It is a strategic principle

Summary : Misalignment of external and internal communications is a common leadership failure. They are often seen as isolated entities. Two failure modes accrue when two separate messages are sent. One is the perception that the leadership is dishonest. The American Indians didn’t use the label “speaks with forked tongue” to describe liars just because snakes have them. It was for the same reason ‘duplicitous’ is used for the same thing: the sending of separate messages to different groups. The sec ... See More

Misalignment of external and internal communications is a common leadership failure.  They are often seen as isolated entities.  Two failure modes accrue when two separate messages are sent.  One is the perception that the leadership is dishonest.  The American Indians didn’t use the label “speaks with forked tongue” to describe liars just because snakes have them.  It was for the same reason ‘duplicitous’ is used for the same thing: the sending of separate messages to different groups.  The second is that the internal side will always align to the external message, not their leaders, and customers will figure out what the internal message is and align to it.  The result is a company that lacks internal alignment of objectives and external chaos, which can only result in lost opportunity and market share.  A classic example comes from the accounting scandals in America at the turn of the century.  Some of the largest and most well-known accounting services companies communicated an external message of integrity with a separate internal message to push standards to and past their limits, while they built a culture of greed.  Integrity only has meaning when it becomes between you and money and your choice is integrity.  This principle was bypassed as these companies sought to clean financial sheets solely to drive stock prices up.  The worst part was that it exploded into the regulatory nightmare for all business.

The Intel Delivers campaign, developed by Bob Graham when the company was a start-up, is a great example of internal and external message alignment.  It has had a long lasting effect on the company.  In the sixties, delivery was the most common failure mode for a semiconductor company.  Yields were always crashing and customers never knew if their parts would come.  Bob had faith that Andy Grove’s systematic approach to manufacturing, combined with Gordon Moore’s belief that R&D had to be welded to manufacturing, would solve these problems.  Fairchild, the dominant chip maker of the day, had ripped apart its core management when they brought in management consultants to ‘fix’ manufacturing and outsiders from Motorola to run the company.  Fix it they did, sending the company on a path to historical significance with market irrelevance.  Fairchild’s first “Brain Drain” ensued and Intel was created as a result.  But the market had stabilized with many dominant players in place that had loads of funding.  Few thought start-ups could make it; with giants like Fairchild, GE, Motorola, Philips, and Texas Instruments dominating the landscape.  The Intel story is an amazing one too long to cover here.  But an often overlooked part of Intel’s success is how the Intel Delivers message helped spur customer acceptance as it resonated with an internal culture of manufacturing excellence that pervades the company five decades later.

The best leaders often use their external marcom as a way to communicate internally.  Every military leader knows that flags are to rally the troops, not to impress the enemy.  Marcom has a similar effect.  Applied Materials’ acclaimed Total Solutions campaign from the 1990’s is a good example.  It is a common misperception that this much copied slogan was a message for customers.  But customers never thought much about it; and had it been measured by this alone it would have been quickly dropped.  Instead its success came from how it rallied Applied’s people under the solutions flag.  In fact, Jim Morgan always saw Total Solutions as being more important internally than externally.  As Applied grew larger, separate product groups started working independently with their own objectives.  Total Solutions brought these groups together, under one flag, bringing their focus to bear on the customer’s problems.  This way an innovative communications loop was created: send the message to customers – which, bounces and is rerouted to employees, who internalize it – thereby personally delivering the message to the customer with action.  The result was one of the greatest growth periods for a company in history.

By G Dan Hutcheson                                     Copyright © All rights reserved.

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