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communications guardrails

Communications Guardrails: Your Key to Forward-Thinking, Innovative, and Grounded Messages

We recently posted this blog article about strategies for making your underlying messages consistent with how you want your brand to be perceived by the world. With the speed of information dissemination in our digital age, you can’t afford to be reactive. But being proactive is a real challenge too. Anticipating all the ways our messages might be received is a tall order.

However, there is another way to ensure you are shaping conversations, rather than allowing conversations about your firm to be shaped by those outside of your organization. All you have to do is come up with some strong communications guardrails and stick to them. Let’s dig in!

Communications guardrails? What does that mean? 

Communications guardrails are a list of do’s and don’ts that are unique to your organization. They let the world know what your organization does and does not stand for. You can think of guardrails as rules, but that makes them sound really restrictive. 

We prefer to think of your guardrails as well… guardrails. They are boundaries that keep everyone corralled just enough to ensure that the conversations you’re having both inside and outside of your organization are forward-thinking, innovative, and grounded.

Your guardrails will also act as guides as your communications evolve. They include your values, branding messages, and talking points, but we encourage our clients to go even further. To start, ask your team these five questions:

  • What are we actively doing to show our commitment to our purpose, vision, and values?
  • What are our firm’s priorities when it comes to communications?
  • What industry-wide beliefs and best practices do we accept?
  • What industry-wide beliefs and best practices do we reject?
  • Do we have a solid crisis management plan? (because if communications are going to go off the rails, it will happen during a crisis)

With the answers to these questions in mind, you can begin creating your own guardrails. 

Also, you’ll want to consider what has worked for you and your competitors in the past. But don’t forget to look outside of your industry for ideas too. If you want to be out front leading, you’ve got to think beyond those tired, worn patterns.

Finally, avoid the 7 Deadly Sins of Business Communications:

1. Pride: Lack of consideration for or understanding of your audience.

2. Envy: Trying to ‘copy and paste’ another organization’s messaging because it worked for them.

3. Gluttony: Know when enough is enough and skip the buzzwords.

4. Sloth: There are no real marketing “shortcuts” or “hacks.” You’ve got to put in the work.

5. Lust: Beware of falling in love with the latest trends or tools. Keep your communications genuine.

6. Anger: When communications are perceived as angry, defensive, or overly negative, your audience will tune out the message.

7. Greed: It’s okay to make the ask, but make sure you consider carefully who’s winning in the deals you make.

Time to Give Those Communications Guardrails a Stress Test

Once you have come up with your set of guardrails, the next step is to test them. This is yet another reason the guardrail metaphor is apt. Road crews don’t build guardrails and then put them out on the street without doing a proper stress test. 

In the same way, you don’t want to assume that your communications guardrails are solid and test them out in the “wild.” You want to test them internally first. 

One method we use with our clients here is the Murder Board. The term murder board (AKA “red team”) originated with the military, but it’s shorthand for creating a team of rivals or a committee of killjoys whose sole job is to poke holes in your team’s best ideas. It’s great not only for testing communications guardrails, but for any new idea you might come up with.

In short, the murder board is tasked with locating the problems, risks, and bugs insiders might miss. So bring your guardrails in front of a murder board.

Murder Boards are beneficial in a variety of situations related to communication guardrails:

  • When prepping crisis communications, the murder board can hep you prepare for any number of scenarios and develop do’s and don’ts for your CEO and spokespeople.
  • When prepping to talk to investors or analysts, the murder board can role play scenarios with your CEO to ensure she has answers to any number of “tricky” questions.
  • When prepping your sales team or customer service on the frontlines, the murder board can get them ready to reply to customers who can be some of the toughest critics, especially during a crisis.

For high stakes communication situations, there’s nothing better than a murder board. Finding your communications guardrails is a high stakes situation. Without guardrails, you’ll find everyday communications feeling chaotic and overwhelming and crises quickly spinning out of control.

When you take the time to create your communications guardrails with your team, though, you have the opportunity to shape the conversations you’re having and to lead your industry into a brighter future. 

What are your communications guardrails?

At Audacia Strategies, we’re used to fielding questions from executive clients about how they can be more aware of the underlying messages they’re sending. Our go-to answer is let’s work on your guardrails. Ready to see us in action? Contact us to schedule an introductory call!

rebuilding corporate trust

Rebuilding Corporate Trust: 4 Ways Business Leaders Can Bring About Real Change

As we slowly leave the pandemic behind and enter the rebuilding period, let’s not forget our responsibility for rebuilding trust in public institutions. With all the highfalutin talk about rebuilding society and cultural norms coming out of the pandemic, it’s tempting to point the finger at the government, NGO’s, and the media.

But we are at a unique crossroads where business leaders are positioned to bring about real change both inside and outside of their organizations. Want evidence? Look no further than corporate reactions to measures tightening voting accessibility. Just over a week ago, hundreds of companies and executives signed on to a new statement opposing “any discriminatory legislation” that would make it harder for people to vote. 

This type of overtly public engagement has become increasingly common over the past few years as corporate executives step into the trust gap vacated by government organizations. 

Earlier this year, global communications firm, Edelman, released its 2021 Trust Barometer and the results are revealing, especially when it comes to rebuilding public trust:

  • Business has a 61% trust level globally (that’s higher than any other institution)
  • 86% of respondents believe that CEO’s must lead on societal issues
  • 68% say CEO’s should step in when governments fail

We can point the finger at others, or we can embrace this as an opportunity to reshape relationships and build new communication paths providing benefits that will long outlive the current moment. Edelman’s Trust Barometer makes it clear which choice your customers and employees want you to make. So let’s look at the why and how of rebuilding trust.

Rebuilding Corporate Trust in Response to the Epidemic of Misinformation

How did we get here? If you were an alien landing on Earth today, you might expect to find people turning to governments and other long-standing institutions for guidance as we restart the global economy. However, the way governments handled the global health crisis has not engendered confidence in people.

Time Magazine nicknames the findings of the Edelman report the “Epidemic of Misinformation.” In the first half of 2020, public trust of governments did rise. Early on, both U.S. and Chinese citizens deemed the government to be the most fit institution to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. However, by May 2020, China and the U.S. saw significant drops in trust by 18 and 23 points respectively.

To explain these sharp decreases, Richard Edelman points to China’s use of censorship and U.S. officials’ touting of “miraculous cures” that were discredited while simultaneously diminishing the efficacy of mask wearing and social distancing in favor of reopening businesses. Edelman’s recommendation: it’s time to declare information bankruptcy

As trust in governments has diminished, trust in businesses has only grown stronger. Given that trust is the glue that holds society together, especially during trying times, leaders must take the initiative to rebuild corporate trust.

How Our Clients are Rebuilding Corporate Trust

Even before the pandemic, many CEO’s appeared to be heeding this call and stepping into their roles as “America’s new politicians.” In 2019, 181 of the nation’s top CEO’s agreed that “driving shareholder value is no longer their sole business objective.” This is a significant break with the past profit-above-all-else mentality.

