In our constantly changing business environment, one thing remains the same — employees want to hear from their organization’s leaders. People naturally look to decision-makers for answers, direction, and context. Fortunately, most leaders understand and embrace their central role in organizational communication. But some struggle with keeping people aware, informed, and motivated. In these situations, it helps to establish an effective leadership communication program.
What does this kind of endeavor look like? Every organization faces unique challenges and requirements, but these 5 strategies can help you move in the right direction:
An Action Plan For Better Leadership Communication
1. Establish Communication Roles
Effective leadership communication programs have a clear purpose and well-defined roles for leaders at every level in an organization. To start, specify roles for your CEO and members of the senior management team.
Typically, CEOs provide a company’s overall direction, while senior leaders translate abstract, high-level concepts and strategies into concrete, meaningful information. For example, the CEO will share annual business priorities. Then members of the senior leadership team articulate what those priorities mean for their business unit or functional group.
HOW TO GET STARTED:
Help leaders get invested in your program’s success by facilitating a workshop to ensure that everyone understands their specific communication role and how to fulfill it.
2. Make Your Company Strategy Memorable
When we measure employee knowledge of a company’s strategy, we often find that staff members are aware of the strategy, but aren’t sure how they contribute to it. Because leaders spend so much time working with peers to develop, refine, and update business strategy, they may have a blind spot when it comes to employee awareness.
HOW TO GET STARTED:
First focus on helping leaders see your company’s strategy from an employee’s point of view. Then work with them to package the message and connect the dots so employees better understand how they can contribute. Try these steps:
- Simplify: Distill the primary concept into a few words or a phrase that will resonate.
- Design: Bring the strategy to life by creating a one-page visual overview that leaders can use to illustrate this concept in meetings, events, and other forums.
- Collaborate: Encourage employees to participate in discussions about your strategy. This builds awareness, interest, understanding, and buy-in.
- Distribute: Share a printed version of your short-form strategy statement so employees can display it in their workspace. Make it especially memorable by printing the phrase on swag items people appreciate such as mouse pads, mugs, notepads, thermos bottles, or cell phone cases.
- Reinforce: Using predefined roles as a guide, ask leaders to refer to company strategy during everyday conversations. For example, suggest that department managers add clarifying statements like, “Here’s how this work supports our overarching strategy…” when they introduce new projects or request process improvements.
3. Leverage Channels That Drive Dialogue
Employees are always interested in opportunities to interact with leaders — from asking questions of the CEO to sharing ideas with the department heads. But tools that work well for desk-based employees may not be ideal for those in labs or manufacturing facilities. So, as you facilitate two-way communication between leaders and employees, be sure to choose a channel that aligns with your organization’s realities.
HOW TO GET STARTED:
Here are 5 dynamic channels that can help you foster interaction:
- Microblogging: Think of short narrative posts without titles, like long-form posts on Instagram and LinkedIn, or tweet threads on Twitter. Invite employees to add questions or comments to these posts.
- Coffee chats or snack breaks: Invite a small group of employees for an informal roundtable conversation over coffee or snacks like ice cream, popcorn, or energy bars/drinks.
- Medium-size meetings: Facilitate a group exercise that solves a known issue, featuring a higher-level leader as a participant.
- Large group forums: Showcase several leaders if possible, who can offer their unique perspectives on key challenges and interests. Build in polls and provide plenty of time for Q&A. Also, don’t forget to document the discussion and follow up on open items as well as any next steps. It may even be appropriate to redistribute all or part of the content from this meeting with others who didn’t attend in person.
- Internal social media platforms: Encourage employees to submit questions or suggestions whenever it is convenient for them. It may also be helpful to offer employees the option to participate anonymously. Monitor this online forum to ensure that appropriate leaders respond on a timely basis.
- Impromptu huddles: Host a five-minute conversation during a shift change or at the start of a day. (Even 5 minutes of casual face-to-face interaction can go a long way with employees!)
4. Develop Content Employees Crave
The best way to create meaningful content that employees want is to learn about their interests. Using easy measurement tools such as an online survey or a poll, ask people to identify topics they want leaders to explore. Then assign topics to appropriate leaders and channels as you develop communication plans.
HOW TO GET STARTED:
For example, when we conducted an intake survey for one of our clients, half of the employees said they wanted to hear more about issues and trends affecting their industry. So, the company added an “industry trends” segment to its town hall meeting agendas.
For topics that may not make an employee’s wish list, encourage leaders to weave in a personal connection with the subject matter, explain its relevance, and underscore its importance. This moves content beyond mere facts and descriptive information. It adds interesting context that employees can’t get anywhere else.
For instance, ask leaders to share:
- Their unique perspective on the topic
- A personal story that illustrates a key point. This can be about their work experience or career path, or it could be inspired by their family, hobbies, or community activities
- Reflections on experiences and conversations that influenced key decisions
- Lessons learned
Studies show that this type of insight is very inspiring and helpful to employees. Plus, hearing a leader open up and speak from the heart conveys authenticity and builds trust.
Also, remember to continuously assess the impact of this kind of communication via surveys and polls and adjust content accordingly. And when content is particularly successful, be sure to repackage it and redistribute it in other ways.
5. Celebrate Milestones and Successes
It’s no secret that employee engagement levels improve when people know their work is valued. Sincere recognition also has a direct impact on job satisfaction and workforce retention. However, busy leaders may unintentionally overlook opportunities to show appreciation. Internal communicators can close this gap by embedding recognition moments into existing leadership communication channels.
HOW TO GET STARTED:
Here are a few examples that work for our clients:
- Allocate time to recognize recent staff achievements at every department or team meeting.
- When a senior leader writes about a business win or key milestone, be sure the article mentions appropriate individuals or teams by name.
- To honor a significant business achievement, your CEO can send a timely, company-wide email message celebrating this success and encouraging others to congratulate everyone who contributed.
- When marking a major milestone in any employee’s professional or personal life, your CEO can send a handwritten note to the individual’s home.
A Final Word on Effective Leadership Communication
You can help leaders deliver consistent, high-impact communication when you commit to proven strategies like these. As a result, your organization can expect to benefit through increased organizational alignment, engagement, and productivity. And I guarantee that leaders and employees, alike, will appreciate your efforts.