The New Realities of Leadership Communication
by Tangela Davis
The new realities of leadership communication can be viewed from the context that we are moving to an era of organizational conversation. This reality has come about as a result of five things: Economic Change, Organizational Change, Global Change, Generational Change and Technological Change.
Economic change has resulted in the increasing demand within the service industry and has evolved to become more economically significant relative to knowledge work. This has supplanted other kinds of work and we are constantly seeking advanced ways to process and share information.
Organizational change has created a flatter hierarchical structure with the front line employees involved in more value-creating work with bottom-up communication being important for decision-making.
Global change has created a diverse and widespread workforce whereby you are navigating across geographical and cultural lines which has caused the interaction to become more fluid and complex.
Generational change has caused a younger workforce to expect peers and authority figures to communicate with them in an energetic and two-way fashion.
Finally, technological change has caused the reliance of an older and less conversational channel to be plausible. Social media platforms have become more powerful and widespread.
Intimacy is the first stage for establishing a connection with our employees. However, in order to obtain the intimacy, we must have great interaction and dialogue.
1) Interactivity: Promoting Dialogue
A personal conversation is the exchange of comments or questions between two or more people. One person holding the conversation is not a conversation. This remains true of organizational conversation which leaders talk to their employees instead of with their employees. Interactivity allows the conversation to be fluid rather than closed and directive. The effort of interactivity reinforces, and builds upon, intimacy: Efforts to close the gaps between leadership will deteriorate if employees don’t have the tools and the institutional support they need to speak up or to talk back.
A shift toward greater interactivity is driven in part by the shift in the use of communication channels. For many years, technology made it difficult or impossible to support interaction within a company of any size and the media that companies used to achieve scale and efficiency. However, new channels have disrupted the one-way structure. Social media has given leaders and their employees an interactive voice with the style and spirit of a personal conversation. It is important for organizations to deploy the right technology; however, equally important is the need to buttress social media with social thinking.
Today’s prevailing organization culture works against transforming corporate communication to a two-way street. For many executives and leaders, the temptation to treat every medium as a microphone is hard to resist. However, some companies have fostered a genuinely interactive culture of values, norms, and behaviors that create a welcoming space for dialogue.
2) Inclusion: Expanding Employees’ Role
Let’s reflect for a moment. Wouldn’t you agree that personal conversation at its best is an opportunity endeavor? It enables you to share ownership of the depth of the discussion. As a result, you can put your own ideas, heart and soul into the conversation. Organizational conversation calls on employees to generate the content that makes up a company’s story. Inclusive leaders help to turn those employees into full-fledged conversation partners.
During this stage, leaders raise the level of emotional engagement that employees bring to the company. While intimacy involves the efforts of leaders to get closer to employees, inclusion focuses on the role that employees play in that process. It enables the practice of interactivity by enabling employees to bring their own ideas to the table and often on company channels. These employees become front line content providers.
By most standards, today’s corporate communication model, top executives and professional communicators monopolize the creation of company content and keep a tight rein on what people write and say on official company channels. With the spirit of inclusion, employees can assume critical roles in the company in creating content by acting as brand ambassadors, thought leaders and storytellers.
a. Brand Ambassadors
If you or your employees feel passionate about the company’s products and services, they become living representatives of the brand! This happens organically as people love what they do and will talk about it on their own time.
b. Thought Leaders
To be a leader in a knowledge-based field, companies may rely on consultants or in-house professionals, staff to draft speeches, articles and white papers. Often the most innovative thinking occurs where people develop and test new products and services. Empowering those people to create and promote thought-leadership material can be a smart, quick way to bolster a company’s reputation among key industry players.
People are used to hearing corporate communication professionals tell stories; however, there is nothing like hearing a story direct from the front line! When your employees speak from their own experience, unedited, the message comes to life as authentic.
Inclusion means that executives can create a decent amount of control over how the company is represented to the world. However, cultural and technological changes have eroded that control. Whether you like it or not, with today’s technology anybody can tarnish (or polish) your company’s reputation right from the cube, by emailing an internal document to a reporter, blogger or posting on an online forum. A great example is the recent events of Edward Snowden allegedly leaking secrets of the U.S. NSA electronic surveillance. Inclusive leaders are making a virtue out of necessity. Leaders have discussed a system of self-regulation by employees blocking the void left by top-down control. Imagine an employee coming out with an outrageous statement, the community reacts, and the overall sentiment swings back to the middle.
3) Intentionality: Pursuing an Agenda
A personal conversation, if it’s truly meaningful and enriching, will give you a sense of what you hope to achieve. You may mean to entertain each other, persuade each other or to learn from each other. Intent confers order and meaning. The same is true for organizational conversation. Eventually, the many voices that are contributing within a company must converge on a single vision of what the communication is intended. In other words, the conversation should reflect a shared agenda that aligns with the company’s strategic objectives.
Intentionality differs from the other two elements of organizational conversation. While intimacy and inclusion serve to open up the conversation, intentionality brings about closure to that process. It enables you and your employees to derive strategically from the relevant action of the engaging discussion.
Conversational intentionality requires leaders to convey strategic principles not just by asserting them but by explaining them – by generating consent and not commanding your employees for assent. With the organizational conversation model, leaders speak extensively and specifically with employees about the vision and the logic that underlie executive decision-making. As a result, employees at every level gain the big-picture view of where your company stands within its competitive environment. They become conversant in matters of organization strategy. Allow your employees to be a part of the company’s governing strategy by having them to create it!
Conversation goes on in every company whether you recognize it or not. However, today, conversation has the potential to spread well beyond your walls, and it’s largely out of your control. Smart leaders find ways to use conversation – to manage the flow of information in an honest, open fashion. One-way broadcast messaging is a thing of the past and slick marketing materials have little effect on employees as they do on customers. People will listen to communication that is intimate, interactive, inclusive and intentional!
About the Author: Tangela M. Davis, MBA is a leadership expert, professional speaker, coach and author of the increasing demand for the book, If I Knew Then What I Know Now: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Avoiding Costly and Dumb Business Mistakes and flagship program Building a Triple “A” Effect Organization. She has been interviewed by NPR and published in countless business journals and magazines. Tangela has launched numerous leadership programs, coaching executives and leaders for the last 20 years in the government, corporate and small business marketplace. Having been involved in many mergers and acquisitions, she is an industry expert on change leadership. Always passionate and eager to share her knowledge and experience, Tangela is available for Conference Keynotes, Break-out Sessions and Seminars. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.