Keeping CEOs In Check

Honesty is the best policy, right? I think so, and so do stakeholders of companies. Whether those are shareholders, employees, customers or potential customers, everyone who’s interested in a company should care about the transparency of a business and its practices.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to invest my money in a corporation that’s being shady in its communication about how the company fared in the last fiscal year. I also wouldn’t want to put my money in a bank that’s elusive in its communications.

In “CEO Communications: Five Phrases That Signal ‘BS,’” the author recaps the results from a study conducted with 10 industrial bloggers who publish content about top companies. The bloggers suggested that Warren Buffet and Steve Jobs were two of the most authentic CEOs. However, they believed that CEOs in the financial and banking industries were perceived as less authentic than their counterparts.

The interviews also produced red-flag comments that CEOs use that “signal BS.” These include:

  1. “This deal is a win-win.” Bloggers commented that few business deals, if any, are really a win-win—particularly in the current economic climate.
  2. “Thinking/working/planning outside the box.” That phrase is viewed as classic corporate-speak, according to the interviewed bloggers.
  3. “We’re not here to talk about the past.” That expression is viewed as a clichéd, not-so-clever diversionary tactic designed to avoid an unpleasant topic.
  4. “We are an innovative company.” Innovation has become an empty promise—something many companies say they stand for, but few, if any, can actually deliver, according to the report.
  5. “Executive X is stepping down to spend more time with his family.” Among bloggers interviewed, that expression is code for an executive who is being forced out of a job.

These five phrases, pulled straight from the article, are useful for anyone who’s a key communicator for a company. As a PR practitioner, it may be your job to write speeches or design letter copy to publish for stakeholders. It’s important to keep in mind that these phrases should be avoided because they’re perceived as a load of cow manure.

Instead, we should be producing connect that’s real, honest and to the point. By opening a window, rather than closing the shutters, I believe stakeholders are more likely to digest the information in a favorable way, even when the content isn’t necessarily positive.

Honesty is the best policy, so let’s stick with it.


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