And this shift, spearheaded by Business Roundtable Chairman and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, reflects growing pressure from employees, social media, and customers to do more than increase stock prices. The pandemic and recent political events have only accelerated this shift.

At Audacia Strategies, we’re fortunate to have a front row seat to see this change in action with our clients. Here’s how our clients are stepping up to rebuild corporate trust one organization at a time:

1. Looking deep into the “soul” of the organization

Our clients are looking deep into the “souls” of their organizations to tap into their purpose. They’re asking: Why do we exist beyond profits? And what value do we add?

They’re also recognizing that often rebuilding corporate trust requires reaching out to customers and employees to ask for help. They’re initiating Voice of the Customer and Voice of the Employee studies to really take the pulse of their key stakeholders.

In many cases, though, rebuilding trust is perpetually aspirational. This applies not only to startups, but also to long-tenured companies. As the world changes, how we leave an impact can and must evolve too.

2. Knowing credibility matters

Employers are recognizing this moment for the opportunity to be a credible voice and to provide clear, unambiguous information for employees to follow — whether it relates to corporate strategy, benefits changes, or societal changes.

When organizations look at employees as humans, as opposed to money-making machines, they see beyond increasing productivity, profitability, and financial performance. They see how having empathy for what their employees have experienced in the past 12 months can open doors for the organization.

In the current climate, employees are exhausted from having to parse through health messages online, in their inboxes, on television, and in the media. Misinformation and disinformation have created a void leaving many without an orientation point from which to believe anything at all. Operating in such a gray area is exhausting and demoralizing.

Companies focused on rebuilding trust recognize the chance to fill this void for their employees (and customers) and gain credibility as a result.

3. Believing consistency is king

The quickest way to blow your credibility when it comes to communications is to broadcast inconsistent and sporadic messages. The old 7×7 rule is still a good starting point — but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. 

For our clients, we encourage a message architecture that ties every communication back to the organization’s purpose and vision

Overcommunication is key… but not via an avalanche of emails. Instead, use multiple channels and — most important — use live events whether structured town halls, small group roundtables, regularly scheduled staff meetings, or just chatting before the next Zoom call. All of these are opportunities to reinforce a consistent message. And that leads me to…

4. Proving trust is not a one-way street

Employees must also have a voice and provide feedback in real time.  And although annual engagement surveys can help, these shouldn’t be the only means of listening. Some ideas:

  • Hold open Q&A sessions
  • Use your internal communication tools like Yammer, Slack, or Google Hangouts to solicit and facilitate feedback
  • Share pulse surveys
  • Voice of the Employee (VOE) research 
  • Have an open inbox/phone line/door for receiving and sharing feedback

When your employees feel heard, they trust that you’ll share with them what’s working and what’s not in a constructive way. They trust that you’ll share the questions and suggestions you receive. And they will trust you to create a roadmap forward and share your progress regularly. 

Rebuilding corporate trust is hard work. It’s sticky. It can be emotional and truthfully, it can be exhausting for the leader who often says, “but I’ve said this in the last 5 meetings — let’s move on.” Remember, though, consistency is credibility and credibility is trust. 

As leaders, we don’t have the luxury of passing the buck here. Rebuilding public trust starts with us. If you’re ready to boldly step into this new era of radical transparency and corporate trust, your partners at Audacia are here for you. Contact us to discover how we can work together. 

Photo credit: Group of happy people working together in an office by Flamingo Images from Noun Project

listening and learning

Audacious Transparency: Reaffirming the Core of Our Business

At the end of 2020, Audacia Strategies passed a big milestone for a small business. We celebrated five years in business. As the CEO, I’m simultaneously thrilled and anxious to see what the future holds.

As we grow, I’m doing all I can to make sure Audacia remains true to our guiding purpose: helping companies achieve their boldest initiatives and transformational vision. Here are a few of our steadfast guardrails:

  • Vision, conviction, and clarity have been the core of our business since day one.
  • We hold the line when it comes to our business values and we walk our talk.
  • We start with clarity about who we are — we support organizations taking the biggest steps and we enable our clients’ bold visions.

After all, if you’re going to start a business and turn down a regular salary and steady hours, there had better be a bigger purpose — a bigger prize — on the horizon. This remains my philosophy of business ownership.

All that being said, we faced our first real test of our mission and values in 2021. So in the spirit of audacious transparency, I wanted to share what we learned.

Growth! Scaling! Excitement!

In a previous blog article, we discussed keeping tabs on our underlying messages. While it’s easy to get caught up in the big, surface level messages we want to share with our audiences, if those messages aren’t grounded in our core values, it’s easy to get off course.

Not only does this happen with corporate messaging, it also happens with the way we run our businesses. And I think one of the biggest reasons businesses fail is because they lose sight of their core values or make too many compromises in the name of scaling.

Now here we are, five years in and Audacia Strategies has served a variety of clients in industries from specialty chemicals to cyber security to government IT. We are growing quickly, but the “Founder fear” is always there. Could it all disappear? (Hint: It won’t. But fear isn’t rational.)

And this brings us to the story of our biggest test yet. We were approached by a politically-motivated, third-party to support a coal-based chemical firm in need of crisis communications support and management. 

My gut reaction: This is not in our lane. It’s not where we want to be and it’s not who we want to work with. Just as quickly, though, the fear sneaks in: “What if it all goes away? What about growth, scaling, excitement? We should at least take the call. So we took the call and started putting together a team. Then, a team member with many years of experience in this industry came back to us and said, “I just can’t do this.” She was right. We stepped back and referred the work to a large firm with deep resources, deep pockets, and a very broad client set. 

Today, I’m confident that decision was for the best. I’m relieved not to have pursued the business or expended the energy. When making the decision, though, I was flooded with so many emotions (fear, panic, relief, shame, disappointment). Brene Brown would have a field day here! I’m still working through the experience.

Positive Outcomes

Even while I continue dealing with the emotional fallout from this near miss, as a team, we’re seeing many positive outcomes. 

Since stepping away from that opportunity, we have moved planned new offering(s) forward significantly (coming soon!). We’ve been able to expand our support to current clients and their transformations are taking flight.

Also, we’ve had some really fun, fulfilling, and meaningful new opportunities walk through the door (although nothing simply walks through the door in entrepreneurial life — it’s all based on the work you put in and forgot about or wrote off days, weeks, and years earlier)

In addition, saying “no” to the opportunity that wasn’t right for us, means we can direct our energy toward what feels right. And this experience reminds me that focusing on our missions and values yields work that doesn’t feel “purely transactional,” but that feels purposeful. It almost seems like the universe is rewarding us for making a good decision. 

And it’s a good reminder that taking work solely to chase the goal of scaling and growth comes with an opportunity cost. Clearly, we saved ourselves from going down the wrong path. It scares me, though, to think about how close we came. I don’t think we are alone in this challenge. In fact, I see it with our clients all the time and that’s why I want to share our experience.

Still Learning and Listening

It’s too soon to claim that we’ve learned any transformational lessons from this experience. We’re still integrating, but I want to share my initial thoughts while they are fresh.

