CEOs have different perspectives than average employees

One of the biggest challenges we face in employee communication is managing internal clients (usually leaders) who have strong preferences about what “good” communication should be.

The trouble is, these preferences are often misaligned with the communication needs of employees.

For example, because leaders deal with complex issues, they tend to advocate for communication that’s comprehensive and connects all the dots. Most employees, of course, prefer simple, straightforward communication that quickly conveys what’s changing and “what it means to me.”

There are many techniques you can use to persuade internal clients that their preferences are not necessarily the most effective communication strategy. Here’s one that I’ve used successfully: leverage demographic information to demonstrate how employees are different from leaders.

For inspiration, start with research from The Harvard Business Review, “Who’s Got Those Top Jobs?” The authors analyzed profiles of leaders in the top 10 roles of Fortune 100 companies to demonstrate how executives have changed over the past decade.

My interpretation: Leaders really haven’t changed much. They’re still very different from employees throughout the organization, especially those who work in such functions as manufacturing, retail, call centers and transportation.

Here are some key facts about Fortune 100 leaders today. For each, think about your leaders are similar and how your employees are different—and the implications for communication:

  • 30% are “lifers,” meaning they’ve worked at the same company their whole career (down from 45% in 2001).
  • The average number of years they’ve spent with their current employer: 16.9 (which is actually up from 15.2 years in 2001).
  • 65% of leaders in 2011 held graduate degrees (compared with 62% in 2001).
  • 24% of those with MBAs went to Ivy League schools.
  • Despite efforts to diversify senior leadership, most executives (83%) are still men.
  • Average age? For male executives, 54.8. (51.6 for women.)

Fascinating, isn’t it? Compare these demographics with those of your own leaders—and with your employee demographics. And think about ways to bring demographics into your conversations with leaders, to influence them to communicate in ways that meets employee needs, not their own preferences.


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