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Wednesday, 31 October 2012 00:00

Leaders need to take charge of communication

Leaders need to take charge of communication

Much is written about the importance of leadership within an organisation – how essential it is to the sustainability and growth of a company – and what makes a good leader.  CEOs and directors attend countless courses on leadership, strategy and innovation, and how to lead their companies boldly in the 21st Century.

Yet as a leader, do you actively share your vision and company strategy with staff?  I’m not referring to sharing with the board of directors or the Exco – they already know this because they were involved in the development of the strategy. I mean REALLY sharing with ALL levels of staff within the organisation, all the way down to the receptionist.  Without sharing this vision – without communicating it and obtaining buy-in from all staff– you will merely be trying to steer a large ship without the help of a crew.

Your company may employ an internal communication specialist whose job it is to develop and execute creative internal communication strategies. But it’s not their job to set the tone for communication within a company, or to decide how much or how little is shared. That is your job.

It’s time internal communications was elevated to grander status. Company leaders need to recognise that staff want to know what’s going on at a more strategic level so that they can help deliver on the strategy.  Indeed, being involved at this level makes staff feel that they are being included in something important; and it motivates them to want to work towards the achievement of the firm’s vision and goals.  Not communicating the company strategy and other key information is a missed opportunity to influence and energise employees.

“Internal communication,” says Rona Fairhead, CEO of The Financial Times Group, “is about making people feel part of an organisation – rather than cogs inside a big machine who don’t really know what they’re moving towards.”

Internal communication provides clarity of purpose to everyone within the organisation.  It assists with managing change or transformation – and if you already have a strong internal communications programme, it will be so much easier to tap into it in times of real need.

Keep it personal

One of the keys to successful internal communication is authenticity, to “keep it personal”.  Today, employees have increased access to information and communicators need to break through a lot of “noise” to connect with and engage them. As a leader, there are many ways to communicate creatively and personally with staff, whether you roll up your sleeves and sit on the desk, with 20 or 30 people at a time, or whether you email everyone once a quarter.  Staff want to feel as though they have a personal relationship with you.

As a leader you also have a responsibility to ensure your leadership team shoulders their share of the communication mantle.  Steve Jobs was almost fanatical in his insistence that the different “parts” of Apple work together. He did not even like calling the parts of his company “divisions” (marketing division, finance divison, etc).  He believed this led to actual division within the company because if staff were not forced to share with each other then they would not work together for the common good of the entire company and all its products.

Fostering trust

One of the positive spinoffs of good communication is that it fosters trust.  If you tell me something of value or importance I believe you trust me with that information.  It’s the same for leadership: share the good things with staff when times are good because this is when you will build the trust that will be needed in hard times, when you really need your people to trust you.

Yet, internal communication is not only about sharing good news.  It’s important to be open and honest with staff and to talk about the “bad news” too.  The captain of a ship HAS to share bad news with the crew so that they can help steer the ship away from danger.  The same applies to the leader of a company.

It works both ways

Internal communication is not only about the CEO or the leadership communicating downwards to the staff.  If you are serious about communication in your organisation you should establish channels for staff to communicate openly with you and other leadership executives.  In fact if there is a culture of trust within the company, this is just as important as the top-down communication.

Published in Leadership
Defining ‘Employees’ in 2012 – And How to Engage Them

Over the past twenty years, everything that companies have deemed ‘the norm’ for workforce behaviour has changed. Employees no longer sign up for a lifelong career, the leadership term for the average CEO is five years or less, and competitive advantage is driven by continuous innovation. If the natural state of business is a continuous flux, how can companies rely on their employees to drive their vision - if employees see their positions as temporary?

In 2012, it is no longer possible (or desirable) to create ‘jobbers-for-life.’ This has driven the evolution of new tools for leadership in its struggle to find ways to engage and utilise the resources that employees offer. This has included internal marketing. The discipline is no longer a blunt retention tool. Rather, it is a precision sabre that should be focused on escalating employee engagement quickly and creatively - in order to maximise productivity and innovation in short time spans.

So, what does the average employee in 2012 expect as a basic pre-requisite?

Firstly, communication is not an end in itself – it must be effective communication. In an instant, interactive and visual age where everyone has a cell phone and is on a social network – the medium of communication has become critical to cutting through the clutter.

The regularity and nature of communication emanating from leadership is essential. The biggest reason for the changes in hierarchy is that everyone - not just the CEO ­- has access to information. This means that the authority of the executive team must come from different sources. These include authenticity, honesty, insight and timeliness – as they are unique qualities that leadership can bring.

The counter is also true. Organisations that are not democratic about their information will lose the loyalty of employees because information will soon be leaked to other sources – usually via the Internet. Keeping information to themselves leads organisations to their own demise, forcing employees to trust external sources.

