Communicating with employees is an increasingly vital role for top executives in organizations of all sizes. The problem is not all senior leaders recognize this.
While executives often take an active role in external communications with the media and business communities, they tend to delegate internal communications or underestimate the value of having professional communications advisors for this activity.
“CEOs commonly blame ‘lousy communication’ when well-laid plans go awry,” writes communications expert Walter G. Montgomery of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “Yet, paradoxically, communications is an undervalued, lightly regarded discipline in the theory and practice of corporate leadership.”
So what can top executives do to make better connections with their employees? Here are a few quick tips:
- Send out weekly correspondence with employees.
Writing at Entrepreneur, David Krantz, CEO of YP, says, “Every Monday without fail for the last three years I have sent a personally written email to every employee in the company about things I am thinking about and important topics for the business. This kind of communication serves as an opportunity to truly connect and engage with the entire organization.”
The email can be conversational in tone, but shouldn’t shy away from important issues and office chatter. Cutting Edge PR advises, “Significant corporate information should be shared quickly before the rumor mill starts working.”
- Respond to employee replies.
Krantz suggests that CEOs reply to every employee email within 24 hours. Being accessible and responsive is one way of proving to employees that their input is valued. “Your team wants to be heard and feel appreciated,” Krantz writes.
For CEOs of large corporations, personal responses to every reply may not be feasible. Even when communications teams are sending for the executive from an alias email account, replies should be accepted responded to.
Consider adding online group discussions to these message broadcasts, and having email broadcast replies managed by communicators or assistants.
- Highlight good work.
Not only do employees want to be heard, they also appreciate when their work is recognized and acknowledged, whether it be mentioned in your weekly correspondence, town hall meetings, a company-wide newsletter or elsewhere.
According to Chief Executive, the act of shining a spotlight on good work “provides a measure of uplift even when the news tends to be sobering across the entire enterprise.” It can serve as a counterbalance to any bad news you have to share.
- Tie messages into company values.
This Forbes article about a controversial internal memo from GrubHub’s CEO Matt Maloney points out some of the key elements Maloney got right, including tying his message back to the key values of the company.
“To foster a strong corporate culture, leadership must constantly invoke and reflect on core values with employees,” Forbes argues. “In a perfect (corporate) world, every internal memo ties back to core company values.”
Montgomery reinforces that idea in his Wharton School article : “Constant investment in sound, well-communicated values is priceless protection against all kinds of potential future losses.”
- Don’t sugarcoat or ignore bad news.
Chief Executive advises, “Always tell them [employees] the good, the bad, and the ugly. The ‘everything is great’ stemwinder should be avoided.”
But that doesn’t mean you adopt a defensive or somber tone. Instead, be open and honest, recognize how the negatives may affect everyone within the organization and welcome input. Executives can use bad news as an opportunity to layout a more positive vision for the future and engage employees with ways employees can help the company overcome the difficulties.
Krantz writes, “Great companies focus on what is not going well so they can dig in and get better. This approach allows employees to feel they have a say in their company’s culture and their ideas are valued.”
- Formalize employee input.
Marcel Schwantes, principal and founder of Leadership From the Core, writes at Inc. that creating a council or advisory group of 10 or 12 employees to review employee engagement initiatives, offer input on company policies and help improve work culture. Such a group will help top executives connect with employees at large.
“Make sure your councils are generationally, operationally, and culturally diverse, including top performers, people who’ve been with the company for years, and relatively new hires who’ve shown high potential,” he advises.
The bottom line? By recognizing the value of their communications teams, executives will realize a positive return. When leadership is better connected to employees, those employees are more engaged and the organization will be more successful.