I am a strong proponent of the fact the CEOs need to communicate with employees frequently to establish the culture of open communication in any organization.
The CEO has a communication role that is very symbolic in nature. Employees want CEOs to communicate with them about the bigger picture, vision, challenges, progress and results. At the same time, they want to know the kind of person their leader is.
In other words, they want to see if the CEO is ‘doing’ what the employees are told to believe in as ‘values.’
The fact remains that CEOs are unable to communicate frequently with their employees or stakeholders due to lack of time and a multitude of responsibilities. The effect in turn creates a communication gap which makes way for misconceptions about management and leaders in the company.
Sighting a CEO in most of the companies in Pakistan is like a ‘special moment’ for the employees. Not because the CEOs are holy or ‘specially designed’ but because they are hardly seen out of their buildings, floors and sometimes even offices.
Low visibility of important leaders in the company is a sign of poor communication. It also damages the effect of the communication leaders can utilize – without speaking directly to the employees.
Think about a CEO actively listening to a low rank employee in the middle of the floor. Just the sight of this will send out a positive message to all the employees who watch him. CEOs confined to their offices are considered uptight and unfriendly. This in turn affects their credibility as leaders.
Leaders who engage with employees and make time for small talk are looked up to and are likely to earn trust and respect of employees.
Leaders are important people. They are key decision makers. By virtue of this, their every action is in fact a form of communication. If the following aspects are considered, leaders may become more likely to be known as effective communicators even when they don’t ‘say’ much.
To be respectful
Being respectful is the most important thing for any professional, especially those in leadership positions. This does not entail speaking politely but is a combination of body language, active listening and being considerate.
Employees usually think that their CEO will give them a cold shoulder if they approach them for a conversation. ”We are not important,” they would think. If that is true in your organization, your managers and leaders will follow suit and you may unknowingly establish a culture sans respect.
Provide your employee with an open door to communicate. If you are busy, you can always ask them to get in touch later. It would be best to take a note and call them in when you have time.
When you finally meet with them, be respectful like you would treat a colleague or a management official in your office. Offer tea or coffee. Better yet, make some for the two of you. This kind of humility and friendly behavior is the mark of a true leader who knows and understands that he or she can create other leaders just by being a worthy example.
The range of topics they want to discuss may be diverse. Listen actively and provide guidance based on your years of experience. This employee may not come to see you for weeks or even months. This is your opportunity to send out an ambassador who will tell everyone that you are a man/woman of honor.
Keep the level of respect intact even if you meet them outside of your office; especially when they are with other colleagues.
To be honest and humble
Being a CEO or leader does not demand one to be uptight or arrogant. The key is humility. Be humble when interacting with your employees. Most of the times your junior staff will be too intimidated by you. Speak in a fashion that increases the comfort level of your team.
This is your opportunity to identify talent and future leaders within your organization. If they are not scared to talk to you, you will know the real potential of individuals and teams. Enable them to share their ideas or concerns with you in a conducive environment. The perception you build now will play a vital role in how other employees perceive you as a leader.
To be seen and available for engagement
In the beginning of this century, I worked for an organization for a year. I never had the opportunity to see the CEO once even though we were in the same building. I did not know anyone from my team who had visited his office in the longest time.
If your employees don’t see you enough, you are committing the unforgivable communication error. Leverage from every opportunity to interact with employees. Meetings, town-halls, road-shows, a visit to the floors, whatever it takes – your employees must see you, often.
Employees like to associate with CEOs who give them more reasons to be proud of the organization they work for. Use corporate media to communicate with employees whom you cannot visit frequently. It will serve the purpose just as well.
Ask your corporate communication department to help you increase your visibility on external media. Take the opportunity to appear on TV, news and blogs frequently. Be seen!
To reach out
I have noticed from my personal experience of over ten years in the corporate that employees who can say hello to the CEO every once in a while are likely to be more confident and motivated. They are also happier and report greater trust in their ‘management.’
Frequent interactions with employees demands a firm resolve. It may be uncomfortable to get out of the cozy office to take a round of your floor – or possibly another building. But it has its prerequisites.
Get into the habit of going around at least once a week to see employees randomly. Take time out to sit at their desks and ask what they do. A pat on the back, saying hello, shaking hands and tiny informal discussions can do a lot of good to your employees work week.
If your company is spread across regions, plan your visits for the quarter. Invest in meeting with employees around the geographical areas that your company operates in. It will show you are concerned, interested and are there for them.
To be the man of crisis
Last but not the least, a CEO must lead from the front in the event a crisis hits the organization. In such times, working behind closed doors creates misconceptions.
How you carry yourself through the crisis will determine in the years to come what your employees think of you. A short appearance in a town-hall with the employees to explain the situation and what you are going to do about it can do wonders for your image. It will also help manage your perception both internally and externally.
At the end of the crisis, communicate the reason for the crisis. Share how your teams dealt with it and the results with your employees. This will close the loop and not leave them wondering. It will also take away any chances of misconceptions. Don’t forget to thank everyone for supporting you and setting a line of action based on the learning from the crisis.
Here is an excerpt from what Kevin Murray, Chairman of the Bell Pottinger Group has to say about leaders’ communication:
After interviewing 60 leaders of high profile global and British based organizations, I believe modern leaders have to learn to be more focused on relationships, inside and outside their companies, and communicate better in order to build trust, the essential prerequisite of successful leadership. Trust is increasingly being viewed as a strategic asset, and many leaders I interviewed say those organizations who want to survive and thrive in the age of transparency must place the building of trust at the heart of their strategies.
These are all important times when CEOs need to communicate with their work force and build effective channels of communication that help to manage perception internally and externally.
Let me also share with you a really interesting infographic about elevating communication between colleagues in an organization.
For a more specific reference, you may find this executive summary (infographic) of the leadership communication model prepared by Ketchum PR even more interesting.
The executive summary has been extracted from Ketchum’s findings based on the perception of 6,000 people in 12 countries on five continents regarding effective leadership, effective communication and the intrinsic link between the two.
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