Thirdly, employees want companies that are engaged not only with them but with the society in which they live. According to tomorrowtoday.uk.com, 83% of 20-somethings and young employees will trust a company more if it is socially and environmentally responsible. Seventy-nine percent want to work for a company that cares about how it impacts and contributes to society. Internal marketing that supports the employees’ own view of the world and their value systems are far more likely to create lasting, productive relationships with employees. It’s no longer about the company’s message filtering down but about responsive action to the employee voice.

Internal marketing is no longer optional. In a world of product parity and high people mobility – a sound internal marketing strategy can manifest competitive advantage where none exists. But to make your employees a differentiator requires the following: a sound strategy; the company stipulates a financial commitment to engaging employees as a cost-of-doing business and not simply as a PR exercise; that employees are engaged on a continuous basis and not only at crunch time; and importantly, that different platforms and mediums are used not simply to communicate but to connect with employees in new and creative ways.

When last have you or your workforce felt intrigued by a development at work? When last have they been so inspired as to tweet about it without prompting. When last have you seen mobile communication, flash animation, e-cards, webcams, videos and portals integrated into an internal marketing programme – something that you and your employees experience elsewhere on a daily basis via YouTube, Facebook, etc?

Using every platform possible and engaging with employees builds excitement – it not only motivates but gets the employee to really sell the company. For example, if security of tenure and a pension fund is no longer what people are working for – then let’s find new ways to reward them. And one of the simplest ways for any company is to facilitate experiences (not just work experience but life experiences) and to share the wealth of knowledge inherent in an organisation. Organisations that allow the employee to share the value generated in terms of knowledge, technology, experience and exposure through strategic and tactically-clever internal marketing will be rewarded with employees who don’t simply fill seats - but actually apply their minds to their jobs.

Internal Marketing Campaigns: Can You Put A Number To It?

Can we create a measure for internal marketing campaigns? That’s the eternal question and it still remains pretty tricky. However, the evolution of the discipline and access to technology by employees has made measurement more possible, if not easier.

Where measurement becomes tricksy is in separating out the variables that impact on the campaign or programme, not unlike above-the-line or direct marketing, but maybe a little more difficult because of the sheer number of internal issues affecting employees attitudes, perceptions and behaviours.

If what you want is to identify and separate the factors that influence the outcome of a campaign and to determine whether the results you got were because of something you did or because of something someone else did – then there is only one way to do it. You would have to go through the laborious and costly process of controlled studies – which is impossible to do for every internal marketing campaign. So, you would need to decide about what is realistically measurable.

These would include:

a) Efficiency of channel: Did your message get to the right people at the right time?

For example: what were the results of using new media rather than traditional media. How far into the target market did the medium reach? This mix would depend on the individual organisation including factors such as access to technology, internal distribution and event attendance. You may be surprised to find that new media works in the most unlikely organisations. For example: many people have access to cell phones and sms’s can be sent cheaply in a range of languages, offering the critical advantage of over-coming language barriers. The trick is to try a range of mediums and track which combination works best in your company.

b) Effectiveness of communications. Was your message read, understood and remembered?  

This is where technology can really come into play. Of course, you could do a ‘tick-the-box’ option on a questionnaire at reception. But you could also use random webcam interviews, on-line competitions and messaging integrated into team-building activities to test recall and memorability. As always, the key to effectiveness is: creativity in the initial campaign, consistency in communication and importantly, taking the time to consider what would reach the most people in an impressionable way. It’s not about the message. It’s about a focus on the people receiving the message and that requires the most intangible but most magical of elements – creativity!

c) Impact on employee behaviour. Did people change how they behaved? Generally, internal marketing campaigns are executed for three reasons: to motivate employees, to change culture or to orient employees to new systems/products. Each of these objectives can also be measured differently. This may include, for example, a perceptions audit, if the aim was to motivate employees. Or focus groups and customer feedback to ascertain culture change.

d) Business impact. Did the changes people made as a result of the campaign affect productivity, profitability or the customer experience? Here’s where the people responsible for internal marketing campaigns should work closely with the other parts of the business to take a base-line measurement of the results that would be meaningful to the business. It would be advisable to decide on specific targets in advance. For example: a 7% improvement in customer experience. It would also be prudent to ensure that the other criteria for effective change can be met such as: providing employees with the necessary tools to do the job.

Depending on the duration, you should measure at various points in the campaign. You will be able to refine measurements to suit your organisation as campaigns are executed and you’ll also have the option of refining the campaign to iron out any bugs and take advantage of what is working well. However, good communication is underpinned by imaginative and creative campaigns – so don’t let an attempt to provide ‘proof’ undermine the heart of the campaign.

Published in Employer Branding
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