3 Keys for stellar leadership communication
— August 11th, 2020
The past six months have shone a spotlight on communication from leadership like never before. It’s easy for leaders to communicate when things are stable and clear. But right now, much is uncertain.
Ann Mellinger, CEO of Brilliant Ink, argues that in these times of upheaval, worry, and uncertainty, a CEO needs to be a Chief Empathy Officer in order to be effective during times of uncertainty. Her point? It’s not enough to focus on business objectives. Leaders need to convey strength, spread calm, and put themselves in their employees’ shoes.
Whether you’re an executive or an internal communications professional, now is the time to talk to your staff. No matter your organization, communication from leadership matters. Read on to learn the 3 keys to stellar leadership communication.
How to create great leadership communication for difficult times
Why communication from leadership matters
Managers have always been such an important lifeline for employees...now you have an employee base that you’re not with on a daily basis. They’re all over, whereas you used to be sitting in an office with them.” — Ann Mellinger
Before the pandemic, only 31% of employees strongly agreed that their leadership cared about them as individuals. This affected their behavior, too. About one-third of employees said they’d left a job because they didn’t feel like their employers cared.
Maybe you do care. A lot. But without communication from the top, how are employees supposed to know?
People see their organizations as a trusted source of information. When there’s uncertainty – about future plans, health benefits, and job security– you may be their only source of information. This means calm, empathic communication from leadership is a necessity.
3 keys for stellar leadership communication
1. Be transparent
The foundation for effective communication is trust. If employees don’t trust what you’re saying, they may not listen. Trust is only built through a consistent policy of transparency, honesty, and vulnerability.
Ann Mellinger shared the example of Henry Ward, CEO of Carta. Ward recently had to announce employee layoffs on a call. Rather than hide, Ward shared the transcript of that call with the world. The call wasn’t pleasant. In the transcript, Ward even confessed that he had to rely on a script to cope with the anxiety of the announcement.
This level of transparency made Ward vulnerable, but it also made him extremely relatable, making him more likely to connect with his team. Employees didn’t see a robotic performance– they saw the person behind the call. They saw a human who was faced with tough decisions. The result? People listen.
2. Be frequent
When a leader doesn’t communicate often, it can create a vacuum that employees have to fill in themselves. This is a recipe for worry and uncertainty. Why isn’t leadership communicating? Are they thinking about layoffs? Furloughs? Are they unsatisfied with the company’s performance?
Frequent communication fills that void, eliminating assumptions. It answers hard questions. It addresses problems before they fester. Ann Mellinger recommended specific questions for frequent communication, including:
- How do employees feel their managers are doing?
- What do your managers need?
- What can leadership take off of their plate so managers can make more time for team check-ins
- What resources do people need that they don’t have now?
- Are there tools and templates that might help people do their job?
Without communication from leadership, both sides can make assumptions about what the other side is thinking. But you only know if you ask. In a situation as fluid as the COVID-19 pandemic, asking once isn’t enough. Make communication a priority.
3. Be authentic
Being authentic doesn’t just mean being true to yourself. It also means being true to your employees. What does that mean, practically speaking? According to Ann Mellinger, it means seeking authentic connections with employees. Rather than addressing them as a monolith, address them conversationally. Don’t just write newsletters that start with “hey, everyone…” Talk to individuals on a human level.
“If you’re trying to send out communications to a big nameless, faceless group of all employees,” Mellinger said in the webinar, “you risk not connecting to anyone.” Authentic connection starts with one conversation at a time.
Coming through with effective communication during a crisis
Wellinger pointed out that companies are doing surprisingly well with communication. Research from Willis Towers Watson recently found that 84% of employees believe employee engagement has gone up during the COVID-19 pandemic.
That means business leaders across the world are responding to the challenge. They do it by taking communication head-on. Don’t hide behind the remote work environment, and don’t leave a vacuum of communication. Be the empathetic, stable voice people need when the future is uncertain.