From the Comms Cupboard

Did you know the boss doesn’t write those messages?

Did you know the boss doesn’t write those messages?
Does it matter if your boss isn't actually the person writing those inspiring messages to the troops?

John and Shaun suggest it's about a good leader-comms relationship. It's easy to accuse your CEO of not really knowing what's going on, but perhaps it's a case of someone else having better communications skills to make up for it. Of course, like everything, it's never that simple.

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Episode transcript

John: Hello, listeners. We're back. The cafe's bustling. We've got some ...

Shaun: An almond croissant.

John: An almond croissant?

Shaun: It's a virtual one, but I can taste it. I can virtually taste it.

John: I've gone with a cold brew, even though it's winter, for something a little different. A question for you: Did you know that the boss doesn't write those messages?

Shaun: What messages?

John: All those ones that come out from CEOs or senior people. Did you think people ... they wrote them themselves?

Shaun: Well I have some insight into this.

John: I bet you do!

Shaun: You know already! Because I write a lot of those messages. I have had the privilege, or sometimes the – you know, on Bake Off and they say: "I've got the privilege this week of announcing the star baker." And then the other person has to sadly say: "I have the sad task of telling someone they're leaving the tent." Well I write a lot of leaving-the-tent messages from the boss. I've written redundancy messages on behalf of a boss. I've also written presentations and CEO ... whatchamacallits? We'll call it that for now. I've written all sorts that are supposed to have come from the top. And obviously you do it because it's a confidential thing. Why do I do it? Because they trust me to get the words right. That's my job – it's my skill set.

John: And you're good at it.

Shaun: Thank you. I do think – would you agree with this? – that a lot of people think every CEO is blessed with writing skills? It's a myth.

John: It's definitely a myth. I mean, one of my favourite things is when something comes out and someone talks to you about this message and they say: "I really love that message from that director. They really get it."

Shaun: They didn't get it at all. They might not have even approved it! 🥸

John: Exactly. But I think as a communicator, you need to take that in a positive way. Like you say, it is your job. It's almost a secret pat on the back that you get. You know, you've actually generally done something good and that someone appreciated it. It's like a team of ghost writers really, which is apt for today [recorded on Halloween]. So would you say that comms people are almost like this unsung heroes group, this group of people that are doing this really good job?

Shaun: Unsung, but also a secret.

John: Yeah. A secret society.

Shaun: Deep throat of the office.

John: Wow. Let's hope not! 🍌

Shaun: Deep throat in the, you know ... he was the famous CIA ...

John: Whistleblower.

Shaun: Or was it FBI. Who knows? Isn't it funny how we live in Britain but we always refer to the agencies of the CIA or the FBI. But they're not ours.

John: They have nothing to do with us!

Shaun: How come we don't talk about our own secretive agencies?

John: You know, I think in all honesty, it's this perfect partnership between a good leader and a good communicator, where they work together in sync. That leader brings the messaging and really does bring what they want to say, and the comms person is great at pulling their personality out. I think that's why so many people think that leader writes it because they may have spoken to them. And that really good communicator's picked up on how that person interacts with people, and through their writing can actually pull out that personality. That's a really good skill, isn't it?

Shaun: It is. And the important thing is the message. Not not how it was put together necessarily. If you found out, though ... if your organisation; your employees find out that you're not writing any of them, does that colour something? Does that colour your opinion of your boss, knowing that they're not actually putting these lovely pieces together?

John: Yeah, perhaps it does.

Shaun: Does it matter? Because suddenly you start to think ... so let's go back to your example earlier where you said: "Our CEO gets it." Then you find out they didn't write it, and then you start to wonder: "Was it them? Do they actually get what we're going through, or did someone else write this and it's actually that person that gets it?" It does make you think a little bit – finding out there's a ghost writer.

John: Yeah, I think it probably does. It probably makes you feel a little bit less of that person I guess, if you were finding that out. In reality, I guess most people realise this team of people that are these communications people, and if they don't realise fully the extent that some people are writing things, they must know a little bit. They must know that things come together in ... are more than the work of one person.

Shaun: I'd like to believe that. Although I know that when someone passes your desk at the last minute and says: "Can you cobble that together for me before five o'clock." They don't realise it's three days' work. So you know everyone's got this value. That poor designer who spends two weeks putting together something, normally, and they're not included on the project until the very last day. People think writers and creative, skilled people in the business do things at the drop of a hat really quickly. But no they don't. They need time to do it. I'm glad that a lot of the things I've put together for the bosses and managers and CEOs are very high level. I often get that job way in advance because the CEO always knows when the job starts. They always have the six-week leading ... er lead time. Is that the right expression? So I always know in advance. Sometimes sadly so. I know when jobs are going to be cut, for instance, because I've just been tasked with writing the communications for it. That's hard thing to carry actually.

John: It is. I think, hopefully, the level that communicators work at in businesses now, they are involved in those discussions really early. And you're right, you do carry a lot of secrets with you. You know the ins and outs of something, and you're often ... Your job a lot is to make sure the right information goes out at the right time to not upset people unconditionally really. So you've got quite a big job there, haven't you? My other thought was when you hear the term: "The communication's terrible at this company." Now do the people point the finger at the communicator or do they point it at the leadership? Or have I started a whole new conversation here? 🤪

Shaun: A new conversation but a good one, though. So, in other words you're saying that if the message is coming out really poorly executed, do you start to question whether the CEO has asked anyone else to do it or that they did it themselves and they don't have a clue about the feeling on the shop floor? It's an interesting one. I'm not sure I have the answers for that being from the other side of the coin most of the time; being asked. It does bring up something, though, because I have seen communications come from leadership that I didn't think were very good, and I actually have made suggestions: "I'll write that for you next time." So I've been there, where I've seen that poor comms and gone: "Let me write that for you next time." And then I have, you know, most of the time written it from then on.

John: I suppose it's a really interesting thing is how what's really important to people in a message is that it's really, really well written and that it's great grammar, and it's very clear, or that it feels very passionate and from someone personally. I guess it could do both.

Shaun: All of those things, I would say.

John: Yeah, so that's where that partnership comes in: A really good leader who knows that communication is so important that they want to get it right, and the really great communicator who can pick up what the leader really wants to say and deliver that. That's the partnership, isn't it?

Shaun: Yeah.

John: I guess at the end of the day, then it doesn't matter that people don't know the boss doesn't write it.

Shaun: Anyway, did you hear that wind? Scarves on. Let's get out there.

John: Pumpkin carving to be had.


Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

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