The art of communication is the language of leadership. ~ James Humes
Everyone’s heard the mantra that the most effective managers, coaches, administrators, etc. are those who lead by example. Establishing and maintaining the relationship between leaders and those they lead ultimately comes down to communication—how that example is conveyed, received and understood. Can you think of a single list of “leadership qualities” that doesn’t reference communication skills somewhere in the mix? With the two so obviously linked, it makes sense to think of internal and employee communications as leadership opportunities.
So what factors play a role in these leaders’ messaging decisions?
Match Delivery Methods to Message and Audience
Even if we don’t realize we’re doing it, most of us modulate the way we address people based on who we are to them and what we’re talking about. Emails related to work tasks are more formal than casual conversation around the water cooler. Similarly, there’s more formality in both of those situations when there’s a supervisor/supervised dynamic at play. In most cases, the longer a professional relationship lasts—even between people on different levels of an established hierarchy—there’s a gradual relaxing of some formalities.
But those examples are mostly one-on-one interactions that everyone deals with whether you’re an intern or the CEO. While effective leaders certainly need to master handling one-on-one situations, the biggest communications challenges usually involve reaching more than an audience of one. When that’s the case, effectively disseminating information requires more consideration and the best approach depends on both the content and the audience.
What method is most convenient for the audience?
Email remains the most common internal communication method, in part, because it’s quick and convenient. But depending on industry and the segment of the workforce you’re trying to connect with, an email might be overlooked or ignored. For workers in the field, text messages or alerts might have a better chance of getting through. If you’re reaching out concerning employee benefits, it’s probably more convenient for employees to have the flexibility to access shared information from home so they can make decisions with their family.
What method will help ensure they take any necessary action?
If you need employees to take an action, the method you choose to convey it should provide the means for them to perform that action. Do they need to visit a website to complete mandatory training? Include the hyperlink. Do they need to choose between two health plans? Provide details for both options or a health plan comparison tool. Is there a survey they need to fill out? A review session they need to sign up for? A person they need to contact? Empower workers to fulfill the tasks assigned to them, whether it’s registering for mandatory training or signing up for an optional wellness program.
What method is appropriate for the message?
Some topics require immediate attention and deep understanding, while others are just information workers should have. Are you announcing company-wide restructuring? You’ll probably need to craft different messages for different segments of the workforce based on how the changes will impact them specifically. Given the importance of something like that, you would also want to break down the steps of the transition so you’re not overwhelming workers with too much at once. If you’re communicating about annual benefits enrollment, deadlines are a factor. In that case, using multiple methods and sending several rounds of messages before, during and prior to the close of enrollment can help maximize employee engagement. Just sharing generic wellness tips? Putting up posters or sending a brief email might be enough.
Make Sure the Right Person Is Relaying the Message
While the method of communication needs to match the content, the person relaying the message needs to match too. This is where true leaders show they know when to take a step back and delegate (and others show their desire to be in the spotlight or visibly wield their authority). Are you sharing information about employee benefits? Then it should come from the head of HR. Is the message about internal restructuring? Then a broader overview should come from the executive suite and specifics should come from more direct managers and supervisors. Are you reminding people to clean out the microwave or fridge in the breakroom? Then it should come from a team leader or department manager.
Effective leadership is inextricably linked to effective communication. If a group is only as strong as its weakest members, then leaders are only as effective as their ability to communicate.