The Importance of Listening

Excerpt From “THE CHOCOLATE CONVERSATION” by Rose Fass (Bibliomotion, books + media, 2013).

By Rose Fass

A critical piece of message discipline is listening. You have to be sure that your message is landing with people the way you intended it to. If you listen, your people will tell you what’s going on, what customers are saying, and what their colleagues are frustrated about. These are important conversations. Understanding employee and customer concerns will help you close the gap between strategy and execution. People need to see themselves in the picture. They want to know where the business is headed and how that impacts what they do every day.

Being intentional—and inclusive—when you send messages through the organization is essential. Lou Gerstner did this throughout his tenure with IBM. He wrote intentional e-mails that went to everyone in the company: “Dear Colleagues, today we have acquired Lotus Notes. This acquisition is part of our strategy to provide our customers with…”Everything anyone needed to know about who, what, when, andhow was in his messages to the organization. This discipline was a major factor in the success of the IBM transformation. People at all levels of the organization looked forward to these communications and they paid attention to them.

You do have to get ideas across clearly, listen to be sure your message lands the way you want it to, and get people to act.

Politicians are masters at doing just that: they use words (sound bites) to give meaning to their ideas and then “listen” by using opinion research—focus groups, surveys, and polls—to be sure that their message landed with their audience in a way that moves people to action. They want people to vote for them and they can only accomplish that if voters can see themselves in what the politicians are saying. Message discipline, in this case, leads to votes.

Opinion research was at one time only used in presidential, U.S. Senate, and gubernatorial races, but now it is common at all levels of government. Politicians at every level have learned that it isn’t enough to convey their message in speeches; they must know how the message is perceived and if it was effective in moving voters to their side of the political spectrum. Often, the results of a poll or focus group will tell a politician that a theme she wanted to use just didn’t fit the circumstances, and she is able to drop the theme or make adjustments. That’s what happens when message discipline is used in a conscious and deliberate way to alleviate any ambiguity, focus the message, and get people to act.

If you use message discipline effectively, it will translate into operational discipline: what you talk about and what your people focus on will determine what happens.

Let’s take a look at some specific things you can do to bring message discipline to your company. As we talk about examples, keep this in mind: What you say and what gets heard equals what gets done:

  • What you say: Craft your message carefully—distill it to its essence. There will be detail behind these messages, but first get the main idea across; consider, for example, Jack Welch’s message that when you buy a company you have to “Fix it, sell it, or close it.” Be clear about what you expect and what you want people to do. Keep the language simple. Verbose language leads to confusion. If you are communicating to a large audience with multiple functions represented, make sure your function-specific message is heard by all members of your organization, but differentiate the specifics for that role. Ensure that all disciplines can see the role they play within the larger company model.
  • What gets heard: Listen to your people. Seek feedback and do something with it. Be sensitive to what people are telling you. Understanding employee and customer concerns closes the strategy execution gap.
  • What gets done: This is the action that is taken as a result of your message. Make sure that you—your leadership and everyone accountable—can see what is getting done, and that what people are doing lines up with your message.

Remember: Message discipline drives operational discipline. Be brutally honest with yourself when you look at your results. If what is getting done is not aligned with the company direction, your message is not getting through to the organization. You own that! Execution validates strategy. Make sure it is clear and keep testing alignment.

Excerptfrom “THE CHOCOLATE CONVERSATION” by Rose Fass. Copyright © 2013 by Rose Fass. Excerpted with permission of Bibliomotion, books + media.”To buy the book, visit

Rose Fass is the founder and CEO of fassforward consulting group. Fass works with companies such as Verizon, Interpublic Group of Companies, Estee Lauder, MasterCard, and Microsoft. Her work delivers thought leadership along with methodologies and tools that enable clients to address tough challenges, solve complex business problems, execute on their strategies, and deliver bottom-line results.

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