Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Leadership communication - 8 Practices that deliver Results!

Often in organizations, people get promoted to leadership roles and I have seen many people struggle with internal communications in their new role. Especially at times when an organization undergoes rapid changes, leaders fail to communicate well within their own organization.

Recently, the topic of leadership communication came up a discussion point and here is what I had to say about it and I decided write it.

Essentially in uncertain times, leaders will have to step up their internal communications. This is more true when the organization is rapidly growing or  when it is being acquired or when there is a major reorganization happening. Over the course of discussion, there were eight points that were captured and is worth sharing.

1. Be the first to communicate!
2. Be visible to all
3. Use modern Media
4. Tell it all - both good and bad news
5. Be empathetic & tough at the same time
6. Talk about reality and immediate next steps
7. Keep everyone focused on the goals
8. Encourage Feedback and answer tough questions

1. Be the first to communicate!

At times of  rapid change, it is best for leaders to step-up  and take a lead in all internal communications. Leaders must be the first to communicate to their whole group. In today’s global world, the group could be spread over multiple locations, so it may be prudent to communicate initially over e-mail first and then follow it up with a group meetings or town hall meetings. 

2. Be Visible to all

Leaders make a great impression by being among the team and people. There is a saying: “Great leaders lead from the front.”  Likewise when it comes to communication, leaders must walk and talk to people personally. If the organization is spread across multiple locations, then leaders must travel around to rally the folks, talk to them in person. For front line folks, it is not enough to see an e-mail or a poster or a picture. Joining them in person make a profound impact. Several military generals - Robert Lee, Napoleon, Patton etc. earned great respect and could command over people due to this simple & yet effective communication technique.

In my past organization at Open-Silicon, I had seen few great leaders  - Dr. Naveed Sharwani and Dr. Satya Gupta (founders) would take extra effort to talk to all departments - be it sales or marketing and R&D labs. 

3. Use Modern Media

Communication technology has changed enormously in the last decade. So use all the latest technology to spread your message. For example, make a video recording and share that over internal social media or Intranets, For meetings use video conference rather than just teleconference,  In addition to emails, use blogs to communicate. Some organizations have even created mobile apps to communicate with employees.

One good example of leadership communication is Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India. His use of video, radio, social media and even holographic broadcasting of his speeches led to his election victory. If a politician can use modern media, then all leaders in technology companies must be able to do even better.

4. Tell it all - both good and bad news

Too many leaders try to hide company problems from their employees and public and opt to tell only the good news. Another mistake leaders make is to sugar coat bad news or give a positive spin to an obvious bad news. But all this will fail as employees can read through the message and leaders create a bad impression for themselves.

The best strategy is to tell it all. Both good news and bad news upfront. People are smart and will understand. Hiding bad news will only exacerbate the situation. 

5. Be empathetic & tough at the same time

When leaders tell both bad and good news, leaders will have to be empathetic to each individual fates and yet take the tough actions at the same time. One of  the best example in history would be General James Longstreet’s instruction to Major General Pickett in the Battle of Gettysburg. General Lee had ordered Pickett’s men to attack union troops on cemetery ridge. Longstreet knew the futility of this assault, and yet he instructed Pickett and Pettigrew to attack. Longstreet’s commanders knew that the fatalities will be very large in this assault and yet executed the orders.

Unlike military generals, business leaders do not face this type of life and death situations, yet many fail in this aspect.

6. Talk about reality and the immediate next steps

When facing bad times or good, good leaders should  describe the situation and then talk about the steps than need to be taken.  This will help in establishing the basis for taking the necessary steps and leader’s credibility will increase and people will follow them.

During the dotcom bubble burst in 2000, I was at Intel and Greg Barett the CEO of Intel announced a layoff, but first he explained the situation to everyone and then listed out the steps - which included layoffs, and renewed focus on developing new technologies. Intel launched “One Generation Ahead” program in that downturn and since then, AMD has never been able to catch up.

The ability to articulate the current situation in clear terms and then defining the next steps will energize the entire organization and move them in the right direction.

7. Keep everyone focused on the goals

When things are changing rapidly - say for example the company is going through a merger or a split or getting acquired or just being reorganized, employees tend to lose focus on the future goals. The air of uncertainty masks and obscures the main objectives and people often delay execution of plans or delay making decisions. Its natural instinct for people to wait for clarity, and in the mean time the organization flounders.

Leaders must then step up their communication to keep everyone focused on the goals and keep driving the organization towards the goals. This will keep people busy and not get distracted  & waste time.

8. Encourage Feedback and answer tough questions

Its human nature to cringe at tough questions. Leaders are often no different. Many leaders don’t like tough questions. Such leaders insist on people asking questions ahead of time before the major meeting or try to deflect the question on someone else or say “I will answer this later”.

This tactic does not work. Instead walk in the front and answer the tough questions in front of everyone. If the question points towards the leadership mistakes, be open to accept past mistakes and apologize and/or talk about corrective steps.

Closing Thoughts

Leadership is a learned skill, and leadership communication is no different. One needs to just walk out of the comfort zone and walk in the front to lead. This would mean being straightforward and dealing with tough situations. Leaders are first judged on how they deal with tough situations and are measured on the success. If a leader cannot handle tough situation, then there will no success. And the best way to deal with tough situation is to communicate and communicate well with all stake holders. For successful leadership, communication skills is just as important as decision making skills. 

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