Leaders can validate aspects of the employee experience, like internal communications platforms, company-wide initiatives, or employee gatherings simply by participating.
When C-suite or mid-level leaders choose not to participate, it sends an equally loud message to employees. Whether your team realizes it or not, leadership communication and participation directly affect how employees perceive and value corporate initiatives.
Enabling leadership to engage with your workforce is key to any successful internal communications strategy. Leaders already have a variety of time-consuming responsibilities, so participation in internal communications needs to be easy. Below are four tips to adjust your internal communications strategy to encourage leadership communication.
Ask what employees want
I often hear leaders say they don’t know what their employees want to hear. It may sound simple, but if you don’t know what employees want to know about you or your business, you should just ask. There’s an old adage that says you must ask three times to get your question answered. And it often takes three times to get to the truth of what employees want to know.
Start simple and ask, “What do you want to know?” The first time, employees might respond, “Oh I don’t know. Just, I guess, company information.” Ask a second time and they may say, “You know, I’d really like to know more about sales and why that department is structured that way.” Ask a third time, and you may get a more detailed answer, “Why did you decide to expand the sales department, but not the marketing department?”
By removing your assumptions and simply asking, you can deliver internal communications messages that are valuable to employees. Furthermore, you can ask where and when they want those communications as well. That way you can meet employees on the internal communications channel they prefer.
Asking is the best way to get specific topics of interest from your employees. However, there are a few basics that most employees want from corporate communications:
- They want to hear from leaders.
- They want to know about the business.
- They want to understand where the company is going.
If the CEO or another subject matter expert can give them those answers and the “why” along with it, all the better.
Related: Embrace the Informal for Effective Internal Communication
One way to hit several of these topics with minimal effort is to post a link to an article with a brief summary or explanation of what was significant to you. Sharing this type of content on your company’s intranet, newsletter, or enterprise social network is a great way for leaders of all levels to show more of their human side without getting caught up in the red tape of corporate communications.
Leaders often spend more time reading about business strategy and their company’s industry than the average employee. Sharing that information can help raise your employees’ business acumen while helping them to feel informed and connected to the company’s journey, even if you don’t see them on a daily basis.
Shrink your corporate world
Too often C-suite leaders are perceived as elusive figureheads in an ivory tower, distant and remote. Even mid-level managers can seem impersonal if they don’t spend much one-on-one time with employees. Regular leadership communication helps shrink the corporate world and humanize leaders.
One of my favorite examples of humanizing leadership comes from a Bonfyre community where the leadership of a large company was introducing a big change to their employee population. The CEO added a touch of levity and humanity when he posted a photo of him and his wife taking a ballroom dance class, something he’d dreaded but overcome. The snippet of his life outside of work was well received by employees and created a conversation about change and leaving your comfort zone.
Having an understanding of a leader as an individual, not just a figurehead, allows the leader to say “I’m passionate about this because of X, Y, and Z and this relates to where we want to go as a business.” Rather than just saying, “We’re going in this direction” like some leaders do. Having an understanding of a leader as an individual changes our perceptions of their actions.
Delegate and trust
Corporate communications can often be a death by committee situation. Even drafting something as simple as an announcement can involve several parties like the CEO, the CEO’s assistant, the legal department, and writers from the corporate communications department. All this red tape can slow down the process, removing the human element of leadership communications.
With this type of structure, when leaders want to communicate, they always have to start from scratch and their messages may take days or even weeks to reach employees. However, some of the best companies realize the importance of communications enough to create an internal communications engine that’s always running and available, week-in and week-out, year-round.
One great example of leadership communication is a Bonfyre client that has an informed C-suite that participates regularly, but delegates the day-to-day aspects of internal comms to those who truly have the time and capacity to be knee-deep in it. Their leaders make it a priority to like or comment on a few posts to engage with the community at least once a week. This maintains a leadership presence within the company communication channel, rather than just popping in for big announcements once or twice a year.
By delegating to people who have the time and expertise to keep the internal communications engine running, those leaders have a strong messaging framework they can tap into any time they need. They also demonstrate that they trust their team to deliver accurate messages to the company. With the engine of communication in place in advance, they don’t have to start from scratch every time they want to share a new bit of information.
Establish a leadership communication habit
Leaders’ time is often overallocated. The aforementioned committee structure is a solution that attempts to address this issue. Delegating communications can help, but it’s a catch 22. Leaders need help to get their messages out, but that help can dilute the messages so much they no longer feel like they are authentically from the leader.
With digital platforms, leaders can instantly reach and establish personal relationships with more employees. Gone are the days of having to shake a bunch of hands at the annual conference or town hall. Now leaders at all levels can interact with employees without having to be physically present in the same room with them. Put simply, modern communication tools allow you to establish a personal touch with more employees with less work.
Impacting your employees, even in a minute way, used to take hours, days, or weeks. Now thanks to technology, you can do it while you wait for your coffee to brew. Leaders can open an app, pop into four different communities and like or comment on a handful of posts. These simple actions can make dozens of employees feel heard, appreciated, and connected in just a few moments of a leaders’ time.
It’s a simple habit to establish, just like checking your email. The truth is, we are all already doing it. We already open an app every time we get out our phones. The key for leadership is to form the habit of opening the communications platform to like or comment on a few items each day. This demonstrates to employees that their leaders are invested in them. It can make a significant impact every single day, with the addition of a small habit.
It’s important for leaders to not only understand the internal communications strategy within their organization but to participate in it to validate the importance of corporate communications to employees. Encouraging and enabling leaders at all levels to participate in both formal and informal internal communications can create an open dialogue that brings a great return with a small investment of time.