It was once again a huge pleasure to host senior communications and HR professionals in Hong Kong for an interactive round-table discussion with Prospect Resourcing, our third and final round-table of 2017. Leading the discussion on “how to engage leaders in internal communications” was Founder and Chair of theblueballroom, Sheila Parry, who also shared some insights from over 25 years in the internal communications industry.
The role of the leader in effective employee communications is absolutely critical to its success and yet we often hear from clients that this is one of the biggest challenges of their roles. As communicators, we have the opportunity to make employee engagement a strategic imperative that can positively influence the employer brand, employee productivity and performance, so it was fantastic to hear the experiences of those in the room, and share our own tips for success.
Three Top Tips
1. Get in the Zone: It’s not enough to talk the language of leaders. You have to think like them as well.
We know the leaders of companies are juggling a huge number of priorities, and employee engagement and communications, even if considered a priority, is just one of many. Understanding and empathising with the rest of their agenda, and putting communications and engagement in that context, is so important to being able to engage with them. “If you can act and think like a leader, then you stand a much greater chance of being at the table.”
2. Left hand, right hand brain-power: Be confident in the value of your emotional intelligence.
“Celebrate the strengths that you bring to the role”. Typically, leaders exhibit left hand brain thinking (analytical and rational approaches to problem solving) whilst communicators will bring right-hand thinking and behaviours to the fore (e.g. empathy and creativity). Combining your strengths with the ability to step into the shoes (and way of thinking) of your leader(s) allows you to really add value to the C-Suite.
3. Emphasise impact not output: Make the connection between what you do and organisational performance.
When communicating with leaders “focus on what you achieve, not what you do”. Talking about a meaningful impact of the last communication initiative you ran will have a far greater impact than saying “we need to do another town hall”. The same holds true in training and developing your team – encourage them to think about what they have achieved as a result of what they do, bringing meaning to the projects and initiatives they are working on.
On the Board Agenda
Several attendees discussed how employee engagement, through measurement such as net promoter scores or high potential retention, is now a board level objective that leaders will be measured against, and ultimately rewarded for. As a result, their interest in what tools are available to help them is increasing, although some still found there was a tendency to “outsource” the responsibility to an internal communications or employee engagement manager. Personal accountability in their objectives is a fantastic way to get onto the agenda of the business leaders, and those responsible should grab this opportunity to engage with them.
What do employees want from their leaders?
It was agreed that authenticity is crucial to leaders being able to communicate and engage with their employees. People were achieving this through ensuring that leaders were communicating in an environment that they felt comfortable in, and developing a shared community of leaders in the business – particularly focusing on the cascade to middle managers, so they could authentically convey the messages in their own way. We’ve discussed in previous round-tables how middle managers can be a sticking point when it comes to effective communications – and this discussion highlighted how it’s important to think not only about giving them the information to convey and ensuring they pass it on to their teams, but also helping and training them to do it in the right way that will be engaging.
There is also an opportunity to develop “leaders in the field” – spotting those in the business who communicate and engage really well, so you are not reliant on one CEO (who may not be the charismatic and dynamic communicator) or small leadership teams.
Supporting Leaders in Internal Communications
The group discussed several ways in which they have had success in supporting their leaders to be successful internal communicators and build employee engagement.
1. Help them to connect the business performance results and key metrics like productivity and retention to employee engagement. Show them what success looks like, so you can help them achieve this success for themselves
2. Connect them to the voice of the employee. Digital has been transformational in this space and several companies represented are using chat platforms to give their employees a voice. Face-to-face is good as well. Leaders may be reticent to engage with this at first, but small steps e.g. arranging some small breakfast meetings between a leader with employees, can help to start to open their mind to the value the employee insight and opinion can bring them.
3. Utilise technology to enable leaders to communicate directly with the workforce. Peer-to-peer or open chat platforms enable a more transparent and conversational approach to communications, rather than the more formal traditional emails (or even newsletters). Some leaders will be proactive in this space, others may need more help to manage their input. Critical to success is formalising the way the platform is managed, e.g. writing service level agreements to ensure that there is a process and team properly resourced to respond to employees input, so that the employee voice is heard and appropriately acted upon
Even those companies that are now doing this really well, recognised that it had not been a quick change. Establishing or turning around employee engagement through effective leadership and communications is a journey, never a quick fix. Leadership commitment is key for success, but Internal Communicators have the ability to influence this commitment and make a difference to how employees feel coming to work everyday. There is plenty to be learned from the journey that others have taken, to help companies here short-cut some of the journey. Take a look at the source list for further inspiration.
The objective of hosting round-tables is to help further the Internal Communications profession in Hong Kong and Asia, by bringing people to share their best practises and challenges, and learn from each other whilst building their network. theblueballroom seeks to bring our knowledge and expertise from working with multi-national clients on a global scale to the group. We then share the learnings from the discussion through the LinkedIn group Asia Internal Communicators Professional Network.