Much of what passes for leadership conversation in the workplace is filled with unnecessary and meaningless jargon that gets in the way of the true message. It’s time to de-clutter our conversations and choose words that are meaningful and actionable to our team members.
Dan and Chip Heath in the book, Made to Stick-Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, do a wonderful job of providing a framework for clearing up our core messages and they offer some great examples along the way.
Consider the oft-mentioned phrase, “We must strive to maximize shareholder value.” The Heaths compare this phrase to the mantra uttered constantly by Southwest founder and Chairman Herb Kelleher during his tenure, “We will be the low cost carrier.”
Both statements are positive in intent, but one is infinitely more actionable than the other.
The CEO and other top executives seeking to maximize shareholder value might very well understand that this goal will be accomplished through diligent pursuit of core strategies, selective, accretive acquisitions and managing core projects like a portfolio of investments.
However, if you are a front-line employee, it’s darned hard to know what maximizes shareholder value on a decision-by-decision basis or whether your action will be accretive, much less whether it is good to be accretive or whether that means that you need to see a doctor!
Alternatively, it’s relatively simple to process an issue through the framework of “Will this action support our goal of being the low-cost carrier?”
Do Chicken Salad Sandwiches Support the Strategy?
The example cited in Made to Stick of Kelleher’s “We will be the low cost carrier” message in action is a well-intended Southwest employee suggesting that based on customer feedback, the addition of Chicken Salad sandwiches on one of the longer routes would improve the customer experience.
Kelleher reportedly asked: “Will serving chicken salad sandwiches on that route contribute to our goal to be the low cost carrier? If the answer is no, “We don’t need no damn chicken salad sandwiches.”
The Bottom-line for Now:
The next time you are required to provide direction or are involved in setting or communicating strategy, ask yourself whether your messaging and your word choices will help people determine whether Chicken Salad Sandwiches are appropriate or not? If the answer is: “It’s not clear,” keep working to improve your message.