How CEOs Become Better Workplace Communicators

In a workplace study conducted by Qualtrics, 67% of workers revealed a high level of trust in information coming from their organizations.1 

Compared to other sources of information, such as the news media, which scored a dismal 30% trust level, CEOs and executive leadership teams should feel great about their ratings. 

Unfortunately for these executives, a study from Gallup showed that only 13% of U.S. employees strongly agree that their organization’s leadership communicates effectively.2 

So what’s going on here? On one hand, you have employees proclaiming that they trust their workplaces for sources of information. On the other hand, internal communicators, especially executives, are doing a poor job of communicating that information. Why aren’t executives owning their role in providing effective communication to employees—especially when the majority of those employees are ready to buy into their messaging? 

An Internal Communication Problem Highlighted by the Pandemic

A major component of effective internal communication is the frequency and speed at which information is conveyed to employees. The COVID-19 pandemic truly tested the limits of internal communicators, especially executive leadership teams who were not accustomed to delivering information in a rapidly changing workplace environment. Certainly, there were flurries of emails, and perhaps town-hall-style company meetings at crucial points to convey messaging around COVID-19 mitigation, temporary facility closures, and return-to-work planning. But to the average worker, those messages from leadership teams were few and far between. In fact, a 2020 study found that a majority of employees actually desire daily updates during the COVID-19 pandemic.3 That kind of tempo simply wasn’t there in many workplaces. 

Why So Serious?

The serious nature of the pandemic led to painstakingly crafted internal messaging that often came out at a snail’s pace. While internal communicators have a duty to convey complete, verified, and prudent information, especially when that information pertains to the safety of employees, this mindset doesn’t allow for rapid, frequent communication. After all, how many 2,000-word emails and hour-long scripted “town hall” meetings can be produced or consumed? What’s missing is what should be happening in between these masterpieces of internal communication: visibility. 

Visibility Matters

Many think of visibility in terms of the complete sharing of information. However, there’s another interpretation that’s equally important—the visibility of executives themselves. Think of visibility in terms of “being present.” Employees need to see their leaders. No, not physically in front of them, although there are plenty of reasons why that’s a great idea when social distancing rules are eased. Being present can simply mean that your message is always there. It goes beyond the one-and-done email or company-wide meeting. The problem is that many internal communicators have trouble envisioning what this could look like, and they often mistake this level of messaging as being overwhelming or too difficult to pull off. Fortunately, the opposite is true with the right tools. 

How Leaders Can Stay Visible Even During the Pandemic

If virtual visibility (in the form of omnipresent communication) is important, how can executives pull it off without overwhelming both their audience and their internal communications teams? Here are just a few ideas that have been put in place within organizations of all sizes:

  • Summaries: What were the key takeaways of that town hall meeting or that last email? Each takeaway is worth breaking out and adding as a “note of the day” communication from leadership. The ability to repurpose information should not be looked down upon. In fact, some form of message repetition is necessary for understanding and retention. Just be sure to keep it bite-sized and easy to digest.
  • Personalize: Employees are genuinely interested in their leadership team. When CEOs convey information with context of how it affects them at a personal level, employees pay attention. Again, this is an opportunity for a brief communication. It supplements regular, longer-form communications.
  • Visuals: Not every message needs to be text-heavy. Pictures go a long way to convey a message and to relate a sense of caring and presence. This works well when paired with personalization from executives. If you’re telling employees about the proper way to wear a mask at work, you better show how you’re wearing one as well. 
  • Examples: Don’t leave employees scratching their heads about how to put a message into action. Show examples of what success looks like. And keep those examples coming. Stick with the theme of keeping daily messaging simple and straightforward. 
  • Spread the Load: Examples don’t always have to come from executives. Grab pics of employees who are putting executive plans into action. Employees are a great source of inspiration and material for ramping up the pace of internal communication messaging.
  • Reach: It makes no sense to spend a ton of time on emails and lengthy messaging if you’re not even able to reach all of your employees in the first place. Look for employee communication tools that work as well for frontline workers (those who aren’t tethered to a desk or a computer) as they do for white-collar and remote workers. If frontline workers walk through a main hallway, they should be able to see regular updates on workplace digital signage and employee message boards. If they’re on-the-go employees, they should be able to see that same kind of summarized messaging, including visuals, on their smart devices. 

With just a few tweaks in internal communication strategy and the right tools, workplaces can give their employees the frequency and quality of information they crave. And CEOs and executives can embrace their roles as trusted communicators in the workplace. Employees are ready for this change. Are you? 

  1. “The Marlin Workplace Survey,” conducted by Qualtrics and co-authored by Marlin and the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, 2018
  2. “CEOs: Do Your Employees Trust You,” Gallup, 2017
  3. Edelman Trust Barometer 2020 Special Report: Trust and The Coronavirus
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