When it came to communicating with his employees, the newly appointed CEO of an accounting firm adhered to a rather tight-lipped philosophy: “Only tell them what they need to know”. He would give them swift and direct feedback when they did something wrong, but he was entirely silent when they met or exceeded his expectations. Rather than using team meetings to communicate with his employees (because he considered team meetings a waste of time), he used email to communicate on all key issues. He said he preferred email because of its paper trail quality.
Employees barely had a chance to interact with their CEO; as soon as he arrived at the office he would go straight to his office, closing the door behind him. If he absolutely had to talk with his employees, he would call them and tell them to come to his office immediately – employees dreaded these phone calls.
Taking their cues from the CEO, the leadership team started to behave in identical ways. Morale was dreadful. Closed doors served as two-way barriers, and key information went uncommunicated. Employees didn’t understand the goals of the business, so they started to do what they thought was best. Service was inconsistent so customers went elsewhere. As is so often the case for businesses headed by poor leaders, the business rolled steadily downhill, leading to the board being left with no choice but to exit the CEO.
I get it. You’re busy. You don’t have time to be sitting in meetings all day talking to people about the goals of the business, consulting with them or debating the pros and cons of an idea. However, your people need clarity around the business goals. Your top priority as a CEO is to inspire and motivate your people and this is achieved through effective communication. You can’t do this sitting behind a computer. You need to build trust and rapport with your people with frequent and open communication. Without fail, great leaders do this.
Developing an internal communications plan
It is important to develop an internal communications plan that covers what, when and how you communicate with your people. Having a plan ensures that communication is systemised into your culture rather than reactively thinking about how and what you should communicate.
There are seven kinds of employee communication that you should consider incorporating into your repertoire if you want to be a great people leader:
1. Employee consultation.
Research the communication needs of employees by developing a basic survey that covers the who, what, when, where and why of internal communication. Use the results of this survey to develop your internal communication strategy, incorporating the vision and values of your business.
2. All employee meetings.
The best way to communicate a consistent message to all employees with the look and feel you want to create for your ideal organisational culture is to gather all your people together and talk to them at the same time.
3. Video messages.
Video messages are being increasingly used by CEOs to communicate with employees across multiple sites and time zones. It doesn’t have to be an expensive professional production made by a videographer.
4. Site/team visits.
Your people want to see you, their CEO, in person – their manager isn’t enough. Employees are more likely to ask you questions and provide feedback when they meet you in person rather than via email, teleconference or videoconference.
5. Written communication.
Written communication still plays an important part in communication strategies of all kinds. This written communication is, of course, almost entirely electronic – hard copy communications are becoming rarer with each passing year.
6. Social media.
Many businesses use social media for employee communication, such as a private Facebook group or Yammer, through which they communicate with their people and their people interact with each other and ask questions. By no means should this be your only method of communicating with your employees, but it’s an excellent addition to complete your internal communication strategy.
Take the opportunity to strike up conversations with your employees, e.g. eat your lunch in the staff room, join a team meeting you’re not expected at, join in an afternoon tea birthday celebration. If you have positive feedback to deliver, a personal visit to an employee’s desk really makes a difference to the employee’s day.
Encourage your people to engage with you by regularly communicating (don’t forget to listen to) with them about the business, your goals and their contribution to the success of the business.
For other great leadership tips, secure your copy of the CEO Secret Guide to Managing and Motivating Employees by Claire Harrison of Harrison Human Resources.