to your leaders. This makes your executives look good. Leaders want to be assured that customers, partners, employees and analysts’ viewpoints are part of the message platform process. If you demonstrate due diligence weighing these audiences’ perspectives, leaders are more likely to embrace your messaging recommendations.
- Engage leaders in the entire process. Welcome them into the process early on and at critical milestones throughout, to explore options together. When you give leaders the opportunity to understand the intention and the thoughtfulness behind your recommendations, in the end you’ll be met with nodding heads rather than puzzled stares.
- Tease out common ground. In our experience, leaders have far more in common than they think. Find the overlap and then shake off entrenched thinking by presenting ideas from a fresh angle. Mention some of the insights provided along the way, so they appreciate how you’ve reconstituted their ideas in crisp new ways.
- Hash out differences. Where differences of opinion persist, negotiate for resolutio But don’t compromise the qualities that make a killer message platform: simple, powerful, differentiating, authentic. Create the space for leaders to express their thoughts to each other. Probe with questions that move them from impasse to agreement. This is how you arrive at a message platform likely to be defended with equal passion.
- Show leaders how to use the message platform. Train them, coach them and model how it’s done. Remember–you’re building a habit, so create a tip sheet to help them weave the new messaging into presentations and written communications. With practice, leaders will get better at using the message platform. And as they begin to see the benefits that come with consistently articulating a clear, compelling message, they will run with it.
Building leadership consensus around a message platform is not an impossible task. But it does require a hard look at current messaging, a structured process, time investment and energy, and the patience to hear out individual viewpoints and concerns. People commit to what they create. By involving your leaders in the process, they will come to own, embrace and champion a unified message. The pay-off? Beautiful internal consensus and a whopping competitive advantage.
Margie McCarthy is founder of McCarthy Messaging, a strategic messaging firm based in Denver, Colorado. She’s fond of messy challenges, brave clients and vintage jewelry.
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