When you’re the leader, everyone expects you to have great communication skills.
If you’re the founder of a start up, we assume you used those skills to persuade new clients and investors. If you head up a large department, you must have succeeded at interviews or in middle management roles. Your employees share this expectation and they’re keen to hear what you have to say.
Despite this, when faced with a request for a key note at an in-house event, or the leader’s perspective at an ‘all hands’ meeting, many leaders find they are lost for words.
There’s nothing to say
Lots of leaders interpret this moment of doubt as a reason to cancel the whole event. “What’s the point in communications events when there’s really nothing to say?” is a push-back I’ve heard lots of times.
But there’s almost aways something to say and with good reason.
An article published in Entrepreneur Magazine states that 79% of organisations surveyed attribute their success to good internal communications.
If you’re planning change or transformation, the need for consistent communication increases. McKinsey’s 2017 research into successful transformation revealed that “Companies with the most successful transformations do more than others to communicate with and engage the front line.”
Leaders are becoming increasingly aware of the link between employee engagement and other key performance indicators, like customer satisfaction and productivity.
Research into effective employee engagement in the UK was distilled into four key enablers, as listed on the Engage for Success website:
- Strategic Narrative
- Engaging Managers
- Employee Voice
When planning content for a communications event, all four enablers are good prompts to ensure the event is well balanced and productive. But for now let’s consider the first.
What is Strategic Narrative?
Engage for Success states the original employee engagement research found “organisations with higher levels of employee engagement and efficiency were those where leadership provided a ‘compelling and authentic’ strategic narrative about the organisation.”
According to Gartner, “Leaders need a corporate narrative that defines the company vision, inspires employees and others, while staying relevant through changes.” The more senior you are, the more credibility you have to present the strategic narrative. It’s what everyone expects the senior leader to have a handle on.
As Jeff Seibert describes, “you are in the single position that can see across roles, across skills-sets, across your market and across your customer base.” You need to share that perspective in order to provide that context for every one else.
Bringing your strategic narrative to life
Some pointers to bring your strategic narrative to life for your teams:
- Refresh enthusiasm in your organisation’s purpose. Remind everyone what your purpose is, in a way that evokes their emotions. Give a real example of how your clients are benefitting from your product or service.
- Describe any challenges you have collectively overcome. Show appreciation to the individuals who rose to those challenges. Mention the strength and resilience that experience has enabled the organisation to build.
- Talk about how you’re performing against plans. Provide context from the broader market or economy.
- Show you’re listening. Build in comments and feedback you’ve had from your team recently and describe how they have helped you.
- Demonstrate your enthusiasm for the future. Describe your organisation’s vision or strategic aims with clarity. Share insight into how you see everyone contributing to that.
- Answer questions and respond to comments in the moment. Be authentic in your responses, and consider the type of culture you’re trying to create. How would an inspiring leader in that culture present and respond?
Bringing your strategic narrative alive in this way helps your people to get behind your goals with a stronger sense of purpose. Describing how the whole organisation works together clears the way for more collaboration. Providing a clear vision and context helps everyone make faster, better decisions.
These are good reasons to communicate.
First posted on 12 January 2018 under the title, A simple prompt that will make you a more engaging and inspiring leader.