Inside organizations today, communication is the greatest challenge for leaders. Employees want to understand the organization’s strategy and how they fit in, but leaders aren’t explaining the reasons behind their decisions. Middle managers especially struggle with how to translate business information and make it relevant to employees and are often seen as the weak link in the organization. What’s more, employees are overwhelmed by information overload. This makes the changing role of communicator more challenging than ever as we help leaders to develop communications that engage employees, according to David Grossman, founder and CEO of the Grossman Group and former director of communications at McDonald’s.
I recently had the opportunity to attend the IABC World Conference in Chicago to hear Grossman and other speakers address the challenges and opportunities of 21st century organizational communications. Grossman shared his top 10 principles for guiding communicators as they work to develop communications to engage the hearts and minds of employees today.
1. Character is the differentiator for leaders and organizations. In today’s rapidly changing business landscape, organizations and leaders must reflect the values principles, beliefs, mission and purpose of the company – internally and externally. In its report on “The Authentic Enterprise: Relationships, Values and the Evolution of Corporate Communications,” the Arthur W. Page Society defined four new priorities and skills communications professionals must lead:
• Defining and instilling company values
• Building and managing multi-stakeholder relationships
• Enabling the enterprise with “new media” skills and tools
• Building and managing trust, in all its dimensions
2. There is no one leadership style. Some leaders are extroverts, others are introverts. Both can be effective communicators, as long as leaders learn to develop ways to bring messages to life in authentic, relatable ways. Communicators can help by developing individual platforms, key messages and elevator speeches for leaders, as well as encouraging them to use storytelling to humanize the company and brand.
3. There is a greater need to imagine and advance a vision. A vision is just a vision until someone acts on it. To make a vision reality, you need the hearts, not just the minds, of employees. Today, the equation is 70% mind, 30% heart. In order to advance a company’s vision, organizations need to change the equation to 60% heart, 40% mind.
4. People really are an organization’s greatest asset. Building brands starts on the inside, and employees play an increasing role in delivering on the brand promise. Employee indifference can negatively impact a brand and sales. Employees are an organization’s greatest ambassadors, so ensure they understand the value proposition.
5. Everyone is a leader. Give employees the opportunity to contribute to the company’s success. Share expectations and hold people accountable. Employees are engaged when they are given responsibility and autonomy and held accountable for results.
6. There is a greater focus on self. To be effective at engaging employees, leaders must be self-aware and understand their level of emotional intelligence – also referred to as EQ – and how to relate to others. Help leaders to develop in this area by providing them training and tools.
7. Change is the only constant. Today change happens as a series of changes, not in a linear fashion. Communicating in times of change requires that communicators address proactively what we know, what we don’t know, what we are working on finding out and myths from the grapevine.
8. Employees’ fundamental needs won’t change. Employees aren’t likely to understand or buy in to the organization’s vision unless they have answers to the “me” questions. All employees fundamentally have the same questions: What’s my job? How am I doing? Does anyone care about me? What’s going on? What’s the business strategy? How is the company doing? What are our vision and values? How can I help? Give them the answers and they’ll move from “me” to “we.”
9. There is a need for more and better listening individually and systematically. Listening is key to understanding employee perceptions. Communicators need better and more internal data and better listening tools.
10. There is a need for communication systems that are better honed to manage overload and inefficiencies. Communication vehicles like email are effective, but employees are inundated. Some organizations are addressing email overload with email block-outs, mandated email time off and other strategies. Communicators can help by evaluating all communication channels, including email and social media, to ensure they are using them most effectively.
This is the first in a series of reports from the 2012 IABC World Conference by IABC Phoenix Past President Cory Craft.
For another view of David Grossman’s presentation at the IABC World Conference, read communicator Miri Zena McDonald’s post on SmartBlog on Leadership. Miri tweets @mirimcdonald. David Grossman tweets @thoughtpartner.
Plan now to attend the 2013 IABC World Conference in New York City June 23-26.