"Masterful Messaging: Five Ways to Improve Your Organizational Communications" originally appeared on Forbes.com.
For any organization’s leadership, effectively communicating with employees is perhaps the most important “big picture” skill to master. After all, if the head can’t clearly tell the body what to do, the entity as a whole will wind up stumbling around and, sooner or later, falling to the ground.
Yet so many organizations pay little specific attention to their internal communications. Sometimes leaders simply assume that, if everyone speaks and reads the same language, there’s no reason to think miscommunications will occur. Other times, communication policies were laid down years ago and they’ve become outdated.
If you’ve paid little heed to your approach to organizational communications, now’s a good time to take a step back, assess and, where necessary, implement some improvements. Here are five ways to communicate more clearly.
1. Start at the top.
Senior leaders must set the tone by being visible, accessible and open with employees. They must serve as walking, talking, writing examples of clear, candid communication.
Unfortunately, this is often where many organizations’ communication breakdowns begin. If upper management isolates itself and reaches out only through cold, “corporate speak” memos and emails, important messages will likely get ignored or misunderstood. In such cases, middle management often must “translate” communications, which turns into a game of telephone that leaves employees confused or disgruntled.
Determining whether senior leadership isn’t getting the job done can be difficult. Someone in upper management usually needs to champion the cause of organizational communications and convince others to commit to an improvement plan. Such a plan might start with engaging a consultant to assess internal messaging and then provide training — both to upper and middle management.
2. Understand your audience.
Do you know who works for you? Well, of course you do — but do you really know them? Over time, the demographics of an organization can change and the preferred communication methods and styles of employees along with it.
For instance, volumes have been written at this point about millennials and how they communicate differently from the Gen Xers who preceded them and certainly the baby boomers before that. And, don’t look now, but Generation Z is entering the workforce as well. These are young people who grew up completely immersed in social media.
Use objective measurement techniques (surveys, focus groups, 360-degree feedback) to take an ongoing pulse of your workforce. Paint a full picture of your organization’s people and what makes them tick. Then align company messaging and communication channels with these preferences.
3. Tell the whole story, consistently.
Among the most common complaints from employees is that their employers try to spin communications by cherry-picking certain facts and leaving out much of the nuance. As a result, trust suffers while rumors and conspiracy theories may rear their ugly heads.
Another common complaint is that employees hear or read slightly differing stories and directives, maybe first from upper management and then from middle management. Or they notice that their employer’s message changes over the months or from quarter to quarter, leaving them to wonder where the organization’s priorities really lie.
Organizations can address both foibles through an effective, well-planned communications process. Discuss each company-wide announcement thoroughly and reach a consensus regarding a full range of pertinent facts and additional information. Choose the ideal medium (or media) to communicate the message, ensuring that — no matter how the information is conveyed — it’s consistent under all formats. Last, when issuing updates, double check that the communication remains consistent with previous messaging.
4. Differentiate between verbal and written communication.
Given how easy it is to transmit written information these days, some managers may rely too much on emails, texts and instant messaging. As most of us have experienced by now, words on a screen are easily misinterpreted and taken the wrong way.
Generally, supervisors should communicate important personal information to employees — especially corrections and criticism — verbally and, where possible, face-to-face. This goes for positive feedback, too. Compliments and news of awards or a promotion tend to have greater impact emotionally when expressed in person.
Of course, you must put formal disciplinary communications in writing for purposes of documentation. And memos and emails are still a necessary tool in delivering messages that affect departments or the entire organization. For these purposes, bear in mind that the written word carries more weight in a legal and historical sense than the spoken word.
When committing words to paper or a digital file, they’re made permanent (unless, of course, shredded or deleted, which is another subject unto itself). So, when generating written communications, take extra care to be completely accurate or to issue timely corrections when mistakes occur. What’s more, ensure communications are free of errors in punctuation, spelling and grammar.
5. Offer ample opportunities for dialogue.
Communication, as the cliché goes, is a two-way street. Or at least it should be. Some executives and managers may assume their door is always open, but their behavior or the organizational culture may discourage employees from walking through it and asking questions or giving feedback.
This is another problem that you can address through regular employee surveys — particularly anonymous ones. You may be communicating with staff well for the most part, but if they can’t talk back, there’s still a major shortcoming in your messaging.
One obvious place to encourage dialogue is in your performance evaluations. Be sure supervisors are setting aside time during these meetings to discuss the issue of organizational communications and solicit improvement ideas. You might also reevaluate whether and how department meetings are being conducted and how often supervisors are interacting with their staff members outside of performance evaluations.
