So what are the most important reason senior leaders should be visible at work?
This is the question I asked all of you lovely lot over on LinkedIn a couple of weeks back and the responses were surprising.
77% of people said that creating trust and relatability was the key reason that senior leaders should put their head above the parapet.
24% said growing employee engagement was the key reason for being visible - yet only 5% chose creating buy-in to strategy as their top factor.
AND absolutely no one said adapting to change was the key reason for leaders to be visible.
When I drilled down to look at who voted, some more revealing insights came to light about how internal communications and leadership visibility are perceived. Leaders themselves chose trust and relatability as their top reason and employees naturally said engagement was their number one choice. People in sales roles voted for creating buy-in to strategy.
So we could argue that leaders themselves chose the least commercial reason! Perhaps this is the real reason why so few leaders are visible at work - they don’t attribute any hard commercial return for being visible and upping their internal communication game.
When leaders fail to value internal communications and the commercial impact of their presence they are ultimately waving goodbye to profitability. It’s staggering that only 13% of employees strongly agree that their senior leaders communicate effectively with the rest of the business. *1
Now, trust and relatability DO lead to higher engagement, which leads to higher retention levels, which leads to reduced turnover, better business continuity and higher productivity and profits.
And maybe we should give leaders the benefit of the doubt that they too had this in mind when they voted!
But that’s putting the horse before the cart if you like. For me, the top reason senior leaders should be visible at work is because it will contribute to achieving their business goals and help the organisation make more money. So buy-in to strategy and adapting to change are far more important reasons for senior leaders to be creating internal communications that employees actually engage with.
It’s a common misconception that warmer concepts like engagement, trust, relatability etc are the key purpose of internal communications. I believe making more money is actually the key purpose of internal communication.
I don’t mean that in a cynical way but it is the reason corporate organisations exist - to generate profit, create more jobs and stimulate the economy.
If you’re a not-for-profit? You still have to have commercial gains - to support end users on larger scales. So your purpose has to be at the centre.
And actually, employees agree with this approach.
77% of people say that their companies don’t focus on aligning employees' goals with corporate purposes. *2
Employees are most connected and engaged when they know their individual role purpose and how it relates to organisational success.
But most companies can’t explain this connection, do it poorly or think employees, particularly front-line employees, won’t get it - so they simply don’t bother.
So we have leaders who don’t see the point of communicating key information their employees actually want to know and instead, companies end up focusing on wooly ‘engagement’ campaigns and free pizza. (Now I’m not knocking free pizza per se but it doesn't get buy-in for complex change projects or help employees to adapt to that change!)
We also know that leaders don’t really believe in ‘engagement’ as a concept. In fact, 35% of leaders say focusing on employee engagement is a distraction from getting “Real Work” done. *3
And I see this all the time at the new organisations I work with. Where does that leave us? Well, we have a double whammy!
1. Leaders don’t think conveying the impact of strategy and change on their people is the most important reason for internal communications. So softer engagement campaigns get rolled out, led by internal communications, not led by the business…
2. Leaders don’t really believe in engagement anyway, so internal communications bears the burden of communicating, which further weakens its commerciality and relevance to the business.
This leads to greater disengagement in internal communications from senior leaders and a downward spiral.
The vast majority of leaders have the best intentions: 74% say they stay connected with frontline workers through informal conversations and meetings.*4
This face-to-face interaction is vital, and helps leaders establish relationships with their workforce. But a leader is only one person. They’ll never have time to see everyone, and often this means they miss out on hearing from the quieter, more self-effacing employees, or kid themselves into thinking they’re more available than they actually are.
This might explain the worrying trend for employees to feel disconnected from everyone outside their immediate team.
While 86% of employees feel connected to their direct co-workers, only 14% feel connected to their business HQ. Meanwhile, just 3% feel connected to their C-Suite. *5
So what’s the answer?
Commerciality has to be at the heart of your internal communications strategy.
And senior leaders need to buy into the true commercial purpose of internal communications so they can play a full role in creating engaging updates for their people.
Need help to create visible, engaging leaders who understand how to place commerciality at the heart of their internal communications?
For a complimentary consultation to understand how your leaders could be communicating differently so that you can drive change projects, increase employee engagement and team retention, book 30 minutes into my diary here.
*1 Gallup State of the Workplace 2017
* 2 Deloitte
*3 Dale Carnegie
*4 & 5 Meta survey of 2000 CEOs and front line workers:
Deskless Not Voiceless