You’ve seen the clips on the evening news – a CEO gives what they believe will be a rousing speech that sparks some sort of action a la “coffee’s for closers.” While Alec Baldwin had the bright lights of Hollywood on him during his office diatribe scene in Glengarry Glen Ross, he can be glad that scene wasn’t shot from an employee’s iPhone during a 2023 Zoom sales call. Those kinds of tirades are sinking stocks and ending contracts in today’s business landscape (though, my college professors in the early 2010s still found the scene “inspiring”).
If you’re a corporate leader who wants to inspire your employees into action, I have a simple recommendation borne out of my own lessons in parenting and public relations (which, surprisingly, intersect quite often): Don’t speak out of frustration or anger. Sure, you might be upset that your employees are asking why they’re not getting sales bonuses. You might want to shake them out of their proverbial pity party and encourage them to hit the sales goal needed to earn the bonus the old-fashioned way. But when you fly off with your frustration in a crowded Zoom meeting, you can bet that your face will be seen by more than the 200 salespeople attending the call. Or maybe you’re tired of pushback against returning to the office, so you laud one of your faithful employees who gave up his family dog to accommodate the 9-to-5 office lifestyle. You may be rightfully frustrated that three years away from the brick-and-mortar office has transformed the way people approach work and family life, but ragging on parents and their furry friends may not endear you to employees and the picketers awaiting on TikTok.
I’m not saying that these leaders don’t have a point at the core of their argument. We all parented our children (furry or otherwise) and went to the office in 2019. We also understand that sales incentives are meant to be earned through effort and that the financial stability of any organization is paramount to success. But the presentation could have been better in both instances. Here’s what I’d recommend if you’re about to deliver a controversial (or potentially so) message to your team:
- Choose your setting. Conversations held over virtual settings can become unwieldy quickly. You can’t read the room. You can’t see who’s nodding off or blatantly ignoring you. You can’t see who’s holding up their Google Pixel to record your every word. If possible, when you have to address a hot topic with your team, get them together in person. You’ll be less likely to lead with emotion when you can feel the energy of the room and play off of the head nods or blank stares of your employees.
- Vent to your PR team. When we’re trying to prepare for something potentially controversial, I want my clients to lay everything out on the table. I want to hear all the frustrations and thoughts. I’m bound by confidentiality and can relate to a sense of righteous anger. Hearing you explain your stance in an unfiltered manner can help me prepare in case something goes wrong and can help me reshape your speech into something more refined. Plus, letting it out on someone who can help you channel your message may help you feel better.
- Start with empathy. Maybe your team is clamoring for the sales bonus because inflation has them paying more for groceries while their paycheck has remained the same. Maybe your team realized how much time they enjoy spending with their family when the clock strikes 5, and the thought of losing that time to a commute is something to actually grieve. Shifting your perspective and taking a pause before speaking can change what you say, how you say it and whether or not you choose to say it at all.
- Assume you’re being recorded. Legality doesn’t matter in the court of public opinion. If a video of you in a corporate snafu hits the internet, your reputation can be damaged before your attorneys have time to respond. Resort to the default question: Would I say this if I knew it would go viral on the internet?