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  • Scott McInnes

#19 | Don’t fall at the communications hurdle.

people running track jumping hurdles

A lack of communications training for leaders is a massive business hurdle that, if not addressed, will certainly lead to your people not being as engaged or effective at work as perhaps they could be.

Being close to HR is critical

I’ve spoken in previous blog posts about the fact that I believe Internal Communications and Engagement teams need to be very closely aligned with HR. Not because I think they should be a mouthpiece for all things HR, but because, at its heart, communications and engagement is a people business. In my first ever podcast, Mary Davis, CEO of Special Olympics, said "Leadership isn’t a tick box exercise”. The same is true of communications and engagement. It’s not about DOING engagement or DOING communications - it’s about having a leadership ethos that LIVES them.

And to ensure communications teams are at the heart of that leadership ethos, you need to be close to and have an input into how leaders develop that capability.

Your leaders are a key communications channel

As communications and engagement professionals, we need the buy in and support of leaders across our organisations. Yes, we can write a company-wide communication from the CEO and yes, it’ll probably be quite good (obvs 😊). But what it can’t have is relevance and resonance for every single employee across the business. We don't know what's going on with individuals and teams across our organisations because we aren't close enough to each of them.

That’s the role of leaders.

But we're not training them

And that’s what was borne out in the Gatehouse 2017 'State of the Sector' survey. You can read the full thing by clicking here but there were three stats that, for me, were, frankly, a little alarming!

communication poster

So basically, those who responded to the survey said, "We know that a lack of communications expertise is a massive hurdle for us but we aren't going to do anything about it!"

You wouldn't ask your people leaders to run the 110m hurdles without first showing them how to do it. Likewise, it's not enough to simply assume that your leaders are good communicators; that because you've produced a beautiful video or 'team-talk' pack, that your leaders are equipped to bring it to life for their staff in a way that resonates and makes sense.

According to Gatehouse's research, THEY AREN'T!

It doesn't matter how big you are.

For me, whether you've 10 leaders or 510 leaders, there are four things leaders need in order to be great communicators

  1. Skills - Being an authentic, human and clear communicator is a skill - some people have it and others don't (and even those who do need to work at it sometimes!). So leaders need to be taught how to be good communicators - perhaps that's 1-1 coaching, in-house training, external workshops or a mix of all three. There's value in doing an audit to see where your leaders are today - it gives you both an idea of skills gaps AND a line in the sand against which to measure future success.

  2. Confidence - Sometimes that's all the issue is - it's not a skills gap, it's a confidence gap. 1-1 coaching can help as can putting those leaders in 'safe' situations - ones in which they may not feel totally comfortable but that you know they will succeed.

  3. Support - Perhaps 80% of the time your leaders are they're absolutely fine but, in those other 20% of situations they just need a bit of help. And the chances are they'll only need that help until they're comfortable dealing with the situation themselves (see 2!). Spending time with them to go through a script, attending a session or event with them or evening offering to run part of a team session FOR them can all help

  4. Tools - And yes, they need the videos and team talk packs to support their team sessions. However, without first addressing the three issues above, it's going to be hard for them (through no fault of their own) to get the value from your investment of time in producing them

So, the moral of the story? Don't ask your leaders to line up for the 110m hurdles without first showing them how to do it!

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