Can You Say That in Five Words?

Can You Say That in Five Words?

What is your company’s headline? When someone asks you what you are trying to accomplish do you have a concise response? Can you answer it in five to seven words? Or do you find yourself launching into a paragraph long description that turns into a several minute monologue before you become self-conscious and quit?

Why is this important? It is important because as a leader people will be turning to you to provide direction. That does not mean they are looking for orders. It means they need some grounding that allows them to allocate their time and company resources in a way that makes progress toward target outcomes.   

Coaches are great at coming up with the short version of success. A Division I basketball coach that tells his team “Final Four in March” says a lot in four words. Players know this phrase is not about one win, it is about winning it all. They know what they are sacrificing and working to attain. They also know they have a coach who believes in them. Contrast that to an explanation of  “We want to get through the first half of the season healthy with at most one loss and then pick up our game as we enter…(fade to bored to death)".

Many folks may have a hard time remembering more than five to seven words. If the description gets too lengthy a lot of people do not memorize the words, they either forget or they replace your message with an improvisational rendering of their own making. Their interpretation may not align with yours and actually may vary.

Vision and mission statements do not substitute for a short explanation of what we are trying to do. Strong vision and mission statements have room for interpretation that allows space for adapting to changing business conditions. Our goal statement should be more specific, constrained to the near term.

Many of us know what an elevator speech is. If you are not familiar with elevator speeches, it is a speech that is concise enough to be delivered during an elevator ride. The goal is to be able to give an elevator speech. Give folks enough information to engage them, but let their questions shape the direction you are going.

Consider your headline that you want anyone to be able to recite. The best scenarios are those where the response to your headline is a question. If they ask you for more information, you have engaged your employees! You can proceed to explain how this applies to their department and to their specific job. But remember, when they ask you, keep it brief. Better to have them ask for more than to guess what they want and have them glaze over.

Don’t give up if this does not immediately result in questions. It may take a while for employees to figure out what you are up to. They need to understand that you are sincere in wanting to communicate. They need to develop the trust that any questions will be addressed and not treated as criticism. In other words, they need to come to an understanding that you are adjusting from informing them to communicating with them.

Give this a try: At a staff meeting ask your team to write down a five to seven word sentence definition of success for the year. Put the answers on a flip chart and start working the wording. Come up with your concise messages and hold each other accountable to deliver those messages. You may find you are making headlines.

Joe Thompson

© 2016 Differentiating Strategies, LLC