What leaders want to say isn’t always what we want to hear. So why should we read what they write?

As Internal Communication professionals, we wear many hats. One of the trickiest – and one of the most important – is that of the trusted advisor to our leadership teams.

Guiding managers on how and when to share their messages take the diplomacy skills of an ambassador, the communication abilities of a seasoned broadcaster and the big-picture vision of an entrepreneur. 

So, how can you help your leaders become better communicators? Here are four top tips to share with them, together with the business evidence that proves the point.

1. Right-size the content

Even within a single organization, no two audiences are the same. Consider everyone from the time-poor shop-floor reader to the tech-limited colleague on the road. Challenge leaders to chop and change those messages to make them the perfect size and shape for each audience.

Is it great as a long-form article, or is bite-sized the right size? Would a short video work? An interactive learning game? How about an infographic? It’s about making your message not just heard but sought out.

Sounds dull as dishwater but take a moment to check out Asda’s privacy center website. It’s a great example of an organization holding a mirror up to its audience-friendly IC principles and reflecting them externally. And it kicks off right from the tongue in cheek one-line opener, ‘Remember when reading a Privacy Policy was like reading War and Peace? Well, not anymore!’

Breaking down a big beast into digestible delights is an art. Bravo team Asda.

2. Encourage leaders to be people too

We all know today’s leaders don’t win respect by sitting siloed in their ivory tower. They need to be relatable, with feelings, stories, and opinions. Encourage them to share that human side and people will trust them and, in turn, your organization.

This is where we, as IC professionals, can pave the way, painting the pictures of outspoken bosses like media exec and former FA chairman Greg Dyke or strongly philanthropist leaders like Alphabet CEO Larry Page.

Take the open honesty of ITV CEO Carolyn McCall in this interview for Campaign.

“It is awful to talk about bitches in the boardroom and, as a woman, I don’t want to perpetuate that myth. Actually, what you want all leaders to do is to promote on merit and ensure the structure and culture is in place to do that.”

Her down to earth attitude makes her colleagues feel like they know her – and it’s an approach that works, winning her the title of Management Today’s Most Admired Leader three times

Carolyn’s best lines include: “I have experienced quite a lot of misogyny in my time. My way of dealing with it is to literally say fuck it, and just do it.” 

Her messages land with colleagues because they’re her honest and unfiltered opinions, spoken without fear – and without fear of showing vulnerability. If ITV’s results are anything to go by, it may be helping to boost the bottom line too. Under Carolyn’s leadership in 2018, total revenue was up by 3%. No mean feat, considering the current climate.

3. Spark conversation – and listen

In IC, it’s our job to power conversations. Especially those that inspire healthy debate; constructive challenge can add incredible value. 

But empowering colleagues to ask their burning questions starts with leader visibility. We have to convince our leaders that it’s vital to be seen and to be approachable. 

In a report by think tank The Work Foundation, it was found ‘outstanding leaders spend time talking with people to understand what motivates them and how they can support and enthuse others’.

It’s a message with a solid basis in research but it’s a piece of cake for leaders to achieve. Walk around the office, hot desk, eat with colleagues, meet new team members face to face, engage with IC platforms, and of course, encourage feedback. You want to know what’s on people’s minds? Ask them and listen. 

It’s a behavior that’s only going to become more valuable in the future. A study by polling specialist Gallup found that only 19% of millennials say they receive routine feedback. It’s true that everyone wants to be heard but as the report highlights, “Millennials have grown up in an era of remarkable connectedness, they’re accustomed to having the immediate ability to ask questions, share opinions and provide commentary.” 

They don’t want to ask for it, they expect it. And as millennials grow in their careers, leaders can future-proof their communication by staying open to feedback.

 4. Keep your core values and vision at heart

When things go wrong, it can be tempting for leaders and IC teams alike to hide behind fuzzy corporate speak. People will smell a rat straight away. 

When there’s a big change on the horizon – job cuts, a new stakeholder, a rebranding or even just impressive growth – hold on tight to the truth and core values.

Tech and retail business Dixons Carphone made sure its entire 42,000-strong workforce were united behind a new strategy that embodied its vision in six very simple words: We help everyone enjoy amazing technology. 

Inspirational in its clarity and aspirational in its momentum, it’s approachable and transparent. 

For Dixons Carphone, the writing was literally on the wall, because that’s where they put it. Decals across their sites boasted the strategy, rich media cinematic videos created excitement and engagement and managers became epic storytellers, taking colleagues on the journey with them. A cracking example of right-size content and building unity through acquisition and growth.

And what was the impact? In an all-colleague survey following the launch, 95% of Dixons Carphone employees said they strongly agreed or agreed they had a clear understanding of the company’s vision and what it meant for them in their role.

Big words and rocket science aren’t needed. Honesty, simplicity and a reminder of values and vision does the trick.  

IC takeaways

To sum up, here are our right-sized top tips:

  1. Carve up your content and choose your channel carefully. Deliver messages appropriately, attractively and succinctly.
  2. Authenticity, vulnerability, honesty: not just nice words ending in y, but the best way to build a rapport between staff and leaders.
  3. Encourage opportunities to talk – and listen. Conversations go both ways – and can spark innovation too. 
  4. And finally, check you haven’t drifted away from your roots. Core values inspired your vision, so speak about them openly and don’t let corporate-speak take over. 

Feedback loop

But what about your own leaders? How do you guide them to communicate in ways your colleagues want to hear? We’d love to hear your views. Let us know here.


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