Internal comms teams have an increasingly hard job as they must compete for an ever smaller slice of employees’ time and concentration to get their company’s message across. This is for two main reasons: employees are busier and coping with more change than ever, and also have more access to more information – both outside and inside work – than ever.
But this absolutely does not mean that comms teams should be increasing the number of messages they pump out. Quite the contrary; they need to put all their efforts into a few well crafted and targeted efforts. And this includes using the right channels at the right time.
Although comms teams may see them as more costly and difficult to organize than some the other options, one of the best is leadership briefings. Out of 12 major channels available to comms teams – including email, intranets, internal social media, and digital signage – leadership briefings are the fourth most popular, according to CEB data from a survey of over 1000 employees.
Good, But Only When Run Well
For some, this may seem a strangely high ranking for leadership briefings as they are often ineffective at many firms. Indeed, analysis of the data showed leadership briefings to have only an average reach — getting a message to only about half of the employee population — and that employees tend to rate them as below average (i.e., they don’t like them).
But the data also showed that, when run well, leadership briefings have tremendous power to boost employee performance by helping them do three things: to understand strategy and how their work connects to it, to access information, tools, and people that can help them do their jobs, and to build peer networks.
When CEB has asked employees to assess leadership messages, employees agreed that most senior executives were generally managing to achieve the essentials of good communication — using concrete language, being brief, providing evidence — but were less effective in engaging employees. In fact, these types of executive messages were ranked the lowest of the 12 channels at capturing attention, sparking emotion, and using stories.
Focus on Topic as Well as Tone
Many communicators are well aware that some of their exec team’s performance can be a little, well, flat, and many are trying to coach leaders to adopt a more engaging, inspirational style. This can work wonders for some leaders, but not all are able to do that authentically; which ends up making the whole briefing even worse.
An alternative is changing the content of messages. It can be hugely effective to understand what will be an emotionally compelling story for that executive. Once they can relate to a topic and get behind it, they’ll sound authentic without the need for any coaching.
Substance and not just style plays a role here, which luckily is more controllable by communicators and leaders alike.
One example of a more engaging leadership briefing comes from the comms team at a big financial firm in CEB’s networks. They use a town hall format to share “Lessons Learned” — using Q&A to share mistakes that leaders have made and what they learned from it.
While it’s not a natural situation for leaders (or communicators) to highlight mistakes, it’s a great way to engage and teach people. It creates more of an emotional connection from a storytelling standpoint, and it gives employees a view into the thought processes of senior leaders. This ultimately helps them learn how to think and make decisions.