1. I’m grateful to work with folks who are willing to say, “I can’t do this” and lend a hand to help reframe and refocus priorities.

2. We’re learning Tony Robbins’ lesson first-hand: “where energy goes, focus flows.” It has been amazing to see what has appeared once we refocused on our vision.

3. We’ve recommitted to the work. We have our eyes on our page. This is our journey and it just doesn’t matter what others are doing as long as we are true to our vision/values and our clients are achieving their vision(s).

4. This is why I started Audacia Strategies. I’m reminded of the beauty of building a business with shared team values at the core. If we “have” to take on work that is outside our values, then why do this hard work at all? It’s like working for someone else and building their dream.

Audacia Strategies has emerged from this experience stronger and more committed to our mission, vision, and values than ever before. We appreciate the nudge to recommit to walking our talk and this conviction is something we are proud to bring to our clients. After all, every business faces similar challenges. And every business needs to recommit to their priorities on a daily basis.

As always, we’re grateful for the chance to learn, listen, and yes…make a mistake. We’re even more grateful for the near miss and the lessons learned.

Ready to let your your vision, conviction, and clarity guide your next business transformation? Contact us to schedule time to chat!

Photo credit: Jacob Lund from the Noun Project

underlying messages

More Than Words: What Underlying Messages Are You Sending?

It’s 2021. And I, for one, cannot remember a time when our words — all of our words — carried more weight or were more carefully scrutinized. It’s no longer an overstatement to say that the Internet has the power to make or break your brand. Welcome to the communications pressure chamber where anything you say has the potential to be found and amplified.

As leaders and communicators, our job is to shape conversations. But with the speed of information dissemination, the time to strategize is before — not after — a narrative is trending online. Anticipating all the facets of how your narrative might be perceived, however, can feel like an impossible task.

It’s no wonder we are hearing from many, if not all, of our executive clients asking how they can be more aware in their communications (look for a post about humanizing communications coming soon!). So let’s talk about strategies for making sure our underlying messages are consistent with how we want to represent our brands to the world.

The Challenge

If you’re a leader worried about the underlying messages you’re sending with your content, you are likely facing one of the following challenges:

  • The fear of saying the wrong thing is paralyzing, so you put out watered-down, over-wrought messages that end up effectively saying…nothing.
  • The fear of saying the wrong thing is paralyzing, so your communications have stopped altogether. But saying nothing at all says so much more.
  • You’re ready to walk the talk and you want to communicate directly, but you fear reputational harm if you “don’t get it 100% right.”

These fears are understandable, but the answer is not to get defensive or hide behind jargon. Former President Barack Obama, speaking at the Obama Foundation summit in 2019, told his audience: 

“The cancel culture is predicated on this idea of purity; the illusion that you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff…You should get over that quickly. The world is messy, there are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids. And share certain things with you.” 

Rather than tip-toeing around your communications, maybe it’s time to embrace the messiness and welcome conversations around what our underlying messages are saying both to those within our circles and to those on the outside looking in.

Embracing the Messiness  

Cancel culture aside, this heightened state of awareness creates challenges for leaders and communicators, but we can also choose to see these challenges as opportunities for change. 

I’m in a heightened state of awareness too. Not only am I hyper aware of the words organizations use (including Audacia Strategies!), but also I’m aware of their actions. This past summer, for instance, I received a message from an M&A consultancy announcing its recent merger and its partnership with several large universities to bring on new team members. 

I heard the surface-level message loud and clear: Growth! Scaling! Excitement! 

The problem was with the underlying message. The email included their full new leadership team — with photos. All 9 were white, male, and all appeared to be over the age of 50. And this was the message they chose to use as a recruitment tool directed at new graduates. I was stunned. It felt completely tone-deaf. 

When I opened that email so many questions flooded my mind: 

  • What does this say about the priorities of this firm? 
  • What does this say about the structures of higher education? 
  • What does this say about those completing business valuations? About opportunities to acquire, sell, or engage in M&A processes? And about the finance and banking industry more broadly?

The underlying message being sent—not only by emails like this, but by the lack of equity, inclusivity, and diversity across corporate America—to women and BIPOC is “you are not welcome here.” So what can we as leaders of the business community do to bring about change? Here are some ideas to get you thinking.

1. Take a stand as anti-racist

Now, there’s no doubt that the M&A consultancy was unaware of the underlying message their email was sending. They were firmly focused on the “Growth! Scaling! Excitement!” 

And this is precisely why it’s important for organizations to take an anti-racist stand. It’s not enough to say you’re non-racist or inclusive. The public needs to hear your personal and professional commitment to anti-racist action. Why not make this a regular focus of your content?

Too often when the national narrative gets uncomfortable, corporate leaders go silent, at least until they’ve completed their focus group testing and run it by Legal. As a leader in this moment when the country is engaged in discussions about institutional injustice, it’s essential to state your anti-racism clearly and announce the actions you’re taking to support those words. 

Communicate this in official statements, through updated company policies, and in your daily workplace interactions. Beyond these direct statements, partnering with a communications expert who specializes in diversity, equity, and inclusion can help you become more aware of the subtle non-inclusive messages you may be inadvertently sending.

2. Examine and address systemic racism in your organization.

If your response to my description of the email I received made you bristle, that’s because of systemic racism. Remember, and this is crucial, systemic racism harms all of us. Systemic racism makes members of “dominant groups” blind to their own racism and bias. Being blind to racism and bias makes us write company policies and procedures that are also biased. 

The only way to fight systemic racism is to face it head on:

  • Examine all company policies and procedures
  • Create a committee to examine and weed out or flag problem areas
  • Ask: Are paths to advancement within your organization structured to disenfranchise people of color?
  • Consider what efforts you are making to hire people of color as well as how you’re ensuring these employees thrive
  • Make visible changes to support a truly diverse, inclusive, and anti-racist culture

3. Use your power to change corporate norms.

Leaders have the power to use their resources and privilege to drive change. Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to look beyond what you mean to say and consider how others might interpret your content. Then get to work improving corporate culture.

As leaders, we are uniquely positioned to move the needle on changing social norms. We need to recognize the position we’re in and commit to taking meaningful action. There’s much to be done. There’s much you can do to infuse your company with anti-racist values and create an anti-racist culture.

In this spirit, here’s what we’re doing:

  • We’re actively examining our recruiting, partnering, and networking processes to engage a diverse network of partners.
  • We’re committed to bringing a broader set of values and bigger, more audacious, thinking to clients and to our community.
  • We’re listening, learning, trying and failing, trying and advancing, and pushing ourselves to learn more, get uncomfortable and bring more awareness to our communications and our actions.

Becoming more aware of our communications is about more than rooting out racism, though. We’ve been seeing increasing calls for companies to take a clear stand on environmental issues, for example. So another change you can consider is to make sure you have a clear set of values and that you stick by them.

Ask yourself and your team:

  • Do our messages amplify our company values?
  • What messages do the images we use in advertising send?
  • What social change movement would you like your brand to lead? What are you doing to move the needle?

