Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Executive Communications: During a Crisis, Top Executives Using Stirring, Evocative Words to Create a Laser-like Focus Among Employees

In a recent edition of The Wall Street Journal, I read that last month, while trying to energize his employees and get them to launch new initiatives with regard to combating the BP oil spill, Adm. Thad Allen compared the environmental crisis with Apollo 13 rather than with Exxon Valdez, and said: “This isn’t a sprint, or even a marathon. This is a siege.”

I was much impressed by the way Adm. Allen depicted the problem. Clearly, his objective at that moment was to create the right mindset within his organization and inspire everyone on his team to take fervent but appropriate action. It also reminded me of the finest example I have in my possession of a top executive harnessing the power of simple but fresh and imaginative words to create just the right focus in the workplace.

That example goes way back—to the early 1990s! At the time, Taco Bell, the progenitor of “the 99-cent menu,” was in a financial bind. Thanks to steadily rising costs of ingredients, the company’s commitment to continue offering customers an array of items priced at just 99 cents had put a severe crimp on profits. So, in a presentation to his top executives, the objective of which was to create the appropriate mindset and inspire a radical solution to that burning issue, Taco Bell’s then-CEO described the problem as “Our 99-cent handcuff!” Beat that for imagination and evocativeness.

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