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Operations and Internal Communication Strategies For Effective CEOs, Hacker News

Operations and Internal Communication Strategies For Effective CEOs, Hacker News

Most of us are wired to believe that if we say something, those who hear us will just naturally execute it exactly as we had envisioned it in the first place. If only managing people were that easy. In reality, just because you said, doesn’t mean it’s actually going to happen. Without providing the right direction, determination, and ongoing communication about thecontext of the work to be done, the chances of actually observing the result you envisioned are very low.

The fundamental premise is that success is achieved not when the CEO thinks something is important, but when everyone thinks it is. What follows are some prescriptions to help you understand how effective CEOs, and leaders in general, should think about internal communication and operations. First we’ll go through some basic principles, then we’ll look at some real-life examples from some of today’s best companies, including Salesforce, Drift, Front and PayPal. This essay is about practical tactics and key insights from world-class leaders and operators. We’ll discern what some of the secrets to their success are, as well as how you can implement them and avoid common traps and mistakes.

Narratives (not facts) are what move people

Subtract facts from reality, and what’s left is storytelling. Great leaders know that while facts help people understand and comprehend reality, it’s in narratives that make enthusiasm, excitement and passion “happen”. Ultimately, we are the stories that we tell.

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

This quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery was rightly pointed out inone of the commentsof my latest write-up.

When communicating important new messages, rather than presenting new facts try thinking of it as broaching a new narrative. Think of what you’re trying to accomplish in a broader and more holistic way, surrounding the facts (the actual company goals and milestones) with a convincing and appealing narrative. A good narrative can not only help you make facts more compelling and inspiring, but it can actually make them easier to understand. The more your narrative (as opposed to the facts) resonates with its intended audience, the more likely you are to have an impact and actually make an impression in people heads.

Last week I introduced the idea of ​​the context of work in an essay titled “The Secret to Effective Employee Engagement“. In that piece, I wrote:

The actual questions are: How can leaders motivate people? What’s the actual driver for individual motivations? And what actually encourages alignment and enables the best individual work? The answer is clear and continuous communication about thecontext of the work to be done. ‍ In practice, this means telling people: “Here’s exactly where we are and here’s what we are trying to accomplish. “Employees at all levels want and need to understand not only the particular work they’re assigned but also the larger story of the way the business works, the challenges the company faces and the competitive landscape. People need context to really do their best work.

While I explained in depth what the context of the work to be done is all about, I skipped the fact that great context is built through powerful narratives. Great leaders don’t believe in casual context, they are able to create meaningful and pervasive context by leveraging narratives.

As your business scales up (by way of hiring more people and expanding to new offices), so too does the scope of objectives, implications, themes and eventually storylines that you end up communicating. This will inevitably lead to a larger number of narratives being shared with the team. Yet, people can only grasp so many things at once. Once you pass a certain threshold, try consolidating. Even more importantly, as communication has little to do with what you say, and more to do with what people understand – try taking things off the list. As people have a maximum cognitive capacity per day, be thoughtful about the signal / noise ratio of your message. The fewer and more distilled the things you communicate, the more likely people will be able to successfully absorb the message.

The why always before the what

Your best people want to know the

whyand understand the broader context beyond their individual responsibilities. Just because you said the

what, it won’t magically make it happen unless you have a very convincingwhy. To make things happen you need to spend a disproportionate amount of time on thewhythan thewhat.

Your audience is already busy with their own work. In order to get them to take notice, and far more importantly, change behavior, it’s essential you provide the context behind your message. The deeper you get into the why the more they will buy into your message. Don’t just limit yourself to the basic reasons. Why does this particular thing matter so much right now? Why does it have an even higher priority than what the team is currently working on? Are there any numbers to support this? What’s the essential strategy that ultimately justifies this? Why is this a better strategy than the one discussed last month?

The goal is to get to the root of the matter and make sure nothing is left unsaid. While this exercise alone is paramount to setting the entire understanding of the team, it’s also useful for clarifying your thoughts.