All of this can feel overwhelming, which is why it’s so important to have a diverse team. Considering perspectives and voices that are different from your own will make you more aware of the underlying messages you’re sending.

I’m not suggesting that I have all the answers or that we at Audacia Strategies have it all figured out. Audacia has a long way to go. I have a long way to go. We aren’t going to get this right the first time and we will make mistakes. 

As CEO, though, I’m committed to taking action to increase true diversity and inclusivity. With this focus, the underlying messages will fall into place. We have to start, fail, learn, and improve. 

So, what are you doing?

Photo credit: Jacob Lund from the Noun Project

strategic narrative

Where Are You Going? 3 Critical Questions for Nailing Your Strategic Narrative

Who are you? 

What have you done? 

Where are you going? 

Equal parts old perspiration and aspiration, the answers to each of these questions form the core of your firm’s strategic narrative. Having worked with several firms to define and articulate their narrative, we focus on aligning their vision and values with a narrative about taking that vision and those values into the future. 

For example, we recently worked with a firm that wants to apply their services to a different and more challenging set of problems. In other words, they are ready to expand their product and service offerings to bring additional value to their clients’ organizations. 

They knew that the strategic narrative was the place to start even before working on marketing, messaging, and communications. 

We facilitated a series of discussions with their leadership team to distill their areas of focus, figure out their core competencies, and get specific about their aspiration for the future. To ensure the strategic narrative aligned with what their customers truly wanted, we also conducted a Voice of the Customer assessment. The VOC delivered insight into customer trust, awareness, and loyalty.

What we’ve found in working with these clients is that companies are pretty clear on where they’ve been and what they’ve done. It’s where they’re going that is a challenge to articulate. In other words, the aspiration trips people up. 

So, let’s dig into the what, the why, and the how of strategic narrative, then we’ll be able to see the aspirational piece more clearly. 

What is a strategic narrative?

Before we answer this question, let’s talk about what a strategic narrative is NOT. When most marketers and leaders hear “strategic narrative,” they think, “we need a story that defines our organization’s vision and communicates our strategy.” 

They think, “we have a mission statement and a vision statement, so why can’t we just pull in language from those to create a strategic narrative?” But creating a strategic narrative is about so much more than creating the next piece of marketing collateral or writing that P.R. puff piece. 

Your strategic narrative should discuss your firm’s values and how you create value for your customers or clients. It’s the comprehensive, guiding narrative that draws a line in the sand for you. You can think of it as your organization’s North Star. 

Your strategic narrative:

  • Shows employees and leaders their roles and purpose.
  • Drives change when it’s time for a pivot or transformation.
  • Guides all of your communications in times of celebration or crisis.

You can revisit the key steps for developing your strategic narrative in this previous article.

Do we really need a strategic narrative?

Great question! 

I could answer by referring to the history of storytelling. I could tell you, for example, that stories have helped human beings figure out who to trust, establish community, and connect with each other for thousands of years. 

Or I could answer by referring to the psychology of storytelling. I could tell you, for example, that fancy cells in our brains called mirror neurons allow us to not just follow a story as it’s being told, but “live” out the action in our brains. This is why you jump along with the actor in your favorite thriller flick.

Bringing this closer to home, I could also remind you that putting thought and intention into your strategic narrative is more important now than ever before. We are all consumers. We are all clients. And we are all looking for connection. We want to align ourselves and our organizations with the people, organizations, and firms that share our values, understand our goals, and can contribute to our desired legacy. 

But beyond the benefits of connecting and captivating your customers, you need a strategic narrative to inspire employees, excite partners, and engage influencers. These are the reasons the aspirational aspect of the narrative is so critical.

How do we nail the aspirational aspect?

Creating a narrative that inspires, excites, and engages is tough, as anyone who has tried to strategize a social media campaign for “going viral” can attest. Add to that creating an aspirational strategic narrative that also aligns with your values and your value proposition and it’s clear how easy it can be to get lost in the weeds.

Nailing the aspirational aspect of a strategic narrative takes equal parts insight into your organization and reflection on how your organization is perceived. 

Insight into your organization

Your narrative—the story, the language, the tone—must be authentic and true to your organization. This is why input from leadership is key. It should also ring true to those who interact with your organization. 

Integrating the internal pulse that drives your team and the external perception you project out into the world is where the magic happens in messaging that is authentic, accurate, and persuasive. 

  • To gain internal insight, ask the following questions: What are the values we currently espouse? Do they still hold true? Do they need an update or clarification? Does the tone of our organization represent those values? Who do we want to be? How do we want to impact the world? What change do we hope to bring about in the world? Are our values clear to our employees? If answers to these questions are in any way fuzzy, take a pause and schedule a town hall meeting.
  • To gain external insight, ask the following questions: Can stakeholders identify our values based on the tone of our messaging? Are our values clear to our customers? Is it clear to our customers that our organization walks the talk? Do they view our aspirations as aligned with their needs? If answers to these questions are in any way fuzzy, consider whether a Voice of the Customer assessment makes sense.

Reflection on how your organization is perceived

Once you have taken the time to answer the above questions, it’s time to build your aspirational strategic narrative. Reflection on the insights gained through the process described here should reveal your path forward. If you find the answers misaligned with how you want to be perceived, figure out what data to track to get to the bottom of the issue and build up from there.

In addition, if your aspirational goals include expanding your services to reach a new market or solve a different set of challenges for your clients. Reflect on what those answers are telling you in light of your vision for the future.

Together, these pieces of the strategic narrative come together to deliver a narrative that is true to your organization today and a North Star for your future.

If your firm is unsure of where you’re going or how to communicate your aspirations internally or externally, a strategic narrative might be the missing link. Our team at Audacia Strategies is ready to sit down with your leadership team and find your North Star. Let’s find some time to connect!

Photo credit: https://www.canva.com/p/gettyimagespro/

M&A strategy

5 Key Findings from a Survey of Executives: How to Think About M&A Strategy During an Economic Earthquake

One of the million- or billion-dollar questions firms are asking, given the pandemic, is whether this is a good time to pursue M&A strategy. Looking to high profile players, you’ll find examples both of companies, like Boeing, abandoning deals and companies, like Google Cloud, publicly saying they are open to acquisitions.

To guide your thinking about M&A best practices through the end of 2020, it makes sense to consider what we know about how firms are currently making decisions. The M&A Leadership Council recently conducted a survey of 50 C-suite executives and senior corporate development leaders about their plans. 

Let’s discuss the major findings from the survey and what they mean for you as you think about strategically positioning your firm to succeed when economic activity rebounds.

1. Deals in Progress

The good news is that deals are still getting done, especially those in later stages. While just over half (51%) of those surveyed reported a “temporary pause” in M&A activity, only 14% indicated they had halted all deals currently in the works. And 12% actually reported expediting late-stage deals, while another 12% indicated that they fully intended to proceed to deal closing assuming negotiations go well.

What does this mean for you?