Review and refine.
Many organizations, particularly businesses, spend a substantial amount of time and resources perfecting their external messaging. But don’t overlook the power and importance of clearly communicating with your own employees. It’s an organizational skill-set that may occasionally need review and refinement.
POST WRITTEN BY
Founder of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration and Member of the Forbes Coaches Council
"Everyday Leadership Acts of Courage: Leaving A Legacy" originally appeared on Forbes.com.
Earlier this year, we lost a true leader and special person: Blake Nordstrom. Nordstrom was co-president of the specialty retailer that bears his family’s name. He passed away unexpectedly at age 58 on Wednesday, January 2, 2019.
I started my career at Nordstrom and worked for the company for more than 17 years. Although my day-to-day work only occasionally intersected with members of the Nordstrom family, every interaction and conversation I had with them stayed with me — ultimately putting me on my current path developing transformational and authentic leaders, especially in the workplace.
“Leadership Acts of Courage” is a series of articles I started on Memorial Day 2018 as I was reflecting on my gratitude to those, past and present, who have chosen to be leaders in serving our country. I got to thinking about some of the leadership “acts of courage” I see in the workplace, and this is my final article in the series for leaders on courage. This isn't the “lay down your life” acts of courage so common to those in the military, but the acts of doing the right thing — which is almost always the hard thing — to inspire others to be their best selves and to create excellence in one’s organization. As my final article in this series, I’d like to share a few examples of my Nordstrom experiences and explain how these hold important lessons for today’s leaders.
Greetings In The Elevator
Bruce Nordstrom, Blake’s father, was said to only need to meet someone once to remember their name. Case in point: I stepped into an elevator at a mall (not a Nordstrom store) with “Mr. Bruce” more than 10 years after leaving the company. I was pleased and surprised to see him but also certain he wouldn’t remember me. I decided to greet him anyway.
“Hello, Mr. Bruce,” I said, expecting to have to also tell him my name. But he immediately replied, “Hello, Lynda! How have you been?” I probably spoke to Bruce Nordstrom a maximum of five or six times in the 17 years I worked there. Blake was the same way.
What does this have to do with courage and leadership? Everything. Succeeding in business is about knowing people, building trust and managing relationships. Make an effort to remember someone’s name to show that you care enough to take the time to recognize them as a fellow human being. This means making oneself vulnerable by interacting with others on a personal level.
Another act of courage that occurred every day right up until Blake passed was answering his own phone calls and emails. In the 1980s, it was considered shocking that a C-suite executive in a Fortune 500 company would take his own calls. But that’s what Mr. Bruce and Blake did.
This is an act of courage because it would be easy for a leader to delegate the task of answering their calls or emails to a complaint department, but this wasn't their way.
It’s also an act of vulnerability because being responsive keeps you close to the heartbeat of your organization and enables you to interact with those who work for you or buy from you. These interactions will call for you to share yourself — your voice, thoughts, personality — and be personally accountable. Many leaders choose not to do this. So instead of taking the easy path for yourself by seeking out someone to blame and delegating the apology, take accountability for your company, and speak to your consumers directly.
What You Can Learn
A few other lessons that were never taught in a classroom at Nordstrom but were learned from my daily interactions with other leaders include:
The inverted pyramid: This is more than a diagram; it is a philosophy and core value. At the top are customers, then employees, then managers, and executives are at the bottom. This means the culture is first focused on the customer and respect and appreciation of employees. The key is to lead from behind. Leave your ego and title out of it, and be authentic in service to others.
The employee handbook: It’s a 5x7 postcard with only two rules: 1. Give the best possible customer service always, and 2. Use good judgment in all situations when executing Rule No. 1. People are aghast when they hear this and often insist there must have been some other sort of “rulebook." There wasn't. The leadership lesson here is to treat people like adults. Trust your employees to do what’s best for the customer, including internal customers and co-workers.
Inspiration and teaching through storytelling: Storytelling is one of the oldest acts of courage and vulnerability. To stand in front of others and command their attention, hoping they’ll find your tale engaging and enlightening, is challenging. Leaders can't truly lead without being able to communicate their vision in a way that inspires others to want to follow. Telling success stories of people who exemplify your company values and culture will reinforce for others how you do things and is so much more effective than an employee handbook or a poster of your core values on the wall.
A Lifelong Influence
Blake Nordstrom and his family were enormously influential on me as I embarked on my career. They helped me evolve into the leader I am today. You can create your own leadership legacy by developing your abilities to lead with honesty, transparency and authenticity — as well as with courage and vulnerability. Why? Because being a leader worth following can build a better organization and stronger people and can enhance the community around it.
