Listening Downward

August 26, 2009

Listening Downward

  Two articles converged for me this week about how leaders are failing in their communications to employees. As we all know, leadership communications is an important driver of reputation because it keeps employees informed, motivated and sometimes inspired. The first study was from The McKinsey Quarterly on Leadership in Crisis. One of the questions asked of global leaders was about the types of actions they had taken to motivate employees as the economic crisis unfolded. As you can see from the chart below, most leaders are communicating about a company’s values, direction and financial performance. They are doing much less of what McKinsey says is most effective which is getting to know employees abit better and making individual connections. Too much focus on the company could not possibly resonate enough when employees are worried sick about their jobs. Of course, they want to know about whether the company is going to make their financial goals, but that is often not enough.
Talking about company’s values and direction–75%

Spending time informally with employees–71%

Talking about company’s financial performance–62%

Supporting programs that help employees improve their skills–54%

Mentoring one or more employees–50%

Recognizing high performance publicly–50%

Creating opportunities for promotion, career growth–31%

Expressing interest in employees’ lives outside of work–27%

Source: Leaders in the Crisis, McKinsey Quarterly

 The second report I read is from Watson Wyatt. They have been conducting a study for several years now on how companies communicate internally and its return on investment. If you have not been reading these over the years, you should. Watson Wyatt found in these difficult times that most companies are communicating about their business performance (similar to McKinsey) but not about what matters to employees, namely pay and benefits. Whereas senior leaders say their primary intention behind communicating is to reduce employees’ anxiety about the downturn, line managers say they need to communicate most often to improve employee engagement. Regional differences surface on the goals of internal communications as well. In Europe, leaders primarily communicate to earn employees’ trust and engage them. North American and Australian leaders say they communicate to ease employees’ stress. The bottom line is that employees want to hear different things from their leaders than they are receiving. To motivate employees, it might be worth asking them what they want to hear before beginning work on talking points. Employees play a large role in building the reputation of companies, attracting others to work there and being productive in order to drive growth. Leaders should pay heed to these findings and reach common ground with their most important ambassadors.

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of reputations.

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