I have been lucky enough to work with executives who understand the power of quality communication. Whether running a single office or multiple international locations, staff want to understand what their leadership is thinking. Leaders who lean into communication programs tend to have significantly higher approval ratings, their companies have less turnover, and employees feel they are part of a growth plan.
Over the years, we have seen a fundamental shift in the willingness of executives to share. Knowledge is power has evolved to having and sharing knowledge being the cornerstone of reputation and influence, and therefore power. Long are the days when someone from head office would come to a satellite location and speak in a very general context. Today, that is not good enough.
A primary function of executive communication is to keep employees engaged and informed. That can come in many forms, and when developing a roadmap for communication, it is essential to consider different interactions. It may include formal settings, such as all-hands meetings to discuss strategic initiatives and performance, updates about organizational changes, company newsletters, and internal memos about policy changes. They can include informal communication like using messaging apps and intranets where collaboration is welcome and more time is spent welcoming new hires, celebrating work anniversaries, or sharing details on winning new business.
These programs take work, and it is vital to understand the executive’s persona and align it with programs that are most likely to succeed while stretching them in areas where employees are most likely to feel part of the process.
I worked with a CEO who visited all the regional offices annually. In his mind, getting the office together for a dinner where he presented the performance of the company and an idea for the future provided the best opportunity for employees to hear from him and his expectations for the coming year. Unfortunately, that was not what the employees wanted. Many felt the dinner out was an intrusion on their time and that the CEO was distant even when in the same room. The employees did not understand what the company was trying to accomplish when the communication program consisted of one office meeting and a few random emails throughout the year.
I worked with another executive who disliked visiting all the offices to do a state of the union. He thought it was generally a waste of time and was not uncomfortable doing it. He knew how important communication was when dealing with over 1,000 employees and found his niche with weekly updates. In essence, he created the company’s executive blog. He was able to provide the updates he wanted authentically and unobtrusively, which, as a by-product, saved the company tens of thousands of dollars annually and allowed him to visit offices with specific purposes in mind. When the pandemic occurred, he did not need to change his approach as it was ingrained in him and the company.
We live in an information-rich world. Our minds are constantly dancing between different notions using a variety of tools. The most effective communication programs have the same things in common: consistency, authenticity, clarity, conciseness, adaptability, transparency, and encourage feedback. The tools depend on culture, style, messaging, timing, and strategy. Understanding the executive is what makes it successful.