Strategic employee communications that
lead companies through transformation

What’s the difference between a great leader and a great communicator? (Spoiler alert: There isn’t one.)

It turns out the skills for effective communication and effective leadership are one and the same. We break it down.

As internal communicators, we are frequently asked to use video, slide decks, written communications, and other channels to inform and motivate employee audiences – to help them understand company priorities and how they can play an active role in organizational success. So perhaps it’s not surprising that when asked to outline the most important characteristics of effective leadership, experts frequently focus on communication skills.

David Grossman of the Grossman Group recently shared a summary of the top eleven attributes of exceptional leaders and communicators, and none of us should be terribly surprised that every item on the list plays a part in both leading effectively and communicating skillfully. The original article contains lots of great information, but it can be broken out into a handful of key concepts.

1. Seek to earn trust.

2. Communicate in ways that are relevant to employees.

Number 2 sort of leads to Number 1, doesn’t it? This goes back to my favorite truism about how employees feel about their job: Overall employee satisfaction is strongly tied to how they feel about their direct leader. If their leader establishes a relationship based on trust and tailors their communication to each employee, they’ve made an excellent start.

What do employees not want to hear? According to Grossman, incomplete communication, obfuscation, corporate-speak, spin and overuse of acronyms are low on the list. Now let’s leverage our core competencies (sorry, couldn’t resist a little corporate-speak!) and move on to the next section of the list.

3. Communicate frequently.

4. Be responsive.

5. Remain open to employee feedback.

Building trust and transparency among your employees fosters a culture of open communication and mutual respect. When employees feel their opinions are valued, it builds a sense of belonging and community. Leaders can harness that enthusiasm to contribute outside the office to the local community too. As DesignRush’s community relations guide suggests:

“Your employees are also consumers, so it’s worthwhile to seek their opinions on which businesses they admire for their community work and to hear their suggestions for potential community projects. You may be pleasantly surprised by their enthusiasm to contribute to the community beyond their typical office duties.”

6. Take action based on employee feedback.

7. Be approachable.

I think all of these items fall under the general heading of “Don’t ghost your employees.” Have you ever been ghosted? It’s when someone who’s important to you in some way suddenly goes missing – stops responding to texts, stops reaching out to ask how you’re doing. It feels terrible, and it’s not a very nice way to treat someone.

This includes employees, who rely so deeply on a level of trust with their leader. The simple message here is be there – make sure employees know you are available and you care, and do this by focusing on core communication principles. I especially like Grossman’s suggested response to challenging feedback: “Thank you for raising this tough issue. I think it’s really important.” Sometimes a simple sentiment like this goes a long way.

8. Make sure employees are informed about change.

9. Share information in an authoritative and straightforward way.

10. Explain the reasons behind decisions.

Numbers 8, 9 and 10 are all about transparency. Remember that even when you believe that a change will make life better for employees, it may still be difficult for employees to see it that way. Change – even good change – is hard and can be disruptive. Anything that upsets the “natural order” can be difficult to swallow and can begin to erode the trust you’ve worked so hard to build. This is even more true when there are negative consequences to a change.

The answer, as always, goes back to effective communication: Be direct and honest, and actively help employees to understand the reasons behind company decisions. If employees feel like you’re a true partner, that you sincerely want them to be informed, you’ll reinforce your relationship of trust.

11. Explain the company’s vision and strategies.

Finally, go back to basics and ensure employees understand high level vision and strategies. This helps employees feel like they’re part of a larger team with a shared path forward and is the first step to giving employees the context to understand how their work contributes to overall success.

An important clarification: This is not a “one and done” exercise, completed at the beginning of the year and then never mentioned again. It’s vital that employees hear about shared vision and strategies – from you and from all levels of leadership – consistently and frequently. It shows that the vision is more than just words on a page. Reminding employees often about vision and strategy shows employees that you are walking the talk and encourages them to do the same.

 

This is not a ranked list – each of these items is equally important. But if there’s one takeaway from Grossman Group’s excellent summary, I think it’s this: To be an effective leader, focus on being an effective communicator. This may sound obvious but it’s advice that – sadly – too many leaders sometimes forget: You can’t be a great leader locked in your office and buried in your own work. The real work of being a leader is in your interactions with employees. They’re depending on you to remember this.

Pivot Strategies consultants work together to provide years of experience responding to the most challenging internal communication problems with skill and innovation. Whether you’re looking for help with a specific change moment or want to improve overall communication effectiveness in your organization, Pivot Strategies has a proven and extensive history of making a difference. 

About the Author

Jon HilgersSenior Communications Consultant

Jon joined Pivot with 25+ years of technology, operations and change management internal communications experience. Jon is a recognized storyteller who uses focused listening and a persistent curiosity to understand business needs and build communications that deliver results. He is skilled at translating esoteric or arcane language for general consumption, and he has specific experience communicating to drive behavior change. Jon has extensive experience in financial services and held a Series 7 certification while working in the industry.

Connect with Jon Hilgers on LinkedIn →

Gain strategic insight from Pivot's experts