Engaging and developing close relationships with your employees is pretty straightforward when you’re a start-up. You’ll be sitting among your workers, will talk with them every day and probably know all of their names. When you’re the CEO of a larger company or the owner of an exponentially growing business that’s no longer practical, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be a great communicator.
The quality of your communication influences your credibility. An increase in your credibility and internal reputation can boost employee engagement, loyalty, attitudes towards top management and their workplace, and make your employees feel more empowered. This in turn can positively impact motivation and productivity at work.
Remote working and offices in multiple locations can make communication harder, especially if your remote teams are working in different time-zones or on different projects – projects you may not entirely understand. As such it is easy for these workers to feel undervalued or ignored and that’s bad for business.
The communication strategy of a truly inspiring leadership will not overlook remote workers and satellite offices; it will seek to foster a culture of communication the whole company through.
Here are some top tips to set about improving workplace culture through better communication.
1. Get face to face
Getting out to all locations and regularly meeting staff is the best form of communication. Staff can use this opportunity to have their concerns addressed by senior management. As CEO, it is a great opportunity to spread and underline your message and vision.
Site visits also allow you to gauge directly what the specific issues are in each department, location or region and learn what they all do. If you’re not familiar with a certain project choose a chaperone from that department to accompany you for the day around your site visit.
You’ll learn a great deal about what your people do, what they are working on and you’ll be able to communicate your strategy on a one-on-one basis and create an advocate for your plans at ground level. Sit down with as many employees as you can and encourage them to share their ideas and innovations on how things could be done better that may get filtered out by mid-management.
This two way communication, people insights and personal employee engagement will transform the perception of management and improve workplace culture.
Encourage your employees personally for their achievements. Ask managers to keep you apprised of promotions, targets being achieved and exceeded or qualifications earned. Inspiring leadership will take time to recognise and reward achievement. When you do this you’ll be improving workplace culture by sending a strong message that the CEO cares about their development and success.
Do the same for life events – graduations, marriages, births, work anniversaries, religious ceremonies and deaths. Flowers of congratulations or condolences, a book with a personal message of encouragement are a wonderful human touch and create a sense of family and loyalty with your employees. Think about their family too. Maybe write a short letter to the parents of an employee who just got promoted telling them how lucky you are to have them as an employee and proud of their development. Gift a book to the children of your employees attending college or just graduating — you might just be securing a future employee with a simple gesture.
Make special effort to do this with remote workers and encourage management to do the same. Remote workers probably require more feedback and recognition than on-site workers as they often lack the regular encouragement and pleasantries you get with the buzz of an office that many of us take for granted.
3. Beware emails
Written communication is the easiest to misinterpret. Email is here to stay and the risk of having your email read in an unintended tone will always be there.
For internal communication consider using emoticons, it’s 2016 after all! If you cringe at the idea of using a smiley face just take a little more time when sending emails and read them back with different emotions in mind to see if they could be misconstrued. Mimic your audience and make your email seem less edited.
Keep your message consistent as well. Conventional advice is to tailor to your audience, be they general employees, middle managers or executives but be wary of this. If a message reaches an unintended audience member it could be taken the wrong way and if it conflicts in any way with a message they’ve received it won’t go down well.
4. Fair rewards
Many companies have incentives and reward schemes but sadly, lots of these employee recognition ideas are counter-productive as they are heavily weighted towards the money-makers. Development, IT, support and admin can feel undervalued when compared to marketing and sales. Rewards days, trips or events should be accessible to all employees.
One idea is a dinner club; take your top 20 or so employees out to a great restaurant. Invite the top 1-2 performers from all departments, not just sales, and encourage them to mingle. It’s likely these departments only communicate the most necessary of details and by separating themselves they’re missing opportunities to improve.
By including all departments none will feel left out or underappreciated. They will all know that they are equally valued by you and the company. Don’t leave out remote employees either. If necessary pay for their travel and accommodation for the event but make it more worthwhile by inviting them to work in another office for a few days so they can experience a different environment.
It’s possible they’ll pick up some ideas to implement in their own office or at home as well as creating new relationships in a different location bringing your company closer together.
Try to give each department a budget for a team fun day as well (and make sure it’s on a workday!) It’s possible that your dinner club or whatever you choose to do will include many of the same faces and that too is counter-productive unless you generate team camaraderie. Individual competitions are great but they also carry the risk of individualism and you want your teams sharing info, leads and ideas. Team fun days encourage employees to work together to meet a shared target.
5. Collaborative software
Videoconferencing, web-based tools, cloud-sharing and collaborative software allows offices separated by hundreds or thousands of kilometres (or just a floor or two) to work closely together. Telecommuting is on the rise and software can help combat the challenges to that to ensure motivation and productivity at work is not impacted by location. However, these software programs have untapped potential for CEO communication.
Ideally you will still get face to face at least once a year with remote teams, satellite offices and overseas headquarters but once a year isn’t often enough to engage with your employees effectively. Services like Lync, Skype and Google Hangouts allow you to communicate with all of these offices without travelling.
A CEO blog, that you write yourself, is an effective method of communicating strategy and progress. Try to include details of the past week, plans for the next week, public congratulations of employee achievements and work anniversaries (in addition to a direct personal message), ongoing vision and details of recent board meetings. When you visit other regions or departments use your blog to highlight what you observed and discovered, insights on the people you met and the great work they are doing.
Employee engagement should be personal and public. You can’t meet everyone one on one but you can talk publicly of those you have. Their co-workers will know who they are and by extension will feel personally valued too.