Alignment is not one-way only

No matter how clear and profound your explanations, after explaining the facts and your narrative, it’s critical critical that the team feels heard on the subject. People have different perspectives and it’s vital that communication goes both ways. People must be able to ask questions and offer critiques and ideas. Ideally, they should be able to do so with all managers, including the CEO.

Humans are naturally reluctant to change. The greater the impact of your decisions on their work, the more space you have to give them to ask for clarifications, whether it’s about something new they expected to do or a decision made by management, for instance. Not only does this mean they will be better informed, but over time it will instill throughout the company a culture of curiosity and deeper commitment.

Twoway communication won’t happen automatically unless you plan for it. Pick a system that’s designed from the ground up to support bi-directional (both top-down and bottom-up) communication.

Repeat, repeat, repeat

David Gergen, former advisor to several US presidents wrote:

History teaches that almost nothing a leader says is heard if spoken only once

There’s no doubt here: repetition is the mother of all learning. If you want to inculcate in people a specific message or a specific new set of behaviors, you have to repeat things. To make sure your message is really percolating down to every member of the organization, you have to repeat it so often that “you grow sick of hearing yourself say it” as Jeff Winer frm LinkedIn CEO simply put.

Being a great CEO means you have to enjoy telling certain stories over and over again. If done correctly and concisely this will end up creating what I call the “inner voice”. If the outer voice concerns what you tell people, the inner voice concerns what they tell themselves.

The best leaders are able to determine the inner voice ie what people say to themselves in the back of their minds. There are no shortcuts to this, it just takes time and effort.

How to Communicate as a Founder CEO

In this section we will tackle some practical examples of recurring internal communication that you as a Founder CEO can easily embed in your own internal communication framework, making it part of your weekly, monthly or quarterly routine.
Weekly Team Update

One of the best communication strategies for entrepreneurs is a weekly update email to employees, advisors, mentors, and investors. The email gives an overview of tactical updates from the previous week and for the week ahead. Initially, the email should be pretty simple, expanding as the company grows and its departments formalize. The basic macro elements that you should always include are: revenues, recruiting, product and customers.

Here’s a structure that you should follow:

**************Premise: write a quick paragraph summary about what happened last week ************ (Yearly Goals: current metrics for annual goals and how you’re measuring up against themQuarterly Goals (************:: current metrics for quarterly goals and how you’re measuring up against them

  1. Quarterly Priority

    : percentage complete and any updates to the most important projects

  2. Revenue: The top three weekly metrics for the, or for smaller teams, the top three metrics for every person on the sales team (e.g. calls, appointments, deals won, new recurring revenue, etc). By having every sales rep listed with their -metrics, it provides transparency and peer-pressure to hit their numbers. Comments or highlights from last week (eg the name of a big customer win or customer stories in general)

      : (( 1) Features that went live in the last week and (2) features that are going to go live in the next five days

    1. Marketing, Customer Service & Customer Service: The top three weekly metrics, plus comments or highlights from the week

        : new processes or procedures (eg. a new Slack etiquette, a new remote work policy, new room procedure or new habits that you are trying to inculcate generally)

    2. Culture Highlight: share topos, stories or examples from the week that project the company culture

  3. People spotlights: give exposure to members of the team and expose their work to the entire org


Mathilde Collin, Front CEO, has disclosed the template that she used to send over the years to all Front employees. As you know, consistency is key here. She’s never missed one in 4 years – and the format remains largely unchanged.


This email takes about 19 minutes maximum to compile each week and can have a profound effect on your organization.

Metrics Weekly Round-Up

Peter Thiel, back in his days as Founder / CEO at PayPal, used to run internal weekly and monthly staff meetings to discuss every single metric behind the company progress.