How can you do it? There are three simple (but not always easy) steps: First, choose it. See yourself as being this type of leader. Second, learn it. Get a coach. Join a learning group. Take some classes to learn the skills. Third, do it. Knowing is not doing. It requires action and practice, along with reflection, to develop these leadership habits. But when you do, you’ll go far.
POST WRITTEN BY
Founder of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration and member of the Forbes Coaches Council
Join us in Redmond on Thursday, September 19 for "The Greatest Show-Partnering to Achieve your Dreams". Presenter Janet McNaughton, of Lasting Impressions, draws from the movie “The Greatest Showman,” the brilliance of PT Barnum, Harvard Business Review and Transformational Leadership to provide an inspiring, thought-provoking and interactive discussion.
Partnering to Achieve your Dreams focuses on finding and forming partnerships that turn your dreams into powerful results! Explosive growth, personally and professionally, happens when we combine our resources, form connections and maximize our strengths. Accelerate your leadership and come learn with us.
In this session you will…
THE GREATEST SHOW-PARTNERING TO ACHIEVE YOUR DREAMS
Thursday, September 19, 2019
7:30am - 9:15am
Location: Genie - A Terex Brand in Redmond, WA
Breakfast & Networking followed by a 1.25-hour Executive Briefing
Presented by: Janet McNaughton, Lasting Impressions
"Everyday Leadership Acts of Courage" is a series of articles authored by Lynda Silsbee, Founder of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration and member of the Forbes Coaches Council. The article series, as seen on Forbes.com, reflects on Lynda's gratitude to those, past and present, who have chosen to be courageous leaders in the work-world and the lessons everyone can learn from them.
In Lynda's first article in the series, she writes about 360-degree feedback, which in and of itself, is an act of courage. The second article titled "To Lead, You Must Be Vulnerable" focuses on courage, openness and vulnerability.
We look forward to introducing the final article in the series in the next issue of our Leadership Matters newsletter. If you would like to be added to our mailing list to stay in the loop on topics similar to this, sign up to join our mailing list here.
LEAP was proud to be a sponsor at this year's Seattle Vistage Executive Summit. On May 9th, the Hyatt Regency at Seattle's Southport was filled with Vistage members from across the region for a day of learning, inspiration and connection.
Thank you to all the Vistage members who stopped by the LEAP booth and attended Kim Leifsen's morning session titled 'Transformational Recruiting & Talent Spotting'!
Think about the last person that left your organization, voluntarily or involuntarily. They didn't leave because of something that could have been found on a resume or in an application. Chances are they didn't leave because of something that could have been discovered in an interview. They left because of job fit!
Join us on July 9 in Tacoma for 'Hiring for Job Fit & Potential'. In this session, you will learn about the following job match types and why these are the reasons people leave organizations:
HIRING FOR JOB FIT & POTENTIAL
Tuesday, July 9, 2019
7:30am - 9:00am
Location: C.I. Shenanigans in Tacoma, WA
Breakfast & Networking followed by a 1-hour executive briefing
Presented by: Kim Leifsen, Hiring Strategies
Many of us have learned the virtues and necessity of delegating responsibilities and tasks. This is typically trained from the delegator's point of view. However, since many more are delegatee's, there isn't much that has been published on how to be a great delegatee. Being a great delegatee will distinguish you as someone who can be trusted and gets things done.
Checklist: How to be a great “Delegatee"
Checklist: How to honor your word when you can’t keep your word.
POST WRITTEN BY:
Principal, CEO Masters & LEAP Leadership Development Coach
This year's Seattle Vistage Executive Summit is on May 9th at the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington at Seattle's Southport. Vistage members from across the region will join for a day of learning, inspiration and connection. We are proud to be a sponsor of the 2019 summit!
If you plan to attend, please visit our booth. Also, don't miss Kim Leifsen's morning workshop titled "Transformational Recruiting and Talent Spotting". Kim, a local Workforce Strategist and LEAP Leadership Development Coach, will share her own experience as well as draw on HBR's article "21st-Century Talent Spotting." In the 2018 survey "Hard to Hire: Third Party Recruiting & State of Talent Acquisition", 90% of respondents "feel the current hiring market is more challenging now than in the past." Walk away with new strategies to attract, engage and keep top performing employees.
Lynda Silsbee is Founder and President of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration. She has spent more than 30 years creating and leading high performance teams. Along with the other LEAP Certified Coaches, she reports that helping managers make the LEAP to leader is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her work.