Thursday, January 15

Saying Nothing: Why Leadership Needs To Engage


Although a recent survey from Weber Shandwick has a small sampling with only 514 respondents, it mirrors several other studies that suggest the same — company leadership is still too quiet about the current economic crisis.

More than half (54 percent) of those surveyed said their employers are not talking about how the financial crisis is impacting the company and the majority (71 percent) said their company's leadership should be communicating about it more. The study also pinpoints that while company leadership is perceived to be not talking about the recession, 74 percent of their colleagues and co-workers are talking about it, with 26 percent expecting layoffs.

Last December, Watson Wyatt released a study that conveys the opposite. Overall, it found 77 percent of employers have already sent out or are planning communication on the impact of the financial crisis. More than two-thirds (69 percent) of these employers cited easing employee anxiety as one of the top two goals of their crisis-related internal communication, while nearly one-third (32 percent) cited earning employees’ trust.

Are more employers talking, but fewer employees hearing?

When the intent of communication no longer produces the desired outcomes (such as alleviating employee anxiety), it's time to reevaluate the communication.

In this case, communication managers and executives might consider that addressing the financial crisis is not the same as typical or motivational internal communication — it's crisis communication, even if the company is not directly impacted by the crisis occurring around it. And while not every crisis communication step needs to be followed, there are several very important questions that leadership needs to ask:

Are we acknowledging something is wrong? While instilling internal confidence is critical, employers cannot outright dismiss the recession. It has to be acknowledged, even if the company is unique, or the message may not be believed.

Are we satisfying employee interest? Employees are talking about the financial crisis. Government is talking about the financial crisis. The media is talking about the financial crisis. The sheer frequency of all this communication suggests company leadership needs to consistently communicate its position and direction. For companies wondering how many times they might reinforce job security to their employees, there is one answer: as many times as employees need to hear it.

Are we communicating empathy? Internal communication is not exclusively internal. Internal communication influences front-line communication and is influenced by outside factors. Even if company is one of several viewing the recession as an opportunity as opposed to a setback, the communication needs to express empathy. Employee spouses, colleagues, and point-of-contact customers may have very different experiences.

Have we included positive steps being taken to address the situation? During a crisis, even if the crisis is external, every message needs to be reinforced by provable data and a positive direction, regardless of what that data might communicate. People are always more receptive to a clear direction, even if it includes some bad news.

If these questions remain unanswered, any communication may be rendered ineffective. Ineffective communication is non-communication and may not even register with employees. Given that internal communication is permeable, non-communication can contribute to external public sentiment. It may even be why the RBC CASH (Consumer Attitudes and Spending by Household) Index reported consumer sentiment is at a six-year low.

"At a time when working Americans are concerned about their personal finances, their jobs and the overall economy, employees are looking for credible, candid information, and right now too few business leaders are filling the information void that exists,” said Harris Diamond, CEO of Weber Shandwick. “Employers have a great opportunity to communicate with their workforce about the impact of the economic situation on their companies as well as on employees."

Isn't it obvious? Employees are not just employees. They are also consumers and shareholders. And right now, they are looking to the private sector, as much as government, to stabilize the economy. At minimum, they need reassurance that their company isn't waiting for someone else to come up with a solution.

Related posts:

Ragan: Survey: Leaders Fail To Communicate With Employees

British Association Of Communicators In Business: Recession Demands More Emphasis On Internal Communication Not Less

Jenna Boiler: The Importance Of Internal Marketing

Geneva Communicators Network: Employee Communication Spending To Rise In 2009

Copywrite, Ink: Thinking Internal: Watson Wyatt Study

3 comments:

Rich on 1/15/09, 12:08 PM said...

Famous Last Words:

"Keep your communication tethered to corporate strategy," says Sheri Rosen, ABC, IABC Fellow in an article up at IABC. We could not agree more.

Russell on 1/20/09, 12:36 PM said...

Like the post. Especially important right now as I know a few firms where the employees are wondering exactly what the recession means for them and their firms.

Rich on 1/22/09, 9:13 AM said...

Thanks Russel,

I cannot say it enough ... the best communication happens from the insight out.

When employees know what is going on and feel secure (but not complacent), they perform better. When they don't feel secure, they work on their resume in preparation of a layoff, announced or not.

All my best,
Rich

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