Updated: May 1, 2018
Leadership is the cornerstone of a strong company and good corporate culture. Which is why understanding the WHY of an executive message is the most important step. From there, actually writing it will fall into place.
An executive message is a way of addressing an audience and reinforcing or reaffirming their confidence in you and your company. It’s in many ways a piece of persuasive text. You want them to trust you, to believe in your goals, and to support your mission.
My first experience in writing an executive letter was after a company had survived near bankruptcy. They were struggling financially but were committed to turning the company around. For the first time in the company’s history they had decided to create an operations manual and a three-year strategic plan. This would guide them out of a difficult year and into a stronger future. Each of these documents featured a letter from the president. The purpose of this letter was one that would connect with the employees and financial intuitions to show them that the executives would and could turn the business around.
So with your WHY in mind it’s time to look at: who’s it for, how to say it, what to include, how long it should be, and how to present it.
Who’s it for
An executive message or letter can be for a number of different stakeholders. It can be for your employees, your customers, you executives, and a result it can take many forms. An executive message can be found in an annual report, strategic plan, operations manual, or as some executives practice, a weekly motivational company-wide email.
No matter how the executive message is delivered or who the audience is, it shouldn’t be treated as a mandatory requirement or a formality. It should be a way of emotionally connecting with your audience by reminding them of the good work you are doing and ultimately how you are making the world a better place. The letter should also set the tone or theme for the rest of the report.
How to say it
This message isn’t just about facts but it’s also about emotional appeal. It should be a combination of ethos, pathos, and logos.
Ethos: is an appeal to ethics – it depends on credibility and expertise as persuasive techniques.
Pathos: is an appeal using emotion – it creates an emotional response to convince the audience.
Logos: is an appeal to logic – it depends on logic and facts to persuade the audience.
The message needs to showcase the executive’s leadership abilities. While these messages are standard practice in large corporation’s, they can be an-after thought or a not-at-all thought in small businesses. Just the act of writing the letter, in itself, will showcase leadership. But to truly inspire your team, you investors, or your customers, you need to do more than just recap the facts. Highlight the good the company is doing, the difference they are making, and be sure to thank everyone for the role that they play in supporting that.
What to include
An executive message does not need to cover everything. That’s why it’s typically the preface to a larger report. Typically, a message from the executive should include:
Overall focus of the last year
Highlight major accomplishments
Emphasis for the current or coming year
In addition to these elements, I like writing executive messages that make reference to the past. Messages that highlight the company’s story and how they got to where they are today. This is a great way of acknowledging that there are many people to thank for the company’s continued success, some of them may even still be with the company. It’s also important to be very transparent. Customers and employees are now demanding transparency from the companies in their lives. By recognizing past missteps or difficult times, you show the human side of the business which can connect with many people. Of course, the content of the executive message will always depend on the objective of the message and its intended audience. So keep that in mind, when trying to decide what to include.
I also can’t stress enough the importance of writing the message in the first person. Do not write that Mr. Doe, or the CEO, felt it was a great year. This will alienate your audience. Instead, write that you are excited about the opportunities that lie ahead and that you appreciate everyone for their dedication. Writing in the first person versus the third person doesn’t change the content of the message but it will change how the message is received. I also recommend including the executive’s signature. Do not just print their name. Having the signature makes the letter more personal and, therefore, more relatable to the audience.
How long it should be
The length of the message again depends on the purpose and the audience. However, I recommend treating it like an executive summary for a report. Highlight what the report will talk about and keep it short. In my experience, I like keeping the executive to one page with about 5 paragraphs. Also keep these paragraphs relatively short. Three to five sentences will be a great length. You don’t want your audience to lose interest, especially if this is the first page of a larger report.
How to present it
How this message is presented isn’t always a high priority. Structuring it in a standard letter format on a white piece of paper is standard practice. However, I have found that the more successful executive message’s feature a picture of either the executive or the company or both. I also recommend highlighting pieces of important text. Enlarge the font size of an impressive statistics or quote. Chance the text colour in emphasize it’s important. This will help the audience receive the message and understand the key lessons you want them to take away from the letter. It also helps add to the emotional appeal discussed earlier.