Language is core to the way any organisation expresses it brand and culture. If you make your communication work for your readers, then you can expect better results.
Tone has an important role. It conveys the personality and values. The best business writing is simple to understand, but not too simplistic. Most readers are juggling demands and don’t have time for complex jargon. Tailor communication to your audience. Formal or folksy is easy enough to determine.
In either case, get to the point quickly. You need to get them at “Hello”. If it’s not relevant from the start, you’ll lose them. Stay positive, and keep sentences short. Let verbs do the heavy work.
Think of your customers' pain points. Wouldn’t you rather receive communication that is plain speaking, honest and supportive? A pragmatic, helpful and economic style devoid of waffle makes the best use of your customers’ precious time.
Tone is also about culture and leadership. Satya Nadella transformed the culture, restored morale and reversed the decline of Microsoft. It was a result of the tone he adopted. In succeeding Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer as CEO, Nadella had to address Microsoft’s long-standing reputation of corporate infighting. Wall Street and Silicon Valley regarded the Microsoft Nadella inherited as fading towards irrelevance. When Ballmer announced his intention to retire in August 2013, a Bloomberg story about the search for a successor was simply titled “Why You Don’t Want to Be Microsoft’s CEO”.
Since then, Nadella has not only restored Microsoft to relevance; he’s generated more than $US250 billion in market value. Nadella inspired the company’s 124,000 employees to embrace what he calls “learn-it-all” curiosity, as opposed to what he describes as Microsoft’s historical know-it-all bent. This, in turn, inspired developers and customers – and investors – to engage with the company in new, more modern ways.
Questioned on working with his predecessors, Nadella is quoted as saying: “Bill’s not the kind of guy who walks into your office and says, ‘Hey, great job’. It’s like, ‘Let me start by telling you the 20 things that are wrong with you today’.” Ballmer’s technique, he added, is similar.
Nadella believes humans are wired to have empathy and his style is to invoke it. Which brings us back to “operation normal”, and a state government media conference last month for the Newcastle light rail.
Herald reporter: "You committed four years ago to release a business case for the extensions, and we still haven't seen it."
Transport Minister Andrew Constance: "Well, ah, sorry, which media outlet are you from?". Reporter: "Newcastle Herald."
Premier Gladys Berejiklian: "Yeah, that's normal for them. That's just operation normal …”
Spoken or written, the tone is hard to avoid.
Taxpayers, including business people in the Newcastle CBD and the Herald, are state government “clients”. The business case, if it exists, may well stand up, but why alienate its clients? Empathy was apparent in mainstream and social media reaction.