- More than 20 years experience working in corporate communications, including 10 years with AT&T, 12 years with Cisco, and, most recently, as a consultant advising senior executives in high tech, from startups to Fortune 100 companies.
- Areas of expertise include coaching senior leaders on brand and executive presence, communications strategy, strategic messaging, presentation development and public speaking.
- Experience in coaching and mentoring includes co-authoring a book with career advice for young women to be published Fall 2014.
- With a Master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, emphasizes simple, clear communications to achieve greater impact.
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Executive Communications - Strategies for Connecting Internally with your Employees
- Ad hoc hiring of communications resources leads to a lack of alignment in a company's communications vision, strategy and messaging.
This can be a problem in larger organizations. In this situation, communications is highly valued by the company – and anyone with a budget can hire a communications professional for an immediate need. Hiring in this scenario sometimes happens in a moment of desperation. Case in point: A business leader has an important presentation to deliver. He or she hires a communications professional to meet the immediate need, but there is no benchmark to guide that hiring. There is no consistency to make sure that the communications people who are hired have the right skills: strategic thinking, excellent writing, experience with Web 2.0 technologies, collaboration.
What starts out as a positive – the business appreciates the value of communications – can become negative if there's is no quality control in hiring and managing communications professionals across the enterprise. When communications is decentralized, there is typically a lack of consistent communications strategy, messaging and approach.
This isn't a challenge typically faced by smaller companies. But as a company grows, this can become a significant issue. Leaders sometimes lack the foresight to build a communications discipline and say, “We need a communications discipline with a leader who sets the vision for the function.”
- Senior leaders are not effective communicators, which impedes their ability to lead, inspire, motivate and influence.
Some leaders know this is a problem, some don't. If you have a senior leader who is unaware of his or her communication shortcomings, that leader needs direct feedback that the shortcoming is holding him or her back. The challenge is getting leaders to make improvement a priority. It requires a willingness to spend the time and attention that's required to become better communicator -- a process that can take months, even years.
- A company's business strategy is unclear or there is no business strategy at all.
The process of developing a communications strategy and messaging can be a "forcing function" to clarify business strategy.
For example, a leader wants to send an organizational announcement or deliver an important presentation. When you sit down and ask questions about what the leader wants to communicate, you realize the goal is unclear. The communications process forces you to answer important questions: What are we trying to communicate? Why are we trying to communicate it?
Due diligence in understanding "what" and "why" is especially important if:
- The company is considering a change in direction.
- There is a significant product rollout or a change in product roadmap.
- Growth suddenly picks up, or suddenly slows down.
- There are major changes to the management team.
- A major competitive threats emerges.
- There's a crisis.
- There is news that directly affects employees' job security or pocket book (layoffs, changes to bonus, salary, benefits or health care coverage)
- Employees are so inundated with email, they do not read executive and internal communications.
- Companies need an internal communications strategy built around engaging employees. The tendency of many executives is to feel that they have an important message for employees and that employees will read it because it's important. That email can be very well written, or that video can be well produced -- but it's still challenging to get your employees' attention in today's dynamic work environment. There is research that finds most employees today are overwhelmed by information and distractions.
The key is keeping the message short, simple and easy to read. Employees will read a few sentences, especially if it comes from an executive, but they are not likely to read a long email unless it directly affects their job. A conversational tone works best. Also, look for new and creative ways, in addition to email, to engage employees and share the news.
Internal communications is an easier task if you have a motivated workforce. Is the company focused on retaining talent and keeping employees motivated? Are business leaders actively talking to employees at all levels? Are they visible and present in the workplace? If employees feel they have a connection with an executive, they are more likely to pay attention to the communications.
- Leaders do "mass marketing" communications pushed across multiple channels to get their message out without taking the time to define their business objectives and define/understand their target audience.
On one hand, your audience is receiving more communications than they can deal with. On the other hand, executives are urging, “This is really important. Blanket the audience to make sure employees get the information!” A mass email push sometimes means your message doesn't always get through at all.
Understand what you are trying to achieve. Who exactly is your target audience, and what's the best medium to reach them? Email? The web? Video? Social media, or other collaborative technology? Sometimes a "high touch" approach of cascading information through the management chain of command is best. It may be a combination of all of the above, depending on your specific audience.
- Executives fail to think globally in terms of being "time zone friendly," cultural protocol and messaging.
Messages from the executive level must be tailored to local audiences. Consider, "Does this resonate with different customers? Does this resonate with employees in different locations, regions and countries? Is there any insensitivity in the communications I should be considering?"
When rolling out a message, don't fall into the myopic lens of U.S. time. Consider time zones in other parts of the world. Be sensitive toward your audience with respect to timing. Keep in mind local holidays and events. If you have a company narrative, make sure that narrative includes examples from different parts of the world.