In today’s world of instant/immediate messaging and communication, this essay’s topic may seem odd, old fashioned or out of step. We are absolutely bombarded by images and messages, being “pushed out” across a wide range of mediums and platforms. In truth I am not only a witness to this phenomenon, I am clearly a participant; this essay being the 152nd that I have posted on this blog since 2009 and now with over 40k page views and readers literally all over the globe, I am a clear perpetrator of this communications/messaging onslaught.
It’s in this context that I want to reinforce today’s topic. Recently I have had two consulting projects with two large clients across very different industries, both deeply struggling with moments of change and transformation. In each situation, I have been working with very talented senior executives faced by very challenging circumstances and obstacles. In both situations over the past few weeks, I have gone up to a whiteboard/flipchart and wrote out an old lesson from my past….
”Be-> Do-> Say.”
It was over ten years ago, in a very difficult moment of change and transformation at The Coca- Cola Company that I learned this important lesson. The company had been through a number of senior executive changes/”transitions’ and a series of organizational restructurings and headcount reductions/layoffs. The business was a mess, the culture was a wreck, and things needed to change. It was in a senior executive work session, lead by the newly announced CEO Neville Isdell, where I learned this important lesson/concept: “Be-> Do-> Say!”
Rather than starting with some communication plan or statements of beliefs/mission/principles/etc. the concept was to “begin” with what we wanted/needed to “be.” As leaders, we needed to drive growth and innovation across the company and rebuild a broken culture and organization. The first step was to try to personally “embody” those requirements, not to “talk” about them. Once clear “what” you were trying to “be,” then you needed to insure that your actions and your team’s actions, (or in other words your “do’s,”) were aligned to what you were trying to “be.” Then and only then could you start talking about it, in other words the order of the “Be-> Do-> Say” model is the central idea in this story!
For me, two recent consulting engagements have reminded me about this concept from different vectors. In one situation, I have been working with a wonderful leadership team in a very large, successful global organization. They are grappling with major issues on how to impact their specific industry and are deeply challenged by the legacy beliefs and practices of a number of their industry partners. In a recent conversation about this issue and the needs for their industry associates to change, I nudged around this idea of “Be->Do-> Say” and asked them to focus on their own organization. Before we ask/demand other’s to change, what must we do first to “be” the change we expect in the industry and what actions should we take/ what must we “do” to bring that essence to life. Only when we are clear and active about our own “Be-> Do” step, can we then go out to the industry and “say” what our expectations are for change and transformation! While the work is underway with an industry communication moment fast approaching in September, this “reordering” of the approach has been compelling and hopefully productive.
In a second assignment, I am working with a client in a very different industry and situation. For the past 2-3 years this client has clearly communicated in all of their strategic and annual plans that “Quality and Customer Service” is their first priority. This has been shared and reinforced all the way from board presentations to meetings with entry-level associates across the organization. It was beyond alarming to learn that not only have they not lived up to those words/communication platforms, I was being brought in to help in the context of a major breakdown in both areas. Far from being the “first” priority, it seems that in the reality of the “Be->Do-> Say” dynamic, quality and customer service fell well down on the list of actually executed priorities. My focus has not been on any new communication plans or presentation decks, but on clarifying the actual implications (the actual work requirements) of this stated commitment to industry leading quality and customer service. The actual actions across this client over the next few months will determine in this situation if any progress will be achieved.
Once again this very simple headline, “Be-> Do-> Say,” is so much easier to describe than to “pull-off” in real life. It’s not easy to slow the communication “machinery” down, regardless of the organization or situation at hand. Remember that the order is central to this idea and work hard to focus on the commitments and actions of you and your team BEFORE you spend any time or resources “talking” about them!