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The connection and sense of community that can grow between a CxO (referring here to all C-Suite members) and his or her organization’s employees is one of the most overlooked points of leverage that a business can tap into for generating results. Your company’s bottom line depends on the people on your front line – the individuals meeting your customers each and every day, the people creating the products and systems that are the heart of your business. Today, you, as CxO, need to stay close, personal, and relevant to your constituents—your employees. How? By leveraging great communication practices that narrow the chasm between you and your valued employees is the solution. Consistent, timely and relevant communication is critical to engage your team in building the culture and accomplishing the organization’s goals, growing the business, and generating results.
If you asked someone to prepare a gourmet meal, you probably wouldn’t assign the person to a small kitchen with an empty refrigerator far from where the meal was to be served. Too many organizations bury their communication team members deep within the human resource department. In addition, neither HR nor Communication teams are typically part of the “inner circle.” The tendency is to relegate them to getting key strategic information on a need-to-know basis. As a result, your key communicators are the last to find out about big organizational shifts in strategy – and then you assign them the responsibility for telling the story to the rest of the organization. Make them your partners instead. You’ll increase the effectiveness of your communications exponentially and you’ll build internal communication allies and ambassadors.
As CxO, you strive for communications that sound like you — and only you. You want employee reaction to be, “Yep, that sounds just like _______!” Whether you work with a member of your internal team or an outside consultant, as a busy CxO, you need a partner to help craft messages that communicate through your signature voice. You want to achieve a consistency in tone, attitude, humor, and direction. Too many CxO communications sound disconnected. The internal audience assumes communications were written by someone other than the CxO, resulting in diminished potency, impact and credibility. CxOs are well served to think of your communications as fodder for a book you will write one day. Commit to making every memo, letter, or strategy document a gem of clarity, conviction and a classic expression of YOU.
As CxO, your voice needs to be heard on a consistent basis. Your employees need to not only be able to count on it but also look forward to it. Whether that regular outreach is through a column in a monthly newsletter, a section on the home page of the intranet or a podcast — to name just a few of the possible communication vehicles — employees need to know there is a specific place where they can find your thoughts, your direction, and your pulse for the month.
Your employees blog, tweet and use social media outside of work. Why not reach out to them in similar ways. Many of the CxOs I have collaborated with have taken to leveraging these vehicles to reach employees. Consider a once a week tweet, deliver a podcast, post a selfie with a customer or group of employees on the intranet, make a Skype call to personalize an important message or start a CxO blog for more frequent and less formal messages. The more you can mirror the way your employees communicate outside of work, inside the organization, the more attention you’ll receive.
Nothing replaces face-to-face, toe-to-toe communication forums with employees. Create a platform where employees can meet with you, ask questions and provide you with feedback. Such regular interchanges are invaluable for building community. As a leader, your time is always at a premium for this type of event. However, the value of the interaction will far outweigh scheduling challenges. When you travel, create at least one, “Breakfast with the CxO,” “Lunch with the President,” or “Afternoon Coffee with Your Leader” opportunity. Mangers can use this invitation as a “reward” for employees who have excelled or achieved milestones. While the breakfast or lunch may only accommodate 10 – 20 people, the ripple effect travels way beyond this small group. One attendee tells a colleague about the event and what was discussed. Suddenly the 20 who attended have shared your candor and commitment with a hundred more.
George Bernard Shaw once said, “The problem with communication … is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” You cannot speak one-to-one with every employee in your organization — but your managers can. Your job is not only to solidify the message and/or call to action for your people, but it is also to enlist your direct reports – who enlist theirs – who enlist theirs — to cascade the message quickly throughout the organization. This can be done simply. For example: Your monthly update to employees comes out on the 5th of every month on the intranet homepage. Work with an internal communications partner to summarize that memo and even provide brief talking points. Send the memo along with the summary in advance to your direct reports. Ask them to share the message with their managers and deliver the message in person to their teams within 72 hours. (This can occur at a weekly staff meeting, impromptu Monday morning “huddle,” etc.) There is simply no better way to ensure that 100% of employees hear the message.
As Anne Morrow Lindbergh said, “Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.” Make your efforts not only informative but exciting as well.
As CxO you are time-challenged. Everyone wants a piece of you. With time limitations, remember the importance of using smart communication practices and partners to spread yourself and your message over the largest territory possible in the most time-economical fashion. The benefits of connecting with your employees, in varied and meaningful ways, will help you leverage your company’s most valuable resource—your people—to achieve its goals. There is nothing more rewarding for a leader than not only to be respected, but also to be loved. Being loved and appreciated within your organization is crucial to getting people to follow you. Getting people to follow you is all about communicating effectively, demanding transparency, cascading messages, and making yourself available. Find the partners who will help you leverage your vision and mission into potent relationship-building, results-getting communications.