Opinion: Trusted advisors set stage for CEOs to own IC

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EXECUTIVE visibility starts from within, writes Courtney Griggs. When leaders show up as authentic and accessible to their employees, they galvanize their most important audience. They are also better prepared to engage with external audiences because they’ve refined their message, while aligning the entire company to the same language. Most importantly, they’ve fostered an inclusive culture where employees hear from leaders first.

Generally, a company tends to focus resources on external communications for reputation advancement and management. A leader’s influence is equally, if not more, beneficial to the organization internally. Executives know that they need to be in front of customers and the media, but they also need to take ownership of internal communications (IC).

When an organization fails to consider its most incentivized audience first, a huge opportunity is lost. According to Gallup’s State of the American Workforce report, “…engaged employees produce better business outcomes than other employees – across industry, company size and nationality, and in good economic times and bad”. It’s important to note that at the core of employee engagement is an organizational commitment to high quality IC.

Pairing a commitment to IC with the fact that executive visibility is a top-five driver of employee engagement, leads to a more modern and strategic approach to IC. If you are an executive who is looking to positively impact employee engagement numbers, you need to own this space with employees.

Communicators as trusted advisors

There is often an expectation that strategic communicators must artfully craft each corporate message, only to have it edited to death by layers of stakeholders and then published under a pseudonym. Even if your team has the capacity to manage this process for IC, it’s inefficient at best, damaging to corporate culture at worst.

It is incumbent upon communications practitioners to shift their role from IC task manager to trusted advisor for executives. A trusted advisor sets the stage for a CEO to own IC and provide them with the framework and tools to make it happen. IC experts encourage an employee-first mantra with business leaders, then empower and enable them to communicate directly with employees.

Make it easy

While it’s the right approach for executives to actively own IC, they may view it as another task instead of as a culture shift. To avoid this outcome, communications experts are identifying a measured approach where leaders feel supported when it comes to IC. They are leveraging technology and tailoring tactics to the comfort level of the individual leader. For example, if a CEO is a natural on video, a video-centric approach where they can produce and push their own messages on a predetermined schedule may be a great approach to IC. 

When a CEO prefers the written word, communications teams are setting up a form or a separate email box for employees to reach out at their discretion. By encouraging a standard response time, executives directly respond to enquiries. They can also cross-post common enquiries to a company blog, Teams channel or Yammer – wherever their employees go for news. 

Build IC into culture

Business strategies may be guided by the voice of the customer, but your employees execute the strategies. Executives can drive engagement, buy-in and efficiency as IC leaders. Beyond town halls, there are opportunities for executives to build smaller employee reaction panels and present a business decision to a diverse group of employees and ask for their help in crafting a strategy to execute. Executives should participate in all the same channels as employees, especially employee resource groups. They can pose strategic questions and gather instant feedback. Employees see first-hand what’s on the minds of leaders and feel more aligned with company objectives.

When executives take ownership of IC, engagement rises, productivity increases, and time is freed to focus on ground-up initiatives. Communicators are driving this ownership by meeting business leaders where they are comfortable, supporting them and tracking these benefits to reinforce the time investment.