Six Tips to Create an Executive Communications Plan

Does this scenario sound familiar? You recently shared the results of your employee engagement survey, and it’s clear your employees don’t feel connected to leadership. They want more transparency on the state of the business. And they don’t see leaders walking the talk when it comes to the vision and values of the organization. The response from the executive team is, “We need more and better communication!” And then they look to you. And if you’re finding that leaders are looking to the communications team more today than ever before, you’re not alone. According to a survey conducted in June, 75% of communicators feel their value has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Now’s the time to let your communications strategy shine by highlighting the need for a steady cadence of executive communication.

Here are 6 tips to create an authentic and impactful executive communication strategy:

1. Listen to your employees and tell leaders what employees want.

Communications pros are uniquely positioned to have a direct line to employees across the organization. Use this insider status to talk to employees to understand what they want to hear from leadership. Do so formally (surveys and focus groups) and informally (pre-shift meetings or a meeting with frontline managers). While high-level state of the business updates can be valuable, employees really want to hear how information directly impacts them. This will help you talk to leadership about the importance of tailoring their message to specific audiences, making it more meaningful.

2. Create employee personas.

Have you ever created personas for your employees? It’s common practice in marketing and PR, but should be part of every internal comms teams toolbox as well. By creating personas, you begin to understand who your employees are. What do they value? How do they contribute to the success of the organization? How do they currently receive communication? And what content they have access to? Personas should be created for all levels of employees and across different departments. See the example below for ideas on how to create employee personas.

3. Conduct a communications channel evaluation.

Now that you know who your employees are and what they want to hear from leadership, the next step is to evaluate what channels employees currently have access to and whether or not leadership can communicate effectively through those channels. One of the most effective executive communication medium is video. It creates transparency. And video allows a leader to express themselves with clarity and empathy, which helps them build trust and connection. The challenge is that many organizations don’t have a channel to deliver videos through that will reach all employees directly. Channel evaluations help determine if you need to open up access to existing platforms or if you need new ones.

4. Be intentional with executive communication.

Once you understand what messages employees want to hear and how they want to hear them, you are now ready to deploy a strategy so leadership communication carries the weight and priority that you want it to. The CEO can’t and shouldn’t be the only one talking. Your strategy should include guidelines for what types of messages come from each of your leaders. And it ensures you set a consistent cadence for leaders to communicate both high-level strategic or inspirational messages and informal coffee chats or roundtable discussions (virtual or in person). It’s more important than ever to bring leaders out of the boardroom (or Zoomroom) and connect them directly to employees.

5. Measure your results.

You’ve spent a lot of time learning what your employees want and need from their leaders. So how can you measure the success of your strategy and whether you’re achieving the goals you and your leadership team want to achieve? If your communications channels allow you to measure engagement, analyze the data to see if more employees are engaging with your content. If you can’t see open or read/watch rates, conduct pulse surveys to understand if your employees have noticed the change in leadership communication and if the messages are making an impact. Don’t forget to ask frontline managers if they feel the impact of more frequent and intentional communication from leaders.

6. Show employees leaders are listening.

As important as it is to get the right message out at the right time, it’s vital for employees to feel their voice is reflected in the message. Having leaders respond directly to employee feedback or questions and pivoting direction based on employee feedback is critical to the ongoing success of a leadership communication strategy. Building employee trust should always be a goal of a successful leadership communications campaign and building that trust starts with showing a willingness to listen and change based on the needs of the companies most critical asset: employees.

National surveys show that employees put high importance on executive communication and transparency. According to Edelman’s Trust Barometer:

“People hold more trust in ‘My Employer’ than in any single institution, with trust levels at 75% globally—19 points more than business in general and 27 points more than government.”

The pressure is on leaders to connect with their employees. 

Leadership Next Steps

And the impact of current events on the lives of employees and businesses makes leadership communication more important than ever. Leaders need to communicate an authentic and inspiring message on a consistent cadence. And that message must also demonstrate empathy with the current employee experience. But don’t assume that the way it’s always been done is the way you should continue to deliver leadership communication. Use the steps above to define the needs and wants of your employees and ensure you have the right communication channels to reach them. Only then can you build a strategy that will help your leaders communicate for impact and your employees feel valued by and connected to their leaders.

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