Have a new CEO in the role and find it tough to get the leader to engage widely? Unable to get buy-in on your leader communication plan? Keen to nudge your CEO along as you make your communication current and relevant?
Here are a few approaches that might help turn your leader around to what matters for the business and employees.
Tackle the resistances: Is communication viewed as unimportant? Does the CEO feel that there isn’t enough reason to communicate? Is there a good balance of stories to communicate? Does the leader know the best channels and what audiences want? Is the leader unclear about using social media? Probe your CEO’s perspective and experience with communication and understand what prevents the leader from engaging wholeheartedly. Demonstrate how communication adds up in the long run. You can indicate how all the different elements of recent communication linked back to the overall objectives you set out at the start. In conversations I have had with leaders I discovered that the ‘fear’ of sounding ‘foolish’ stopped them from participating online!
Gather insights to enhance your business case: Often the leader will look at peers to gauge the levels of engagement and expectations as a communicator. There are excellent examples of leaders (not necessarily the celebrity CEOs!) who have made communication a priority. Look at a mix of cases especially if your leader is from outside the country. For example, there is an interest article which shares how the role of the CEO has evolved to be the Chief Engagement Officer. Also, when the leader spent time with an insider the productivity increased more than when spent with someone outside the firm indicating the need for greater internal connection. There is also growing acceptance that a CEO who is actively engaged on social media is more attuned to leading an organization in this new world order. Likewise, there is a way to gauge what makes a ‘social’ CEO.
Introduce an unbiased viewpoint into the equation: It always helps to get different perspectives from audiences whom the leader will engage with. When you are closest to the leader your views may get taken for granted. Therefore, there is nothing better than hearing it directly from the people who consume information from the leader. Encourage the leader to meet employees one-on-one to gather insights on what they would like to receive – a communication ‘sounding board’ so to speak. A leader who heard that he wasn’t ‘visible’ enough decided to modify his approach by including more opportunities to interact on the floor and in the cafeteria. He also made it a point to meet and greet as he went about his work, changing staffers’ perception about him.
Have a hotline to the CEO: Does the CEO consult you on communication decisions? Strategists and CEOs expect communicators to be part of the discussions early enough to influence and make an impact. Those communicators who report in to the C-suite were considered to be more effective in delivering quality outcomes. Ensure you seek a direct link into the CEO if you haven’t already. Identify interventions that you can sound the leader about. Be the eyes and ears for the leader as you sift through stories that are relevant.
Put a framework for communication: Without a clear strategy that links to your business goals the leader can come across as fuzzy and your communication weak. Try a simple approach based on the need of the hour, the willingness of your leader to engage and the opportunities you spot. Focus on aspects that the leader ‘can do’, ‘must do’ and ‘not do’. You can draw a plan based on areas where the leader can participate, lead and influence. The plan can cover opportunities during the employee life cycle, corporate social responsibility initiatives, volunteering, recognition, culture and values communication among others.
Lastly, start small; help your leader get familiar with the nuances of communication. Seek feedback from your audiences, highlight the impact and improve incrementally.