If you’re a leader using internal communications only to inform, then you’re missing a valuable opportunity to drive change, shape culture and improve employee engagement.
You get it — as a leader, you understand the need for change management and change communications during a project or a major effort at your company. Your company may already have a great team of change management experts aligned with your strategic projects. But what about the rest of the time?
Are you considering change communications as part of your normal routine? Maybe not, but you should.
Strategic change communication allows you to drive small but significant changes to your culture and help shape employee engagement. Aligned to your company values, strategic goals and major initiatives, well-done communications can be the tipping point for improved long-term success. Consider the following:
Keep Your Top Three Messages in Your Back Pocket
Don’t literally keep them in your back pocket, but you should understand the top three internal communications messages you need to convey to your leadership and employees every day. It’s not a list you read from, but rather messages you want to convey to build consistency throughout your organization, keep employees focused on what’s truly of value, and influence your leaders to do the same.
This is your time to show that you’re leading the company. Regardless of how you engage employees (such as one-on-one, in small group meetings, during town halls, via emails, in your voicemails, and more), every interaction should have them walking away with the knowledge that you are in charge and understand the company you lead.
These messages should change over time based on what the company needs to do to move in unison toward a common goal. The next time you’re in a meeting with your direct reports, quiz them to see if they know the top messages for the company.
Ask Good Questions
Along with asking your leadership team what the top messages are, learn to ask questions of your employees. These questions are for more than simply obtaining information. The questions you choose to ask indicate what’s on your mind. Good questions can open new avenues of thought and perspective.
But remember: You’ll want to ask with the intent that you want to know. Listen to the answer with focus and intellectual curiosity. Without this, your question may appear ingenuine. Don’t put your employee or leader on the spot, but don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions as a follow-up.
Know Your Company’s Values
And, along with knowing them, be prepared to talk about your company’s values, too. You should have these memorized, and you should keep anecdotal stories in your head that showcase how employees have embraced the values.
As a leader, culture flows from you and your behaviors (as well as that of your leadership). You can try to deny it, but it’s true. If the corporate values hanging on a wall somewhere are there to make it look like your company embraces certain behaviors, you’ve sunk your cultural boat before it has left the dock. Picture the company you want people to experience and begin living that way in all that you say and do.
Your corporate values may need to be dusted off and reimagined periodically. That’s okay. And if there are too many of them, pair them down to something manageable.
If you have a recognition system tied to corporate values (and you should), keep up with the stories people tell and how employees express these values to each other and to the customer. Then, tell these stories in other meetings as appropriate. You reinforce your values, strengthen your culture and improve employee engagement at the same time.
Learn to Tell Stories
Storytelling is the magic sauce that makes it all come together. There’s clearly an art behind good storytelling, but many people don’t know the science.
Good storytelling gets the listener involved with the story. As the listener, you imagine yourself in the same situation and when there’s conflict, the listener’s body produces cortisol. That one chemical helps the brain to focus and is involved with memory-making, which is good! You want your story to be memorable.
Then when you resolve your story — there’s a happy ending — the body produces dopamine, which keeps the listener engaged, and oxytocin, both of which make you feel good. Do you see the connection? You’ve got your audience engaged, focused and feeling good.
You may be thinking, “I don’t have 20 minutes to tell a story.” It doesn’t take that long. In fact, the simpler the story, the better.
When introducing the original iPod, Steve Jobs didn’t share all the technical specs that went into the iPod or discuss battery life. Before the iPod, we walked around with portable CD players (or cassette players, depending on your generation). Steve simply stated that you could now fit “A thousand songs in your pocket.” The simplest of stories paved the way for the iPhone and many other advancements. As Simon Sinek said, “Great leaders communicate and great communicators lead.”
Supporting Internal Communications on Your Team
With a strong focus on financial results, focusing on internal communications may seem excessive, but when you look at the long-term gains for you and your company, how can you afford not to? With a communications plan in place, you can deliver key messages and reinforce your strategy, whether you’re dealing with difficult times, getting ready for change or shaping your company culture.