Last week I was interviewed by a reporter. She was writing an article on communication for executives and liked my earlier blog post on email etiquette.That article had practical tips for controlling your inbox so you can actually get something done. She wanted to know more. We discussed the strategic context of communications, not just what executives should be doing but also why. Today I want to talk about that.
As the management guru John Kotter once said, leaders “…don’t make plans; they don’t solve problems; they don’t even organize people. What leaders really do is prepare organizations for change and help them cope as they struggle through it.” The essence of leadership to accomplish those goals is strategic communication. It has four major components:
Driving Alignment. As a leader, you constantly help people link today’s tasks not only to their teammates’ efforts but to the company’s future direction. If that vision isn’t clear to them, there’s no hope of getting them all rowing in the same direction. Your organization will devolve into separate fiefdoms.
Most leaders vastly underestimate the amount of repetition needed to truly embed a guiding vision in the company’s culture. There is a marketing rule of thumb that you have to touch a prospect at least seven times before making a sale. The same principle applies here. However “selling” your team on a unifying vision is not an event. Alignment is a process that requires continual support through ongoing communications.
Alignment also requires a variety of communication tools. Is your team using instant messaging to streamline and align their daily collaboration, cutting through the clutter of the 400 emails clogging their inbox? Do they have a dashboard to turn to for updates on deadlines and handoffs? What about a shared document library and other networked or online collaboration tools?
Many leaders groan at the amount of time they “waste” in meetings, but those are important alignment tools too. Does your team meet weekly to discuss work in progress and resource allocation? Do you use those meetings faithfully to cascade information down to your team from your level of the organization and above, and to identify what information needs to be cascaded upward? Are there periodic – monthly, quarterly, annual – strategy meetings to revisit strategic goals and progress?
If you are a large organization are you also supporting alignment through a regular company newsletter? Periodic video blogs pushed out to all the troops are also a powerful communication tool for creating alignment around a unified vision.
Creating Buy-in. Your staff can know which direction to march and not agree with it. Part of strategic communication is helping them understand what’s in it for them, and for the greater corporate good. Creating buy-in is especially important since any change creates perceived loss of power and control for some managers whose turf is most affected.
Further, everyone experiences a temporary decline in productivity as the company transitions out of its older way of doing things. Even if the eventual result is more efficient and streamlined, the changeover is invariably ugly and inefficient.
Most people are willing to “play team,” as long as they feel informed and involved – even if the ultimate decision is not one they would choose. Do you have institutionalized opportunities to provide updates, ask questions, express opinions, and make suggestions? If you can anticipate the most likely sources of resistance you can often preempt it by actively involving them as architects of the change. Then they own it.
Supporting Participation. Just as you can have alignment without buy-in, general endorsement of a strategic direction doesn’t guarantee effort to bring it about. Strategic communication actively supports people in implementing change.
Within your own team, meeting regularly one-on-one provides powerful support for active participation. In steady times you may only need half an hour once a month to give each report personally tailored coaching and ongoing feedback. In an active transition or during times where individuals are especially challenged be prepared to accelerate that tempo considerably. Especially in a virtual team, lacking the more informal contact at the water cooler or lunch room, personal attention is crucial. Make it a priority in your calendar.
The other key communication to your team and beyond is to walk your talk. Role model the behavioral change and commitment you expect from them, otherwise they have no reason to take you seriously.
Recognizing Success. The fourth component of strategic communication is recognizing and rewarding success. Many team leaders overlook this critical aspect of communication, thinking after all the team is only doing what’s expected of them. They forget that what we pay attention to grows. Recognizing success – both exceptional individual efforts as well as collaborative accomplishments – is important feedback for your team that they are meeting expectations and that their efforts are noticed, encouraging them to dig deeper.
Recognizing success means creating the appropriate metrics to measure progress, and a stated definition of what it will look like when you reach your goals, including benchmarks along the way. Aiming for and celebrating the low-hanging fruit in any change initiative is important for building momentum toward the longer-term goals.
Does your team need a clearer understanding of the big picture and how they each fit into it? Would you like a team that is highly productive in a sustainable way? Would you like to see more cooperation and collaboration toward the collective good? If strategic communication could accelerate goals such as these, contact me to see how I can help.
Ann Hollier provides strategic consulting and performance coaching to high achieving senior executives and management teams. She specializes in change management, strategic planning and implementation, leadership development, and building world-class collaborative teams. Learn more at http://thecogentexecutive.com/