At a time when so many employees are feeling stretched, disconnected and overwhelmed by the challenges of our new working reality – and businesses wrestle with significant change and cost pressures – communication leaders are looked to for answers.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking with communications leaders through trainings and consulting engagements who want to stay in tune with the needs of their respective organizations while being responsive to employees’ biggest needs. Throughout these discussions, there have been a number of common questions leaders have about how to improve engagement, retention and business results through strong, trusting employee relationships.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled four common questions we’ve received recently from leaders and provided answers to them.
Top Questions from Communications Leaders
Q: What does true transparency look like? What should be shared and when?
A: We often find employees define transparency as straightforward, direct communication about exactly what’s happening. I’d add that transparent communications should also be shared in a kind and caring way. It is important for us as communication experts to remember that our goal is not for people to like what we are communicating. Our goal is, and our commitment is, that people understand what we communicate – there’s a difference there. People might not like it, but they are appreciative when they can understand.
We always want to seek understanding. That’s where we can reframe for leaders what transparency looks like, which can be especially helpful. As you think about transparency, remember what employees want to know. They want to know what we know when we know it, and they want to know it truthfully.
Sometimes, we need to remind leaders that our employees are adults; we hired them for a reason. These are smart, strategic people who deserve the truth.
Q: How do you help a leader determine the best way to communicate or position a message to their team?
A: It’s important to remember that the way a particular leader may want to receive information isn’t necessarily the same way their audience would like to receive that information. Data is your best ammunition – if you can access data that supports what messages and topics employees want to receive and via what vehicle – to arm yourself with when you’re planning communications with that leader.
Have a direct conversation with the leader about how employees prefer to get that kind of information based on your research, and how meeting their preference helps ensure the greatest chance of understanding and action.
Q: How do we help managers focus on communicating with their team, rather than focusing solely on task execution?
A: More listening and less talking. More seeking to understand and less talking at people. More empathy and compassion.
If we don’t first address people’s feelings, they sometimes get stuck there, and it interferes with work. When you address people’s feelings first, they are able then to switch to the more logical side of the brain. And that’s where people are able to focus on the work that needs to get done.
Q: How do you get staff to participate, engage and ask questions during town hall meetings?
A: Engagement from employees during town halls goes hand in hand with levels of trust. When conducted with a strategic focus, town hall meetings can be incubators for the trust building that can be elusive to so many organizations.
It’s not uncommon to use a predetermined question or two to get the Q&A going. Then, they should start to come in organically.
Keep these critical tips in mind to get the questions coming in:
- Recognize, reward and answer as transparently as possible the questions that are being asked.
- Wait one more beat. Some leaders get uncomfortable with silence, but sometimes it’s worth waiting one more second. Ask one more time, “Who’s got a tough question for us today? We’re happy to address and answer.” Asking questions in this way will increase chances tenfold of getting some great dialogue going.
Over time, this will create a culture of asking questions and where questions are answered.
Your Unique Role
As a communications leader, you sit at a critical cross-section within your organization, wearing two hats: one as a leader yourself, and a second managing and influencing a critical and complex set of stakeholders. Both hats are vital to building and protecting the employee experience and the business.
With a Heart First approach to leadership and communication, you can be even more effective as a communications counselor to leaders and as a leader yourself.
As you think about the advice shared above, what one or two opportunities do you see in your organization to make an even bigger impact?