I am often asked about the role of the CEO or leader of any organization in employee communication. My opinion is that no matter what the issue is, even if it is just business as usual, having a good communicator as a CEO is critical to impact the culture of an organization in a positive way.
Lets start with looking at some scenarios. These can include a merger or acquisition, an organizational crisis, announcement of annual financial results, corporate social responsibility or even trying to create a culture of innovation.
My contention is that no matter what the issue, here are 5 ways that your CEO can communicate with employees and achieve positive outcomes each time. Most of the methods listed below involve face to face dialogue to ensure the greatest engagement.
1. Staff Forums – Otherwise known as "Town Halls" these are opportunities for the CEO and Senior Management team to visit employees in all locations and address the real issues and concerns of staff as well as communicating the big picture. Employee communication tips include handing out cards to attendees so that the questions can be addressed after a break in proceedings, tailoring the presentation in part to the unique situation in the particular region the CEO is visiting and following up any issues that cannot be answered at the time.
2. Site Visits – These are an excellent employee communication tool for the CEO to find out specifically from the frontline exactly what the issues and concerns are of a particular region or department. The key is not only to spend time with the leadership team but also to sit with employees and find out what they are working on and inviting them to suggest innovative ways of doing things differently. CEOs' rarely spend time communicating with employees and this is one way to break down perceptions and encourage two way communication.
3. Employee Achievement – Another way the CEO can communicate change is to support and encourage employees personally for their achievements. These maybe directly related to the issue at hand and by taking time out to recognize high achievers or change agents it sends a strong message to all employees that the CEO will reward those who support and are engaged in the change agenda.
4. Leaderships Forums – One of the smartest things an CEO can do during times of change is to communicate with his / her leadership team. I have always found that employee communication strategies need to be pitched at different levels and with different strategies to suit the role and expectations of the employees. When we think of change it is the leadership team that will drive it, from regional managers, state managers to frontline supervisors it is important that the CEO communicates face to face with the leadership team to be very clear about his or her expectation of them during times of change. One employee communication tip here is that face to face one on one meetings be held with the direct reports to the CEO and the next level down; it is a very powerful tool and has maximum impact.
5. CEO Blog – Finally where would we be if we did not mention some form of technology driven communication tool. A CEO blog is very effective if it is used to support and report on the transformation process whilst the employee engagement strategy is underway. For example the CEO has one on one meetings with the leadership team, he / she then reports in the Blog on the key messages and expectations. The CEO begins visits to each region and reports back on the Blog the key observations and achievements of employees and so on. Employee communication tools to inform are always a back up and support to the real communication taking place, the employee communication engagement strategies as listed in points 1 – 4 above.
The methods suggested above also achieve another goal often neglected in employee communication. As this is the opportunity for the CEO to find out what people at all levels of the organization really think about a particular issue, it will cause the CEO to think differently next time about the importance of employee communication and will ensure that change communication is addressed at the planning phase of any major organizational change.
Marcia Xenitelis is a recognized authority on the subject of change communication and helping organizations get traction with strategy. She has consulted widely to business, spoken at conferences around the world and has developed products focused on change management.
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