It’s time for corporate leaders to change the way they communicate with employees.
In an article in the current edition of the Journal of Employee Communication Management, I outline nine ways today’s CEOs can improve their vital connection with the people who make their businesses run. I’ve structured the piece as an open letter to CEOs.
When I first got this assignment, I invited readers of this blog to weigh in with their thoughts, which I incorporated into the article. Thanks, Mark, Steve, Robin and Kristen! Thanks also to my wise colleagues at Longview for their insights.
Here’s a link to the entire article, in .pdf format. Download ron_jecm_article_feb_08.pdf
And here’s a blog-friendly summary of my advice to corporate leaders:
1. Think about communication as you’re making business decisions – not after the fact. Good business decisions can go bad in a hurry because communication implications aren’t considered as part of the decision-making process.
2. Involve your communications team much earlier than you do now. Your communicators can act as a proxy for employees who do not otherwise have a voice.
3. Recognize that today’s employees don’t necessarily share your values. Baby boomer CEOs have a different work ethic, a different set of priorities, a different idea of what a successful career looks like, and a different way of communicating. If you communicate as if all employees think just like you, you risk alienating and further disengaging your workforce.
4. Understand what your employees are thinking. Quickie employee polls, readership surveys and small focus groups can give you timely and useful information. Be sure to show that you’ve listened, and that you’re responding to employee concerns, and you’ll earn their trust.
5. Start a real conversation with your employees. One of the easiest ways to increase engagement is to have a conversation with employees about the future of your company. Get ahead of the curve now and start experimenting with social media like blogs and podcasts. In the meantime, get out there and talk with people face to face.
6. For goodness’ sake, stop blocking the Internet! There are security and productivity issues, but they can be resolved. Severely limiting internet access is not the answer because it inhibits employee engagement. Open access to information invites involvement, breeds innovation and inspires commitment.
7. Improve day-to-day communication with your direct reports. The way to make the biggest impact is to model the right behavior with your own immediate team.
8. Don’t be reluctant to tell the whole truth. If you don’t talk frankly and openly about what everyone knows already, you lose credibility – and the next time you have really positive news to talk about, employees won’t buy that, either.
9. And, finally, and perhaps most importantly, speak plain English with employees. The language you may speak in the boardroom, or with your bankers and lawyers, may be truthful but it’s incomprehensible to most employees.
To communicators, all this stuff is as obvious as the nose on our faces. But many corporate execs don’t think in these terms, and their leadership suffers as a result. Part of our job should be to give them this kind of advice, and I don't think we do it often enough.