The Language of Failure

I’ve raised five children, and so I can say with relative authority that what you say to your kids is often not listened to.  I think most parents would agree with me here. I also think that most people stay like that their whole lives, at least to some degree.

Like children, most adults listen to what they want to hear and they ignore the rest. That means that easily ninety percent of your parenting, and ninety percent of your managing, comes from everything besides your words.

We’ll get to the ninety percent in a minute. Let’s start with the ten percent, your words.

The Most Important Words of All

If your words only account for ten percent of your impact, you can not afford to squander a single one. And yet, most managers squander practically all of them. Meetings drone on endlessly even though everyone there knows that all those words add up to almost nothing. Strategic plans that fill up a notebook sit on the shelf and gather dust. Words are cheap, and usually, they’re worth every penny.

When it comes to strategic execution, this is crippling. The reason you create a concise strategic plan is so you can share it with your team. The reason you share it with your team is so they will understand your business. The reason you want them to understand is so they make better decisions. They provide better customer service. They deliver better work.

Understanding like that has to come from your words. And the most fundamental thing that  your team must understand if you want the benefits of strategic execution is your Core Values. Your Core Values are clear statements of how you expect every person in your organization to act, regardless of their role. They’re called “Core” because everything else you expect them to do stands on this foundation.

How To Be Heard

So communicating them effectively is critical. Many strategic plans falter when it comes to this. People will not listen to what you’re saying if they think you’re just repeating a cliche. “Put the customer first.” “Respect.” “Diversity and Inclusion.” They sound like you copied them off one of those posters with a kitten hanging from a branch. No one pays any attention to them.

To express your Core Values in a way that your team will hear them, you have to be authentic. You have to speak their language. You have to believe that you’ve said something really important in the best possible way you can. Your people have to know that you have made a real effort to communicate.

The right way to do this varies from place to place and from industry to industry and from business to business. Your way of doing it is the right way for you.

How to Be Understood

Which brings us to the ninety percent.

Let’s say you manufacture trailers for transporting heavy equipment to a work site. Your employees are family people and they take pride in their work. Your customer puts an extremely expensive machine on your trailer. That machine is core to their business. They rely on your product to get their machines from one job to another, every time, without any problems. If anything happens to their equipment, they will lose a lot of money and a lot of opportunity. If your trailer fails, there’s also a good chance that you’ll cause a major traffic accident, which could permanently damage your client’s brand and, far worse, actually hurt someone.

If your Core Value is “Quality first” then you will get no benefit from it at all. That goes in one ear and out the other. At the meeting where you unveil this brilliance, your team thinks, “Duh, yeah, quality, are there doughnuts and coffee after this QSR?”

If your Core Value is “Your baby’s onboard,” everything shifts. Family people get that immediately. Your crew can see exactly how every weld and every bolt affects the well being of their customer, their neighbors, their society, and the whole world. Ask them to explain what it means to them, and the meeting becomes emotional. And unforgettable.

So now you have the words—the ten percent—working for you.

The ninety percent comes from how you act and what you do, same as it does with your children.

So, you do not rush, you do not compromise. If something goes wrong and an entire frame has to be discarded and rebuilt, then you eat the cost. Under no circumstance, ever, not even once, do you let something leave your plant that you wouldn’t put your baby onboard.

When you lead like that, your team believes what you say. You might lose that one frame, but you’ll probably never lose another one. Because when you communicate effectively, and when you walk the walk, you get true strategic execution.