If you’ve put the brakes on a merger or acquisition, it may be time to reengage your vetting process and due diligence. Go back and review your M&A best practices checklist to make sure you’re going in with eyes wide open. Pay special attention to the items on the list that may have shifted with current events and those that are most likely to be volatile as the economy sorts itself out.

Proceed as follows:

  • Meet with your project team to regroup and discuss moving forward
  • Review monetary and non-monetary assets and business priorities
  • Make an exhaustive list of questions that have recently come to light

2. Anticipated Deal Volume

With regard to deal volume, it’s no surprise that 26% of executives report a substantial reduction in the number of M&A deals for the remainder of 2020. Additionally, the 51% of executives reporting that they are on a “temporary pause” expect to remain paused until they see signs of an economic recovery, which is not likely to happen before the end of the year.

Despite this sobering news, 23% of respondents anticipate no significant change to or an increase in the number of M&A plays they pursue this year. For buyers staying in the M&A game, four motivations were prevalent:

  1. Seeing opportunities in M&A hotspots
  2. Looking to gain the “first mover advantage,” while other prospective buyers are still in shock and trying to sort out their plans
  3. Needing to innovate or reposition for post-COVID market realities
  4. Wanting to accelerate commercialization of the most promising new technologies, medical advancements, or delivery systems

What does this mean for you?

You aren’t necessarily crazy if you’re seeing opportunities for M&A plays. If your balance sheet is strong, your stock price steady, and access to credit solid, it may be a great time to keep your eye on who you want to partner with as we reinvent our post-pandemic work lives. 

3. Deal Objectives

Many companies are predictably broadening the scope of deal types they’re considering. While 57% indicated they’re most interested in doing deals similar to those they’ve done in the past, the data also suggest these acquirers simultaneously shopping in several different strategic deal-types.

59% reported their intent to opportunistically buy distressed companies and 23% said they are targeting new, non-core technologies, solutions, or segments to intentionally diversify their future revenue streams.

What does this mean for you?

Acquiring companies that are struggling during tough economic times, but which will likely thrive quickly once the economy picks up steam again is a valid M&A strategy. Play your cards right and you could end up with a really lucrative deal, while saving a technology or smart solution, which might otherwise be lost to the dustbin of history.

It’s also a good time to consider how to diversify or reinforce your own revenue streams. Many firms experiencing a slowdown in the past few months have taken the time to strategize about insulating themselves from future economic distress. One savvy strategy is thinking outside the box about new ways to bring in revenues and develop new efficiencies.

In addition, for firms concerned about their own ability to weather the pandemic storm, a “marriage of survival” may be a mutually beneficial solution. If you know of a competitor or adjacent company that you suspect to be in a similar struggle for survival, it might be worth a phone call.

4. Operational Challenges

Sellers in prime position will be in high demand. Any sellers who are ready to do a deal, but confident about surviving the economic lockdown, will be prepared to hold out until P&L statements recover. So finding the best play may be more of a challenge than you anticipate.

Additionally, this may call for a level of due diligence and dialogue that some buyers aren’t prepared for. For instance, looking at 2020 financials, to what extent have core fundamentals, competitive pressure, or other internal or external factors impacted the drop in revenues? How confident are you that the impacts attributed to COVID are accurate? Also, how should your leadership team evaluate and validate the target company’s rebound plan?

What does this mean for you?

If your firm is eying an M&A strategy as a buyer to gain market share, keep in mind that the most attractive sellers will be in high demand. You’ll likely need to get creative about bridging the valuation gap. Consider: 

  • Valuation, 
  • Deal structure, 
  • Growth incentives, and
  • Talent retention.

Your strategies here will need to be simple and convincing to win the bid. Remember, acquisitions, even in the best of times, are highly emotional transactions. Now is not the time to spare the empathy. If you want the transition to be smooth, be sensitive during this delicate dance.

5. M&A Capabilities

Finally, survey respondents reported they are calling in reinforcements to bolster their internal M&A capabilities. For many firms, operationally executing an M&A strategy amidst so much economic uncertainty, across all deal phases, and over multiple deal-type scenarios requires a level of M&A sophistication beyond what they currently have in place.

As the chair of the M&A Leadership Council, Mark Herdon, cautions us: “Mergers and acquisitions are notoriously difficult in any environment and post-Covid, they may be even harder. Setting aside political sabre rattling from the recently proposed ‘Pandemic Anti-Monopoly Act’ [which could also throw a monkey-wrench into your M&A plans], even the most skillful acquirers may be hard-pressed to navigate other real-time acquisition challenges.”

What does this mean for you?

Upleveling your M&A strategy means upgrading your M&A operating processes, playbooks, software solutions, skills, and resources to enable working remotely for any deal type, market environment, or deal volume. To support your crisis recovery strategic objectives, consider carefully any gaps you might need to fill.

Of course, shoring up your M&A capabilities need not require a long internal hiring process. Working with an external team that has significant skills and experience in the M&A space offers several advantages. Audacia Strategies offers a network of specialized partners who bring specific expertise, depth of resource, and proven experience. Check out our services to see how we can support you. 

Photo credit: Gino Santa Maria

best communications practices

A New Look at “Chaos is Our Brand” in Light of the Coronavirus Crisis

When Audacia Strategies CEO, Katy Herr, originally taped this interview with Dan Doran, CEO of Quantive, for his podcast The Deal—Unscripted, we had no idea just how relevant it would be now during the current crisis. A year later, we are living a case study in crisis communication and thought it was a good time to revisit some of the takeaways about best communications practices from that conversation.

1. Don’t Wait to Create a Strategy for Best Communications Practices

This recommendation applies as much to a wide-spread crisis situation like the Coronavirus pandemic as it does to a big company transition like a merger or acquisition. It never pays to procrastinate on creating a communications strategy.

If you find yourself without a clear strategy, you’re likely feeling the pain acutely in this moment. As far as we know, no one has invented a time machine, but there are some things you can do to develop a stop gap strategy:

  • Stay calm and present as you weigh your options.
  • Figure out who needs to hear from you, when.
  • Develop straightforward messaging that doesn’t promise more than you can deliver.
  • Make sure you have a designated team with assigned roles to streamline communications.

For more ideas, check out 5 Lessons from our Crisis Communications Playbook

Many of our clients contact us when they’re facing one of two situations: times of crisis or times of transformation—hence our unofficial tagline: “chaos is our brand.” This makes a lot of sense, but too often what we find is that if an organization hesitates to develop best communications practices and a communications strategy early enough, things can go off the rails quickly. 

At the risk of sounding too sales-y and mindful of the many hardships experienced during this time, here are a few of the benefits of using an outside communications firm:

  • An outside set of eyes gives you transaction experience, critical perspective, and unbiased advice when communicating your message to the outside world.
  • An outside firm is in a good position to place your organization in a broader context (i.e., the competitive set, the market, and your financial stakeholders), while you focus on running day-to-day internal operations.
  • An outside firm isn’t influenced by the “groupthink” or silo-ed communications that can be an obstacle to projecting the strongest public image.

