Jack Welch speaks with his fists (courtesy of MinnPost)
Charity begins at home. Likewise, a company’s mission, vision, goals and brand values must start with its employees.
The challenge however is that we’re so fixated with getting the right “message” across to customers, shareholders, and the media that we forget what its like to speak to our team.
Love it or loathe it, employee communication is the most important form of communication that you need to do.
If your team members do not understand, appreciate or believe in what you have so painstakingly cobbled together (often with expensive consultants), your efforts could come to nought.
Internal Communication Channels Revisited
What should leaders do then?
Well, there are various communication platforms and channels to reach out to your colleagues (honestly, I prefer this term to the archaic “staff”). They include newsletters, speeches, town hall gatherings, posters, Intranet articles, and occasional emails from the boss.
You can also organise smaller huddles like tea or drink sessions with groups to understand their concerns, draw out ideas and build bonds. Have a party and invite everyone.
Perhaps you can even start a blog and get your direct reports to direct their direct reports to read it (or weep).
The challenge, however, isn’t in the WHERE and WHEN your message gets delivered. Rather, it lies in the WHYs, HOWs and WHATs of internal communication.
Before putting hand to keyboard or mouth to mic, here are a few “Cs” that needs to be considered in effective employee communication:
Ensure that your strategic goals are clearly and unambiguously articulated. This includes your vision, mission, values, brand promises and service intents.
If you’re announcing quarterly results or outcomes, make sure that you are unequivocal in calling a spade a spade.
Anything that is perceived to be woolly will not break ice with your employees. At the same time, do not try to fudge and pretend that everything is OK when it isn’t.
It isn’t just how well crafted your strategy is, but how much it resonates with what’s happening on the ground.
One of the major failures in many organisations stem from their leadership’s inability to say what they mean, and mean what they say. Alignment is critical between what the top does and how it cascades down to the rank-and-file.
You need to walk the talk, and talk the walk.
Rome isn’t built in a day. Neither is employee buy-in and commitment.
Communication needs to be done on a regular basis, using channels that are appropriate for the task.
Instead of doing a few major big “pow wows” a year, with elaborate light, sound and stage systems, consider doing periodic little email messages, smaller group gatherings and meetings with the CEO.
Like love, its the regular little things which count.
Humans are great readers of body language, tone of voice and facial expressions.
If you are not passionate about the message that goes out, neither will your team members.
Good leaders do not just speak with their mouths, but engage with their bodies. They know that getting the message across doesn’t just lie in choosing the right words to say, but also in demonstrating the right behaviours.
The most important thing for CEOs, directors and managers to do is to speak normally. Like how you would talk to somebody face-to-face.
The more spontaneous and less scripted (or at least less scripted sounding) a speech is, the better. A great example of this is Steve Jobs, whose product presentations appear like a friend speaking to you even though they’re elaborately choreographed affairs.
Your tone of voice and style makes a huge difference in how your message is perceived and received. In this day and age, nobody really wants to listen to a stiff, formal and solicitous speech.
Except perhaps the folks in North Korea (although I doubt that they have a choice).
Contrary to popular belief, employee communication isn’t preaching from the pulpit.
Instead, it is more like street evangelism – a two way dialogue where you actively solicit inputs and feedback to ensure that they understand and appreciate what’s being conveyed.
Here, I’d like to suggest that leaders make an effort to listen first before they talk. Yes, I know it is difficult – speaking from my own experience – for managers to wait until everybody around the table has said their piece.
However, effective communication is always a two way process. It’s about two or more parties understanding and appreciating what they’re saying to one another.
Are there other Cs which are vital to the internal communication process for organisations? I’d love to hear your thoughts.