I participated in a Communications Executive Council webinar today entitled, "Leadership Communications for the Agile Organization." The session challenged leaders and communications professionals to think about leader communications differently. I thought I'd share some key things I took away from the session.
Move away from the cascade: The challenge is to move from the safe, traditional communications model, where leaders communicate information in a more one-way fashion through cascades, to one that is more about engaging with employees, using a variety of methods that encourage employees to take action and ask questions. This requires leaders to be more confident and a willingness to put themselves out there, but results in a more engaged, agile workforce.
Ask employees to act: Don't just tell them the information. Share the details in a way that tells them what you want them to do now to support the new strategy or change. Encourage them to collaborate with peers and ask questions. Taking action helps them become more agile and resilient.
Assess leader communications strength and weaknesses: Invest time and resources in some sort of formal assessment of leader communications that is done regularly. This helps leaders understand what areas they need to improve because most leaders overestimate their skills in this area. Leaders that model agility, encourage that in others.
Help leaders change their behaviors: After the assessment, help leaders identify the area they'd like to improve and help them practice the new skill. Don't use it and they'll lose it. And, when employees see their leaders behaving in a new way, they are more likely to try to be more agile themselves.
Force leaders to simplify the message: Communications departments are guilty of spoon-feeding messaging to leaders, which often results in leadership not really understanding or internalizing the message. Leaders that are forced to summarize the message into either a few key points or a quick summary statement will be better communicators.
Encourage leaders to build trust through dialogue: Leaders that discuss strategy changes with employees in a way that encourages real dialogue build trust with employees and keep them engaged. Employees that have trust in leadership are more agile and engage more quickly in the new strategy.
Accountability is key: Trust is very hard to gain back once it's in question. Leaders can improve employee trust by making sure that what was said is actually being done. They can also improve trust by dealing with any difficult questions in a tactful manner. Lastly, leaders must ensure they are engaging with all people that are impacted by the change.
Challenge leaders to shift their role and style: The more traditional role of leaders as the directive, spokesperson does not encourage agility. If leaders take on a role that challenges employees to do things differently and show that they are listening and open to concerns are more likely to foster agility in the organization.
How do you think leaders could change their communication style to improve employee agility, resilience and engagement?