WORDS BY DAVID PENDRITH
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAN COUTO
If you’re a senior leader new to an organization or role, you will likely want to effect change within the company or your department right off the mark. But successful change requires thoughtful communication, which is why you should be thinking about developing the following three things before you assume a new role:
- Your leader brand
- Your leader narrative
- Your communication plan
It should be noted that none of these should be shared with employees verbatim or as articulated; but rather be used to influence and inform how you communicate with employees within the organization.
The most crucial components to every leader’s brand are the vision statement and the promise statement. Define your vision statement as short, inspirational and strategic, focusing on the business outcomes you hope to influence with your role and tied to objectives you can measure. Your promise statement should be a sentence or two describing what your driving purpose is within your role, department and the organization. These are the things you will influence, change or contribute to during your tenure within the role. Depending on the level of seniority of the role, this could be as high-level as creating your company’s vision and mission statements, or you might be more focused on the success of your teams and your people.
Your attributes are the values and qualities that you want others to associate with you. It’s perfectly normal for these to differ from your organization’s corporate values and brand attributes as they are meant to be personal. However, they shouldn’t be contradictory. Regardless of your personal, differentiating attributes, research has shown that there are fundamental attributes expected of all leaders, specifically related to trust (reliability, openness, honesty) and credibility (experience, knowledge, decisiveness).
Another component of your leader brand should be an articulation of tone. Tone may vary according to the communication needs of specific audiences – but at a high level, your tone in communication should remain relatively consistent. Should it be familial? Direct? Approachable? Philosophical? Leaders should find the tone that will most genuinely represent their personalities.
For employees to get a better sense of who you are as a person, you should share your passions and the causes that resonate with you. Passions may be hobbies or things you do in your spare time, and causes can be as broad as social issues and as narrow as specific charities that you work with or support. If those passions and causes are defined before you communicate, you can identify natural ways to weave those into communications which in turn will make you more approachable and remind your employees that leaders are people too – people that care about things other than profit margins and productivity.
Your leader narrative should answer two questions: “Where do you come from?”, and “Where are you going?”. Personal history may be more important than experience for some leaders, and for others it may be the complete opposite.
Where you’ve come from, both personally and professionally, is important in establishing your credibility within your organization and your role, and in building a story that will inspire employees and encourage them to buy in. Frank Stronach, the founder of Magna International, came to Canada in 1954 with less than $50 in his pocket. The tool-and-die shop he started in Toronto has grown into one of the world’s leading automotive technology companies, employing over 170,000 employees in 30 countries and producing parts for two-thirds of all new-build automobiles. As an employee, you’re likely to be inspired by a story that demonstrates how much a leader has already overcome and what the company has become as a result.
When you combine your history and experience with your strategy and agenda, employees will feel more compelled to believe in your strategy. Strategies are complicated, dense and most employees will never need to know the ins-and-outs of every aspect. But they do want to understand what the strategy will do for the company and why it’s achievable. Having employees buy into a strategy will be a lot easier if you have a compelling or inspirational narrative that combines your past experiences and your vision for the future.
Additionally, articulating a value proposition – answering the “me” in the “what’s-in-it-for-me” equation to why an employee should buy into your strategy – will help employees align themselves to your strategy. If you’re promising a faster, more nimble and innovative organization, how do your employees fit into that strategy and what does it mean for their current roles and livelihood?
Leader communication plan
Finally, having articulated your leader brand and leader narrative, you’re ready to communicate. Now you need a creative platform to tie it all together; sometimes that includes a phrase or tagline that becomes a shorthand for your strategy and value proposition, informed by your leader brand. This allows employees to reference your complex strategy by simply using a word or two.
Having developed the creative platform, you should next develop guidelines for when to use a specific channel over another. These are not only useful for communicating your strategy and agenda but are also there in times of crisis or when communications need to be created on the fly. Decide when to use email, when to use video, when to blog, when a conference call is required and so forth. Plan this in advance so you will use them correctly when you need them, especially in a crisis.
Style guidelines should be established for each channel and should reference the leader brand. When making a video, does it need to be professionally edited, or is it more aligned to your tone and values to shoot selfie-style with a smartphone and release something quickly? If it’s an email, who creates the first draft and what’s the editing process before it reaches employees?
Establishing these rules and processes in the beginning will make things a lot easier when tactics for these channels need to be executed quickly.
Finally, consider your communication touchpoints and frequency. Decide on regular intervals for communication for certain tactics. Should you post an update blog on your intranet every month? Host a town hall twice a year? Or do you prefer to send out a quarterly email?
With a consistent cadence to messaging, employees will develop an expectation for communications and will feel confident the next touchpoint they receive should be coming shortly. It sounds obvious, but even titling a communication by its expected frequency sets a level of expectation with employees (“the monthly update” ought to be monthly, because employees will be looking for another one).
Your leader brand, narrative and communication plan are important to have when starting a new role so that you can be effective as soon as possible, but they’re important for any leader to have, regardless of whether a role change is on your horizon. Take the time to build these assets – they will help you become a better communicator to your employees and help create alignment within your corporate communications team, which will in turn influence engagement and performance.