How CEOs can avoid ‘doublespeak’​ with their teams

Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

Here's one thing I constantly advise CEOs about internal communications: Talk to your team differently than you talk to the public. Bring them under the curtain. Don't ever let your team feel like you're spinning them or marketing to them. Employees don't want press releases, they want authenticity.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai acknowledged this during a recent town hall. He read a note he received from an employee who wrote: "Double speak is disrespectful and frustrating...bad things happen, no need to make every bad thing sound like a miracle."

His response to the feedback was notable: “I think it’s important to understand at our scale, pretty much all communication are public in nature. You’re speaking to the world and there are many, many stakeholders and so at times, nuance is important and words can have a material impact and I think sometimes you see that reflected in some of the communications.”

This is exactly why CEOs struggle to communicate as their companies grow. When the whole company can fit around a conference table, it's easy to be completely open and transparent. The stakes are lower, and there's no chance of a leak that could impact shareholder sentiment or even create legal problems. This transparency and authenticity creates a sense of camaraderie and common purpose.

As the spotlight gets brighter, it's impossible to completely replicate this intimacy at scale.

But the truth is that communicating in an over-packaged, inauthentic way usually isn't a strategic decision, it's a lazy one. Employee communications often gets the least amount of attention, and at the end of a busy day, most CEOs are ok with sending out the overly polished and manicured Slack message or email that someone wrote for them.

This can seem like the safest and easiest choice, but it constructs a wall between employees and the C-suite. Employees are incredibly savvy. They want to be treated like adults. And when they are, they are far more likely to feel and act like owners in the company.

Here's how CEOs can thread this needle: give real thought to every internal message (and imagine your words leaked and reported in the media). But don't let this possibility turn into fear, and never let others polish your words beyond recognition. Rely on your team of advisors, but keep control over your words and message.

You can't outsource authenticity. Only you can make sure that the things you say are fully yours.

— David Meadvin, CEO, Day One