I think the most common mistake made by leaders – ranging from CEOs of multinational corporations to team managers and everything in between – is to wait for a crisis to start communicating to their employees.
“Ivory tower” leaders are automatically viewed with suspicion and their messages are dissected for hidden meanings and sinister motivations. The most credible leaders are the ones who are visible, executives who communicate frequently and directly to their workforce.
When times are tough, leaders need to avoid retreating behind corporate speak and platitudes; instead they must treat their employees as if they owned the business and provide them with a clear view of the challenges ahead.
Leaders need to tell their employees, in plain terms, exactly what the organization is facing – a drop in revenues, loss of a patent or proprietary technology, change in leadership – and outline the steps that the organization is taking to address the issue, including engaging employees to help drive the improvement efforts.
Employees don’t have to like the decisions the leaders are making, but they do have to understand why the action is necessary and believe that leaders are making the best decisions possible to get the company through tough times.
But executives can’t do it all alone. The team manager plays an important role in times of crisis. After all, employees may want to hear bad news from their senior leader, but they will go to their own manager or supervisor for reassurance and to “talk it out.”
The organizations that are best able to communicate difficult news are those which build in an element of manager preparation prior to any external and/or internal announcements by the CEO. That way, the manager is able to echo the message and build confidence that employees are getting “the straight story.”
Bottom line, business leaders should learn from the best political leaders: communicate often, building credibility before their organization is in crisis.