Unlike software companies in the ‘ s (telemetry systems were far from accurate back then), today’s organizations tend to track everything. The problem is that not everything we track is actually important, and as a leader it’s part of your job to translate all those numbers into chunks of information that are easy to understand and digest. In a world of abundant information, your ability to create signals by quickly zeroing in on the most valuable and relevant content creates a competitive advantage.

You can aggregate the top three most important company-wide metrics in a single digest that gets delivered to everyone. This ensures everyone is on the same page and that you are all executing towards one common goal.

Beyond the Obvious Weekly

As a Founder CEO there are certain things about your company that only you can see. How does your product fit into the big picture? How is your product going to change your industry category? What is your company actually about? What’s the essential secret upon which your company is predicated?

Just because you shared your vision once in the onboarding camp, does not mean people actually understand and believe in it. That’s why sharing your thoughts in internal memos is so critical to helping the people around you understand the broader context of your vision and how your organization fits it.

You want to communicate the broader picture and go beyond the obvious. Use these types of communication to give employees the broader picture:

********************** (If you are a ‘re company is about building advanced rockets and spacecraft, don’t just talk about physics, design and manufacture, talk about going to Mars and making human life multiplanetary.
**********If you’re company is about building computers, don’t talk about hardware and software, talk about creating a “bicycle for the mind”.

************ If you’re company seems to be an ecommerce business, talk about why it’s actually abouttechnology

. ******************************************** () ************

If you’re building an online CRM, talk about how it’s going to change the status quo of software distribution and sales in the years ahead.


While the creation of new narratives will help you in each communication, they are indispensable in these types of messages.
Personal Weekly Newsletter

As an entrepreneur, there are always things that keep you up at night, yet most people aren’t aware of them. Write a personally curated publication that’s shared on a weekly basis with your entire company. This type of communication will help you share the thoughts that wouldn’t normally make it into an all-hands meeting or a more tactical company-wide update. This allows your team to get a deeper sense of who you are as a person, how you think about the company values, and what’s at the forefront of your mind as the company scales.

One relevant example in this category is David Cancel, Drift Founder / CEO.

Cancel writes a weekly email newsletter every Sunday night to share his thoughts with the entire company. These emails cover anything from company scalingand how tomake the best decisions (tohow buffet solves problems.

What’s unique about this email newsletter? Anyone can subscribe to it – whether you work at Drift or not. You can read his previous emails onThe One Thing.

DC latest issue:
It finally hit me, Slack overload.

I’m overloaded with the number of channels we communicate across at work. That might be a shock to some of you as I am infamous for being able to keep up across a large number of channels and people. Maybe it’s ( (team members) * (an infinite number of slack channels) (280 teammates) * (email, twitter, whatsapp, sms, etc) that has finally hit some tipping point but I am changing the way I communicate.

Here’s how I am changing: I am bringing back Email. I’ve been email bankrupt for years but I’ve finally gotten to inbox zero and have maintained that for about 2 months now. I will use email when communicating important announcements, stuff that requires the recipient to digest and other content that doesn’t need a real-time conversation and might get lost in the endless sea of ​​Slack. Asynchronous (non-realtime) messages when not urgent.

Email is one form of async tool but two others I am relying on are async Audio messages and async Video messages (like whatsapp, Drift Video, etc). I’m relying more and more on async messages and less and less on synchronous messages (real-time slack). I am dealing with important issues face to face or via phone when I can. Instead of an endless back and forth in Slack trying to get my point across I am just having a real conversation when convenient. (not a meeting just a conversation)

As we design Drift (we support both asynchronous and synchronous messaging) let’s keep these issues in mind and try hard to do the work for our users so they can focus on the Now.

– DC

All-Hands Meeting Notes

This is probably the most important meeting in your entire company. This is where everyone convenes to make sure the entire company is executing in the right direction. You want to maximize coverage and make sure every single item that was brought to the meeting has actually been understood by every single person in your team. One way to do this is to make sure you send the team company-wide minutes after the meeting has ended.

Here’s the structure of a template that you can use:

What do you think?

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