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Lead with a clear message

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

To encourage his employees to think creatively, James Stern didn’t bring in high-priced consultants or waste their time investing in expensive retreats. Instead, he stated a simple goal that everyone could instantly understand.

Stern makes movies. He’s chairman and chief executive and Endgame Entertainment, an independent production company in Beverly Hills.

After founding the company in 2002, Stern told his staff that he wanted to make movies that “I’d pay to see twice,” he told a film festival audience in a June 2009 speech. “Give me Slumdog [Millionaire] over Transformers any day.”

The directive to create films that people would “see twice” gave everyone a clear sense of mission. They knew that special effects don’t resonate with most viewers as much as a compelling story with rich characters that people care about. Endgame has produced and/or financed Hotel Rwanda, Proof and the Golden Globe-winning I’m Not There.

To make a point about managing change, Stern doesn’t lecture people about accepting different paradigms or have them read silly books about mice chasing cheese. Instead, he tells stories that sink in.

For instance, he cites Herschel Walker’s training regimen when he played professional football. In the off-season, Walker arranged to dance with the Ballet Company of Fort Worth. Why?

“I have to use a completely different set of muscles when I dance,” Walker said.

Stern emphasizes the value of building a different set of muscles in his business as well. This nimble approach fosters an openness to change.

Finally, Stern reminds us of the importance of thinking in threes. In his June speech, he presented three rules for success in his industry. He knows that people tend to retain a trio of ideas more easily than a longer list.

When you want your message to stick, organize it in threes. Then summarize your three points and hold employees accountable for follow-through.

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