In a business environment that is constantly changing, one thing remains the same: employees want to hear from leaders. Employees look to their leaders for answers, direction and context. The good news is most leaders understand the important communication role they play, but some leaders struggle with informing and motivating employees.
Internal communicators can help leaders by establishing a strong leader communication program. While every organization has unique challenges and communication needs, employ these five strategies to take leader communication to the next level:
1. Establish communication roles
An effective leadership communication program has a clear purpose and defined roles for each level of leaders in your organization. To start, think about communication roles for the CEO and the senior leadership team (the group that reports to the CEO).
Typically, CEOs provide the company’s overall direction and senior leaders make abstract, high-level information concrete and meaningful. For example, the CEO will share the annual priorities, and members of the senior leadership team will articulate what the priorities mean for their departments/teams.
Get leaders on board with their roles by facilitating a workshop to ensure they understand their specific communication role and how to fulfill it.
2. Make the company strategy memorable
When we measure employees’ knowledge of their company’s strategy, we often see that employees are aware of the strategy, but they don’t understand how they contribute to it. Leaders spend so much time on the business strategy (developing it and working through issues with peers) that they often have a blind spot when it comes to employees.
Start by helping leaders see the strategy from the employees’ point of view. Then, work with leaders to simplify the strategy and connect the dots so employees better understand how they contribute.
Here are five steps to get there:
- Simplify: Try to boil down the main concept of the strategy to a few words.
- Design: Bring the strategy to life with visuals by creating a one-page overview that leaders can refer to in meetings.
- Collaborate: Involve employees in discussions about the strategy. This will build understanding and buy-in.
- Distribute: Share a printed version that employees can hang in their workspace. Make it really memorable by printing a version of the strategy on company SWAG, like mouse pads, notepads and cell phone cases.
- Reinforce: Refer to the defined communication roles and look for opportunities for leaders to tie day-to-day topics back to the company strategy. For example, “Here’s how this work supports the strategy.”
3. Use channels that drive dialogue
Employees continue to look for opportunities to interact with leaders—from asking the CEO questions to sharing ideas with the department heads. When trying to encourage more two-way communication between leaders and employees, align the channel with the group. After all, what works well for desk-based employees may not be the best tool for employees who work in labs or manufacturing.
Here are six dynamic channels and how to use them to foster interaction:
- Microblogging (think short posts without titles, like tweets on Twitter): Offer employees the ability to comment on posts.
- Coffee chats or snack breaks: Invite a small number of employees for an informal conversation over coffee or snacks like ice cream, popcorn or energy bars/drinks.
- Medium size meetings: Facilitate a group exercise that solves an issue.
- Large group forums: Build in polls and provide plenty of time for Q&A.
- Internal social media platform: Encourage employees to submit questions whenever they want.
- Impromptu huddles: Host a five-minute conversation during a shift change or the start of a day. (Those five minutes go a long way with employees!)
4. Develop content that employees crave
The best way to create meaningful content that employees want is by asking employees. Use measurement tactics such as a survey or a poll to gather topics that employees are interested in learning about from their leaders. Then, look for ways to integrate those topics across channels that feature leaders. For example, our firm conducted a survey where half of the employees said they wanted to hear more about issues/trends affecting their industry. So, the internal communicator added “industry trends” to every town hall agenda.
For topics that may not make an employee’s wish list, encourage leaders to make the content more personal and describe relevance (why this is important to us). By doing this, the content delivers more than just the facts. It shares interesting context they can’t get anywhere else.
Ask leaders to share:
- Their unique perspective on an industry matter.
- A personal story related to a topic—this could be about their family, hobbies, work experience/career path.
- Lessons learned.
- Reflections of experiences and conversations that influenced key decisions.
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.
Remember to continuously assess leader communication via surveys and polls and adjust content accordingly.
5. Celebrate milestones and successes
It’s no secret that employees’ engagement levels are higher when they know their work is valued. While leaders may unintentionally overlook showing appreciation due to their many responsibilities, it is vital to prioritize recognizing employees' contributions as it positively impacts their engagement and overall satisfaction at work.
Internal communicators can ensure this critical piece doesn’t get overlooked by embedding recognition moments into existing channels.
Here are a few examples of how to implement this idea:
- Include a recognition moment on the agenda of department/team meetings.
- When the CEO or a leader writes a blog about a key milestone, ensure the person or team that contributed to the success is named.
- Mail cards from the CEO to employees’ homes to celebrate a milestone—from an impressive service anniversary to winning an award.
- Send a “thank you” or “job well done” email from the CEO to individual members of a team behind a major success.
Helping leaders create impactful communication is possible when incorporating these proven strategies. Leaders—and employees—will thank you. By implementing these strategies, organizations can experience numerous benefits. Effective leadership communication leads to improved employee engagement, increased productivity and enhanced organizational alignment.