Whether or not your organization ultimately decides to enlist the help of a firm like Audacia Strategies during this crisis or the next one, the most important thing you can do is start strategizing ASAP.

2. Think About Who Your Stakeholders Are 

In this moment of uncertainty, you are right to worry about accidentally leaving stakeholders off of your list of communications. One of the first rules of communications is to control the narrative. But if you hesitate to reach out to stakeholders or skimp on the stakeholder analysis, this is precisely the risk you take.

Remember that at its core communications is about storytelling. What is the best story you can tell to a particular set of stakeholders? Suppose the governor in your state has decided your industry is among those allowed to reopen, but you disagree with the reopen policy for your business. Your best bet is to be honest with your employees, customers, and investors. State your case and speak your truth.

Depending on whether you are a publicly or privately held company, stakeholders could include any or all of the following sets:

  • Employees
  • Customers
  • Financial stakeholders: 
    • Public debt holders and ratings agencies
    • Private equity companies and banks
    • Investors or shareholders
  • Community partners
  • Contributors (for non-profit organizations)
  • Business partners and service providers
  • Strategic partners
  • Government regulators and political community (local, state and federal) 
  • Media and industry influencers

3. Understand the Difference Between Marketing and Communications

This is especially important now when best communications practices may require a very light touch. If you think you can “get by” using your internal marketing department to craft crisis communications, you may want to reconsider. 

Marketing and strategic communications are different tools. Whereas marketing primarily focuses on telling the story of how your product or service will help your target customers, strategic communications partners can knit together the entirety of the business story to give investors and other stakeholders a comprehensive picture. As the experts in helping clients weather chaos, we have developed best practices over many transactions, crises, and change events.

Now is the time to ask big picture questions about how your market may respond to this crisis, how resources should be optimally redirected, and how investors, customers and employees should be engaged throughout. This is a great time to consider what has changed for your customers and employees and what you can offer as we begin to feel our way through life post-lockdown.

4. M&A Tips and Tricks

As we hopefully begin to see COVID-19 infection rates peak over the next several weeks and markets start to stabilize, many predict that M&A (mergers and acquisitions) will start to pick up in certain industries. This is, of course, assuming lawmakers on Capitol Hill don’t place a moratorium on big mergers—a conversation we’ll be monitoring closely.

There are still a lot of unknowns here, but if a merger is in your future, we work with corporate development teams, in-house financial teams, lawyers, and investment bankers helping them think through the market and storytelling from an M&A perspective. At its core, M&A is about risk, the ability to manage risk, and telling the story of how the acquisition fits into your broader business strategy and culture.

For example, if you’ve been working on a deal that has been in the preparation stages for months, should you call it off or push forward to completion? One thing is for sure: for companies that have built a healthy balance sheet during the economic boom of the past ten years, declining valuations create opportunities to pursue deals that create long-term value. While we can’t help you decide whether to hold or fold, we can help you communicate your decision.

Finally, we’ll leave you with some pitfalls and opportunities to consider when it comes to best communications practices during a merger or acquisition: 

M&A Pitfalls:

  • Companies that overpay: We have another blog post dedicated to this topic. Suffice it to say, if you overpay for an acquisition, it can create credibility issues with your investors, your Board of Directors, your employees…the list goes on. Negotiations can get emotional quickly but consider that the business strategy will have to support the valuation.
  • Cultural fit failure: We’ve seen it happen: a small start-up firm develops an amazing technology and gets bought by a huge firm looking to prove it’s innovative and “hip.” Then, within a year, all the original start up employees are gone. Avoid this kind of cultural disconnect by having an air-tight integration strategy from the beginning. Make sure you are walking your walk, so you can deliver on what you’re promising. (Pssst! Hot tip: Audacia Strategies has a new service rolling out to help avoid just this problem. Make sure you’re signed up to be among the first to get the details!)

M&A Opportunities:

  • Integration is key: The best M&A success stories are those where the merging leadership teams think about integration all the way along. When companies have a successful communications strategy that includes communicating the big vision well for both internal and external audiences, the proof is in the stakeholders’ response.
  • Customers see opportunities: Ideally, when two companies merge, customers say “this is exactly what I needed.” Rather than seeking out two solutions, for example, the customer gets one-stop-shopping from the new hybrid. It’s your job to help communicate this feeling across your stakeholder groups.
  • Employees see opportunities: And if you can also pull off a merger where employees in both companies see the transformation as good for their own careers, you’ve developed a winning communications strategy. Often employees of the smaller firm may feel anxious about being acquired. But if you can honestly demonstrate opportunities for career mobility, earnings potential, and other benefits of working for a larger company, it will go a long way toward easing transition tensions.

The above is only a sampling of the insights and best communications practices gained from Dan and Katy’s conversation. You can watch and listen to the 30-minute interview in its entirety, here

As everyone keeps saying, this crisis is unprecedented. Still, there is something to be said for working with a team that faces down chaos and keeps walking through the fire. We are here to help you figure out your next step and keep you moving forward. If you want to talk, we’re ready to strategize about your best next steps. 

Photo credit: https://www.123rf.com/profile_deagreez

timing corporate communications

How to Think About Timing Big Announcements in the Age of Uncertainty (3 Questions You MUST Ask!)

I first shared my thoughts about timing corporate communications back in December of 2016. The world looked very different then. We were still in the midst of the longest economic bull run in history. We were still shaking hands, going into the office, and not thinking twice about getting on a plane.

Yes, the corporate world looks very different today as we navigate the choppy waters of COVID-19. But best practices for when and how to make big announcements remain largely the same.

While it’s important to get the messaging right, when and how you say it matters as much—if not more than—what you say. So, let’s consider the big questions to ask before you drop a big announcement. 

1. Is your announcement subject to regulatory restrictions?

Markets may be a bit topsy-turvy at the moment, but you can assume that the existing federal regulatory rules of your industry still apply. There are rules regarding what you can communicate, to whom, when, and how. So make sure you brush up on the SEC disclosure requirements and the law relevant to your industry concerning timing corporate communications.

Also, make sure you stay up-to-date on the latest developments affecting your industry and any SEC statements about how they’re responding to the pandemic. This is especially crucial for firms subject to rules governed by The Division of Trading and Markets

Example: Material Announcements

Speaking of regulatory restrictions, Regulation Fair Disclosure (Reg FD) requires all publicly traded companies to release material information to all investors at the same time. Ideally, leadership would communicate the changes during a scheduled conference call with investors or a town hall meeting. Staying in touch with investors is critical.

In addition, to stay clear of Reg FD violations, remind directors, officers, and other corporate insiders that they should refrain from trading in the company’s securities until any risks that would be material to investors have been disclosed. The unknowns of COVID-19 put us in a fluid situation, so it’s even more important to stay vigilant here.

