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Five tips to optimise how your top leadership team communicates

In November last year, the Dutch National Salary Research 2017 (Nationaal Salaris Onderzoek 2017) was published. This found that only a third of employees are happy about how their employer communicates with them about work related issues, such as policies and work tasks. Among less highly educated employees, satisfaction dropped to 26 percent. This is backed by separate research which concluded that only 20 percent of internal communications professionals are pleased with the behaviour of top management, with 55 percent believing that company leaders do not set the right example for their organisations (Interne Communicatie 2017).

Shocking numbers? Not really. This is exactly the reason why the number of engaged and aligned employees remains low in many organisations. Top management play a crucial role in aligning employees. If they don’t set the right example and carry out what the organisation stands for, how can they expect their employees to do so? Every board of management should strive for alignment. After all, what management doesn’t want employees who make a conscious and positive decision to work for their company? What management doesn’t want people who put energy and passion into their work? An aligned workforce is more productive, more efficient and delivers a stronger bottom line.

We have a lot of experience with alignment programmes, and from this we have identified five success factors; five ways to approach, motivate and advise top management.

Top management forms a team: Developing a company story? It is important to involve all board members to ensure that everyone believes in it. This way, they can give substance to the story as a team and show the organisation that they have a common goal. The board members must realise that they have a role as forerunner. This may sound simple, but practice shows this is often a challenge.

Top management is approachable: Ensure the board is visible and has middle management’s and employees’ trust. Always communicate in a personal manner and treat employees as equals. Remember to be open to dialogue. Company leaders that feel they are ‘part of the team’ create more engagement and involvement than leaders who keep their distance. The positioning of the board depends on the organisation, its culture and its structure, but it is a fact that employees nowadays increasingly value an organisation that is horizontal and transparent.

Give employees time and space: When it comes to the company strategy, the board has a huge head start. It is important to realise that employees do not have the same knowledge (yet). Give them the time and space to get used to the company story. What does it mean for them? What does it mean for their work? How are they supposed to contribute? Give employees and middle management time to figure this out. This means the board must trust its employees. Empowerment is key.

Listen and respond: This is a big challenge for Communication and HR departments. Engage in dialogue. It is not only important to listen to employees’ input and feedback, you also need to respond actively. What happens to all the feedback employees give? If companies can show their employees that they do actually do something with feedback, it stimulates and motivates employees to continue sharing their opinions and contribute to the company goals. Too often, we see that the results of an employee satisfaction survey, for example, are not shared with employees, let alone that organisations actually take action based on the results.

It is about more than communicating the strategy: Ensure the board remains visible and active, including once the strategy has been communicated. Alignment should always be a main priority. Alignment asks a lot from an organisation; it’s all about defining, implementing and maintaining capable leadership teams, an awe-inspiring people vision and effective systems and structures.

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