Communicating from the Top – Challenges in Leadership Internal Communications

There are three key pieces that make up leadership communications – engagement, empowerment and clearing roadblocks. Employees need to feel engaged by their leaders in tangible ways they can see, believe and trust.  These interactions must empower employees to work together, and any roadblocks to success need to be recognized and mitigated. 

These three parts, when pulled together into a strategic plan, can turn leadership communications into a driver for corporate excellence.

Part 1 – Engagement – Telling the Story
One skill that set Steve Jobs apart from most was his storytelling ability.  Jobs engaged his people with easily relatable stories and analogies that brought a compelling case for change.  His words felt personal and motivational at the same time.  Leading with a personal experience makes the leader feel more human and helps clear the “us versus them” barrier between leaders and their teams.  Senior team members should use stories to drive employee trust and help unify teams inside the organization.

The story needs to become a short-term rallying point for the organization, focusing all levels of the business on a specific need to be understood and aligned on across all teams.  As such, the story and the meaning behind the story need to pull directly from the strategic needs of the organization, focusing on the most effective opportunities first.  For example, in a culture where the greatest improvement area is to build collaboration and remove silos, the rock tumbler story could become the engaging story that sets the tone for transforming the way teams collaborate.

Part 2 – Empowerment – Motivating to Make the Story Our Own
Stories told by the leader may feel empowering; however, the right empowerment strategy must be in place for employees to be motivated to internalize and make the story their own.  Career analyst Dan Pink provides a very engaging overview of what that means in his TED talk, “The Puzzle of Motivation.”

Motivating others is a strategy in itself, with different types of thinking needing different motivational factors.  For repeatable tasks, extrinsic motivators (i.e. the “carrot and stick”) type of incentive program work well.  Outside of these areas, extrinsic motivation may actually do more harm than good to empowerment.

Innovative thinking needs intrinsic motivators.  Team members need to feel empowered, so we need to focus on the ability of individuals to feel a sense of autonomy, find ways to improve themselves and foster a sense of purpose in the organization.

Without strategic plans in place that focus the right kind of motivation on the right kind of roles, the empowerment message from the leader will fall short. 

Part 3 – Clearing Roadblocks – Getting Out of the Way
Newly engaged and empowered teams help expose the kinds of roadblocks an organization has to success.  Roadblocks may appear as policies that inhibit success, fear of change, limited resources or archaic organizational structures.  Leaders need to identify and mitigate risks, communicate transparently and encourage continued commitment as issues arise.  Without clear and honest communication at this stage, motivated employees can quickly become disillusioned.

Once a roadblock is clear and motivation is re-established, leadership needs to remember to step out of the way and allow employees to continue forward.

Conclusion – It’s More than Speechwriting
Leadership internal communication is a multi-disciplined strategic plan that pulls impact analysis and stakeholder management from OCM disciplines along with risk management/mitigation from project management and employee motivation factors from HR to make communications a success.  Effective presentations must have behind the scenes, tangible corporate initiatives to reinforce the message, otherwise, the message will eventually fall flat.