However, as always, if word of a material event or material information is inadvertently leaked to some investors or analysts (i.e., an “unintentional selective disclosure”), as soon as a senior company official learns of the disclosure, she is required to disclose the information publicly. Companies must make the announcement either (a) within 24 hours or (b) by the start of the next day’s trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

2. What are your competitors doing?

I know that you’re juggling a gazillion balls. But one of those balls has to be keeping an eye on the competition. I’m not asking you to be obsessed with your competitors—that’s not likely to be helpful either. Still, how much of a splash your announcement makes, whether positive or negative, at least partially depends on the behavior of your competition. So do pay attention.

If you have good news to share, you want to time the announcement carefully to capture as many likes, comments, and eyeballs as you can. With bad news, you want to be as transparent and complete as possible in your initial communications to avoid continually referencing the issue and detracting from your broader corporate strategy. 

Example: Product or Service Launch

Let’s say you have pivoted and are ready to roll out a new offering that will address an emerging need in your market. Sure, you are excited about the product or service. But if you rush to make the announcement without a solid strategy, you risk being overshadowed.

For example, suppose you suspect your competition might be working on a similar offering. Should you rush to beat them to market? While you might manage to steal their thunder by announcing early, you also need to think through the consequences of such a play. Could you lose credibility by putting out a product or service that hasn’t been thoroughly tested? Do you have a plan for dealing with a shouting match should your competitor start one?

While there’s no crystal ball to predict what opportunities are on the horizon, waiting a bit to make that big announcement can pay off. This is doubly true if your industry is experiencing extra volatility during this time.

In addition, if waiting to announce gives you time to gather crucial information about what your customer needs, this will ultimately result in a more successful launch. The benefits to rushing corporate communications here are few, while the costs can absolutely be a reputation killer.

3. Does your corporate communications policy respect your staff?

Communicating in a way that expresses empathy toward employees is key. Again, this isn’t just about the language of your messaging. It’s about timing corporate communications too. Some announcements affect your internal staff more than shareholders or the general public. Your employees and staff don’t deserve to hear bad news from external sources or through the rumor mill.

Example: Corporate Restructuring

When making an announcement like a corporate restructuring, it’s important not to take your staff for granted. Relationships internal to your company are as important, or even more important, than external partnerships if you want to come out of this reorganization with your corporate culture intact. If you focus on the interests of one group to the detriment of others being affected, you risk looking callous and insensitive.

So, follow this general rule: put as much thought into announcing corporate restructuring as you would into announcing a corporate acquisition. If layoffs are part of the strategy, be as transparent as you can about how you came to decisions about whom to let go and what this means for the company as well as individuals.

As with any external message, be mindful of how your internal announcement will affect your audience. Don’t let emotions get in the way. If you are the head of a division, the corporate restructuring might be bad news for you as well. But when you make the announcement to your team, be considerate of their feelings in hearing the news for the first time.

Having the right overall strategy for timing corporate communications takes a blend of planning, finding the right words, and practicing authentic human engagement. At Audacia Strategies, we have helped companies like yours find the right timing strategy for big announcements. Schedule a consultation to discuss your specific needs.

Photo credit: Canva Stock Images

crisis communications

COVID-19 and Your Response: 5 Lessons From Our Crisis Communications Playbook

I hope you are reading this post from a place of health and safety. In these uncertain times, we’re all feeling anxious and wondering how to communicate (or even whether to communicate) with stakeholders. By now, we’ve all heard the news about businesses around the world shutting their doors, volatile markets, social distancing, and flattening the curve

The threat from the new Coronavirus is really three threats in one: the threat of the disease spreading, the threat from a looming oil price war, and the threat of a global recession. While no one can claim to have all of the answers right now, it’s fair to say that investors, clients, and your team are expecting you to keep the lines of communication open.

In light of this crisis, it makes sense to revisit our previous blog articles about crisis communications and the lessons we learned when cooler heads prevailed. 

1. Stick to your crisis communications strategy.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know how often we discuss developing a crisis communications strategy for moments like these. Hopefully, you have a strategy in place. It may not be adequate, since no one predicted a crisis of this magnitude and we still don’t know how deeply it will cut. Nonetheless, use what you have, evolve as necessary (and it will be necessary), and note the weak points for future work.

Get comfortable with the idea that you’ll be in crisis mode for weeks or months at a minimum. Prepare your team to continue to iterate your strategy as new information becomes available. When you need to keep on walking through the fire, here are some tips:

  1. Focus on transparency and the truth.
  2. Work closely with your team to identify solutions.
  3. Do NOT stop communicating both internally and externally.
  4. Share your 360-degree strategy as it evolves.

2. Make sure to communicate with your internal team.

In addition to falling back on your strategy, focus on communicating with your team. First, approach all internal communications with a sense of empathy. Keep in mind that as concerned as you are about your firm and what this crisis means for future operations, your team is as worried about the firm, their families, and their own livelihoods. They need your strong leadership now more than ever. 

Follow the 5 G’s of walking through fire without getting burned:

  • Get to ground truth: You don’t know all the relevant facts, but be transparent about what you do know. Your team will appreciate you leveling with them, even if the truth is painful to hear.
  • Gather your team: Huddle together (over Zoom, of course) and listen to what your team has to say. Remember, you’re all in this together.
  • Give employees the support they need: Your employees on the frontlines of dealing with customers, clients, or investors during this crisis need to know you have their backs. Answer their questions, give them some talking points, and don’t say anything you wouldn’t want people outside of the firm to hear.
  • Go on the offensive: Now is not the time to hide. Be accessible and proactive in a way that feels authentic to your brand.
  • Grant trust: You’ve trained your team well. Now, trust their instincts and work with them to come up with solutions one challenge at a time.

3. Assess the damage and keep the data close.

The ultimate goal of crisis communication is to control your narrative and provide honest, transparent updates about your organization. Work with those within the firm who can analyze the data and provide you with a clear(er) picture. This way, your communications will be informed by what you know. Once you have a clear picture of the damage, you can tell your story. 

Now is also the time to consider your extended community. Consider every resource you can think of that may help you get through this crisis:

  • Reach out to traditional media outlets: If you have contacts in the news media, and if appropriate, reach out to let them know you are available for a conversation or interview.
  • Talk to your PR team: PR teams are designed to offer language for crisis communications. It may be tempting to be reactive and fire off a tweet storm, but you must resist this urge.
  • Seek legal counsel: Make a point of engaging with those who know your industry and can offer an outside perspective.
  • Identify and speak to key stakeholders: Ensure that your message is consistent and cognizant of what your stakeholders are hearing from public outlets. Be ready to combat any misinformation in a prudent manner.

4. Get through this crisis, yes, but take note of the lessons along the way.

After the economic crisis of 2008, many companies in the financial sector, especially, were motivated to develop crisis communications strategies. Since then, however, many have become complacent and they’re paying the price now.

All we can do is take an honest look at where we are now, hunker down, and get through this crisis. But along the way, make sure you take note of big lessons learned. On the other side of this, you want to be able to take a long hard look at your crisis response and come up with a solid plan for dealing with the next one. Remember, if you don’t figure out how to control the crisis, the crisis will control you.

