This weeks blog is written by Victoria Tomlinson, chief executive of Northern Light PR, our regular contributor for CLO on the subject of PR and Communications. Get ready for her next blog entitled: Can your Company survive a Horse Meat Scandal!
It’s a platitude – but still valid. Your business is only as good as your people
But are you sure that your people really know where your business is going and what contribution is needed from them to be successful?
It’s easy for a visionary chief executive to think that setting out goals once a year is enough for employees to understand plans for the business. Yet it’s important to remember Tom Peter’s mantra in his book Passion for Excellence, that it’s not the quality of a one-off great piece of communication – but the quantity of your communications.
What are the three critical areas to focus on for good communications?
1. Big picture to individual role
The bit that so often fails in organisations, is translating the chief executive’s clear vision into something that makes sense for each employee.
The classic way to do this is to take the critical goals and cascade them through the organisation, until each team and employee has a target that together, like a jigsaw, will achieve the total vision.
Dr Jon Warner, in his blog Ready to Manage has a neat diagram to show how this works in practice.
The biggest problem with this as an exercise is usually speed. The time for budgets to be set and agreed and translated into goals for every employee in the business takes months. Most communications processes were set for times of economic stability – when you could create a five year plan and be reasonably confident of achieving it, let alone a one year plan!
Now, businesses have to be quicker on their feet. And communications need flexibility as much as in strategy, marketing and sales teams.
In recent times whole markets have been wiped out in months. As the outside world is changing, so organisations need to keep adapting and communicating to employees as to what has happened and what new plans and focus are being agreed.
Stephen Martin, chief executive of Clugston and one of the stars in the global TV success, Undercover Boss, said that he had been guilty of slowing down his communications in difficult times: “In good times, you have a regular stream of stories to tell your employees – from order wins to new appointments. In difficult times, you have very little of that and without realising it we had a vacuum in our communications. I realised that in difficult times you have to communicate as much if not more than before – even if you have nothing particular to say. Otherwise your teams will fill that vacuum with rumour and speculation.”
2. Does your business culture encourage employees to do their best?
Culture has never been more important to businesses.
Innovation, flexibility, team-working and risk-taking. These are what are needed to be successful in challenging times. Hierarchical and traditional companies will struggle to adapt to new opportunities, bring in technology quickly or find new markets.
Employees need to feel safe and confident to do their best – which is extremely difficult when leaders themselves may be wondering what the answer is.
Every employee can do their bit to understand your customers and help you identify opportunities. But to do that, your culture needs to encourage them to do this, have a process for listening and acting on good ideas – wherever they come from.
3. Is there a ‘them and us’ culture inhibiting real success?
In almost every business there are groups of employees who see themselves as ‘elite’. Whether they are the fee-earners in a professional firm, scientists in a pharmaceutical business or the architects in a construction business, they see themselves as more important than colleagues.
Much of this is down to their qualifications, pay and status. But the reality is no lawyer, scientist or architect can deliver anything on their own.
The challenge for businesses is to get ‘the elite’ to understand the worth of, and respect the value of all employees, and to create real team collaboration.
As much as any of these, that example will come from the top.
Nothing can beat the old ‘management by walking around’; recognising and praising forgotten employees and constantly updating all employees on goals and success against these.