Leaders face diverse audiences that are exposed to multiple channels and information overload. To succeed in a change-heavy (or big) organisation, leaders need to master communication if they want to engage their employees.
Anything else just doesn’t cut it these days.
Communication builds success
A 2017 McKinsey study showed that of the 24 actions that drive successful business transformations, communication by leaders is most closely linked to project success.
The research has two important conclusions for leaders:
1: Executives should not underestimate the power of communication and role modelling
2: Continually telling an engaging, tailored story about the changes underway, has substantially more impact on outcomes than more programmatic elements, such as performance management or capability building.
For transformation or change to succeed, leaders need to focus on, and prioritise, effective communication, which in my view should include:
Confidence: the will
The energy and enthusiasm to prioritise communication and put themselves out there, the commitment to “walk the floor” and be available to employees, to ensure they set direction. Building will is usually easy for most leaders. As they say, the more you do, the easier it gets.
Content: the spill
When a leader communicates or spills the beans, their messages must be relevant and aligned to the organisations vision. Their message should flow, be meaningful and audience specific. It must be action focused and involve employees in a discussion. Leaders that spill well ensure their messages and stories are highly relevant to recipients.
Conversation: the skill
This is a regular, two way exchange with employees using trusted channels. Dialogue with employees should contribute to the way decisions are made. Regular listening and immersion by leaders into the world of employees will help ensure they can understand where employees are coming from. This helps leaders achieve a balance of listening and talking, to inform their decisions. This is all about building the skill to engage with others.
My recipe for leader success
When leaders use the 3Cs well they create discussion, direction and can make decisions with the support of their workforce.
Over half the respondents in the above study wished their organizations “had spent more time communicating their change story”. This is food for thought for a CEO I recently worked with. He did not value communication. When he did communicate, it often consisted of a dreary dial-in, an overdose of technical slides or emails full of jargon. He was rarely seen and did not put value on engaging with employees (was too externally focused). Consequently, some major investments and transformations failed. He did not unite the team in discussion. His direction and the reasons for his decisions were unclear.
The 3Cs are to be used as a leader’s recipe for communicating and engaging others. Employees are hungry for conversation with leaders. So, use the right ingredients and ensure employees get their fill.
Paul Matthews has been helping leaders and businesses create powerful engagement for over 20 years.
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The 24 actions of successful transformations (McKinsey 2017)
McKinsey asked executives about 24 practical actions that, in their experience, support the successful implementation of a transformation. Below are the specific actions in order of their impact (from greatest to least) on the likelihood of a transformation’s success, according to the results.
Senior managers communicated openly across the organization about the transformation’s progress and success
Everyone can see how his or her work relates to organization’s vision
Leaders role-modeled the behavior changes they were asking employees to make
All personnel adapt their day-to-day capacity to changes in customer demand
Senior managers communicated openly across the organization about the transformation’s implications for individuals’ day-to-day work
Everyone is actively engaged in identifying errors before they reach customers
Best practices are systematically identified, shared, and improved upon
The organization develops its people so that they can surpass expectations for performance
Managers know that their primary role is to lead and develop their teams
Performance evaluations held initiative leaders accountable for their transformation contributions
Leaders used a consistent change story to align organization around the transformation’s goals
Roles and responsibilities in the transformation were clearly defined
All personnel are fully engaged in meeting their individual goals and targets
Sufficient personnel were allocated to support initiative implementation
Expectations for new behaviors were incorporated directly into annual performance reviews
At every level of the organization, key roles for the transformation were held by employees who actively supported it
Transformation goals were adapted for relevant employees at all levels of the organization
Initiatives were led by line managers as part of their day-to-day responsibilities
The organization assigned high-potential individuals to lead the transformation (e.g., giving them direct responsibility for initiatives)
A capability-building program was designed to enable employees to meet transformation goals
Teams start each day with a formal discussion about the previous day’s results and current day’s work
A diagnostic tool helped quantify goals (e.g., for new mind-sets and behaviors, cultural changes, organizational agility) for the transformation’s long-term sustainability
Leaders of initiatives received change-leadership training during the transformation
A dedicated organizing team (e.g., a project management or transformation office) centrally coordinated the transformation.