Consider the following tips for the future:

  • If you’re having supply chain issues, think about how to diversify your supply chain. 
  • If you’re scrambling to help your employees figure out how to work from home, make sure a training program is included in the employee onboarding process.
  • If clients are canceling contracts, consider whether you can add a postponement clause into those contracts.

5. Do NOT over-promise.

When we’re not in crisis mode, we understand one principle of successful business is to under-promise and over-deliver. But during a crisis, we can go into fight or flight mode and in this heightened state of anxiety, it’s all too easy to make promises we can’t keep. Again, you’ll want to avoid this mistake at all costs.

For example, the travel industry has been hit especially hard at this time. But over-promising would only increase anger and anxiety for customers. Here’s a quote from an email from Tucker Moodey, President of Expedia,

“For those traveling now and with upcoming travel bookings, our teams are working around the clock to provide everyone the support they need. We are rapidly increasing the availability of travel advisors, enhancing our self-service options, and developing new automated ways for travelers to better manage their reservations. Our focus is helping travelers with immediate trips, and these improvements will allow all our customers to travel more confidently in the future.”

Notice how this paragraph focuses on what actions Expedia is taking, their strategy, and where their focus is in trying to make things as right as possible for their customers. Were they instead to promise that everything will be fine by the busy summer travel season—a promise they certainly can’t guarantee now—they would likely do more damage to their brand in these already turbulent times.

Our team at Audacia Strategies wishes you, your family, and your firm all the best. We are with you in weathering this period, holding our loved ones close, and looking out for our community. These are tough times and we wish a crisis communications plan weren’t a necessity for so many U.S. businesses and firms. We are here to answer any of your questions about corporate communications and investor relations. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Photo credit: langstrup

taking bold steps

Taking Bold Steps is Scary—Saddle Up Anyway

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”

John Wayne

This quote from America’s favorite cowboy resonates with me right now. In a previous blog article, I mentioned that one of my 2020 goals for Audacia Strategies is to continue to scale. As a team, we’re ready to take ourselves to the next level. 

Okay, you might be thinking, so if the team is ready…what’s with this talk about being “scared to death?” Well, taking bold steps can be scary—even for us! And even when you’re confident about your next best move, you may have doubts about the execution. So, let’s talk about what I’m doing to push ahead and lean into my strengths.

What does scaling Audacia mean for you?

Before we get to the business lessons for taking bold steps, it makes sense to talk about what scaling looks like for Audacia and how this will benefit our stakeholders. This will give us some context for discussing our plan and key takeaways.

As with everything we do, we’re always thinking about how we can serve our clients better. Here’s what scaling will allow us to do for our clients:

1. Replicate Successful Client Engagements

Scaling means having the ability to measure and then replicate successful client engagements more easily. Of course, each client is unique, but we bring an approach based on best practices and our experience that works. 

Individual wins are worthy of celebrating. But if we also take the time to examine what really works with an eye toward replicating that success, everyone wins.

2. Contribute Diversity, Experience, and Transparency

Key to scaling is mindfully building a team that not only works seamlessly together, but also brings more diverse perspectives, outstanding experience, and radical transparency to the table.

Audacia’s clients appreciate our unique philosophy of tough love, diplomacy, and truth-telling because taking bold steps means going in with your eyes wide open.

3. Go Broader and Deeper

As we scale, we are looking for ways to help our clients take their transformations to the next level. You have asked for expanded offerings and we’re ready to deliver. We’re adding to our  current service offerings in transformation, investor relations, and strategic communications.  

Scaling our team will allow us to expand our offerings to include, for example:

  • Corporate Responsibility Strategy
  • Voice of the Customer and Voice of the Employee 
  • Market and Competitive Analysis

We’ll also be able to provide deeper expert support on more complex projects and engage seamlessly across multiple stakeholder sets. Stay tuned for a future blog post about the key actions and attributes to consider when building a team.

4. Stay Accountable and Follow Through

Sharing our plans for scaling in this way means we’ll make it happen. Audacia Strategies—the name itself—inspires us to make bold moves and help our clients do the same. Just because we take bold steps, though, doesn’t mean we have no fear.

Taking bold steps can be scary, fear of failure is real! But fear is not a reason to stand still. It’s a sign that we’re on the cusp of something big.

What’s the plan?

  • Get Katy out of the way: It’s time to focus on engaging with the right support teams to identify and develop repeatable work processes. This way I can focus more fully on my role as CEO and my most valuable work with clients. 
  • Use technology to our advantage: We’ll explore project management tools, communication tools, calendaring tools, etc. that will help our team work better together. The trick here is not to add tech just to add it, but to add the tech that adds value. Strategic use of technology will keep us on track and connected. 
  • Establish regular feedback systems: Timely, useful feedback is the only way to make improvements and move forward. We’ll develop feedback systems both for working with clients and within the team.
  • Keep bringing on board the smartest, most interesting, and most candid team members! Got ideas for project managers, communications experts, and amazing business strategists? Send ‘em our way.

Lessons for Taking Bold Steps

How can you take these lessons and apply them to your business? Any transformation or transition phase can be a challenge because you are “operating without a net.” Still, there are steps you can take to make these times feel less chaotic. 

Whether you’re considering how to best scale your team or what bold moves will help you increase your market share, you can learn from what I’m doing to keep myself on track.

Here are the things that I’m working on that may help:

  • Focusing on high-value activities. As CEO, it’s imperative that I use my time most efficiently for the health of the business and that means making the high-value tasks my #1 priority.
  • Eliminating distractions. Related to the first point, I will separate the actions and activities that are mere distractions from those that actually facilitate accomplishing more for my clients (e.g., what can I delegate? Can I find a better workflow here?).
  • Looking for the right qualities. My vision for Audacia Strategies is building a team of people who are more than simply co-workers. So, I’ll be getting very clear on what makes a great teammate, not just a good employee.
  • Setting clear expectations for teammates…and for myself. 99% of business issues stem from a mismatch of expectations. I’m focused on being clear about my expectations and holding us all accountable.
  • Drawing clear boundaries in the business. Boundaries are respectful—with only 24 hours in a day, it’s important to acknowledge that we all have priorities beyond work and that should be respected and celebrated. As an example, technology enables us to do a lot, but it can also enable stressful behaviors such as feeling like we need to be always “on,” like we have to respond instantaneously, and that we have to work at 2am to “keep up”. Technology “off hours” are good!
  • Remembering that we are all more than our work. Personally, I know that I’m more creative, focused, and patient when I have had more sleep (questionable with 10-month-old twins, but #goals), more time with my family and friends, and more time for working out/reading/resting my brain.

We all know we need to take bold steps if we want to grow. So, the next time you start to feel that fear creeping up, have the courage to sit with it. Talk about it. (Maybe blog about it?) Seriously. What if instead of running away from that uneasy feeling, we decided to let it wash over us and really listened to what it was saying?

I’d love to hear your stories about taking bold steps. What’s the single best thing that you have done to make these transformative moments feel less chaotic? Leave a reply below.

Photo credit: nd3000