I was recently with a group of friends who were lamenting the many change initiatives they have gone through of late. As the only communications professional in the room, I asked how they were informed about these initiatives and they quickly responded that they aren’t given any information until the ball is rolling and changes are happening.
Having led communications departments, I know it can be difficult to meet the needs of all employees. Some feel overwhelmed by the amount of information shared, and others feel there is never enough. However, what I took away from this conversation was that none of my friends seemed particularly engaged, nor did they seem to understand the purpose of the changes they’ve been experiencing.
CEOs and senior leaders have the opportunity, and reallythe obligation, to weave a golden thread for employees between their roles and the bigger picture. It is up to you to help them understand where the organization is going, how you are going to get there, and most importantly, how they fit into the equation.
In February this year, Stefan Sjöstrand president of IKEA Canada, was named the 2015 Communicator of the Year by the International Association of Business Communicators/Toronto. The award is given to leaders who inspire and engage internal and external audiences and clearly demonstrate the link between excellence in communications and an organization's success.
Maria Poonawala, a global management student at Toronto’s Ryerson University, recently had the opportunity to shadow Sjöstrand. In a Globe and Mail article about her experience, she said that one of her biggest takeaways was “How important it is for a leader to live and breathe the company’s vision. One of the biggest personality traits Stefan has, which is really unique, is that he has a very infectious, positive attitude and that trickles down to the rest of the company.”
Sjöstrand is part of a growing group of CEOs who understand that sharing their passion and vision through regular and strategic communication is critical to business success.
In PWC’s Annual Global CEO Survey, released in January this year, 48% of CEOs indicated they are making major changes to how they manage brand, marketing and communications. Respondents also rated organizational purpose and value, and business strategy as the top two of 10 strategic priorities they want to communicate better and said employees were the predominant stakeholders pushing them in this direction.
In the article, The Strategic Communication Imperative, authors Paul A. Argenti, Robert A. Howell, and Karen A. Beck, discuss the importance of aligning communication with overall strategy to enhance strategic positioning, and they highlight the role of the CEO in this effort. “It is clear from our interviews that the role of top leaders in communications actually has expanded in the past few years. Now, more than ever, the CEO is not only the thought leader but also the face and voice of the company, setting the tone for the executive team and the organization as a whole.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that the leaders at my friends’ organizations have made this connection yet. They don’t realize that keeping mum on business goals, changes and achievements isn’t just short-sighted; it’s risky business. It can make employees feel undervalued and disconnected, and when that happens, fear grows, momentum is lost and success hangs in the balance.