We’ve all heard of bosses that people would follow into a burning building – earning loyalty and trust from their teams, who are ready to tackle any challenge or raise any bar with enthusiasm. What are some of the communications traits that those inspiring leaders have in their back pocket? Here are three that are easy to implement in your own leadership toolkit, whether you are managing a staff of two or a department of 50.
Great Leaders Communicate What Good Looks Like. Most employees are motivated to deliver great performance – after all, it’s pretty fundamental to keeping their job. Are you as a leader setting well-defined expectations, ensuring that deliverables are clearly outlined, and telling your teams what good looks like? Providing your reports with concrete examples will eliminate guesswork and allow your employees to more readily deliver what you’re looking for in the first place. No one is particularly skilled at reading minds, and employees become quickly frustrated with cryptic requests – it starts to feel like you’re playing a power game with them: “who can come the closest to figuring out what I want?”
And speaking of sharing helpful examples, make sure your own communications are top quality and error-free. Memos, team e-mails and PowerPoint decks filled with typos, misspelled names, sloppy formatting and grammar errors send a message that you don’t particularly respect the audience that’s receiving your communications, and you can’t be bothered to go the extra mile for those that work for you. Not a great example to set for your team, or your internal reputation as a polished executive.
Great Leaders Deliver Regular Team Communications. Smart leaders create a cadence of communications vehicles that share updates on financials, customers, quality, competitors and innovation on a regular basis – with a healthy dose of recognition for team and individual accomplishments. Whether it’s an hour-long meeting in a conference room, or a stand-up 10 minute status report (no PowerPoints, no sitting!), outstanding communicators bring their teams together regularly to learn, solve, praise and inform.
For site or plant leaders with hundreds of employees under their supervision, the practice of monthly birthday meetings means that everyone eventually gets some small group meeting time with the boss. For example, all the September birthdays are invited for bagels and coffee, or a pizza lunch, to share feedback in a small group on what’s going well, and what roadblocks might be in the way of improving customer service.
Don’t forget agendas, distributed in advance. They show respect for your subordinates’ time – you’ve planned out what you intend to cover, as opposed to winging it, and it allows your team to prepare in advance as well.
And whether on a conference call or a plant-wide meeting on the factory floor, find ways for your direct reports and hourly workforce (who aren’t too shy) to deliver some of the content. Even a few minutes giving an update makes employees feel valued and recognized. It creates a sense that deliverables and solutions belong to everyone, and that you view your employees’ input as critical to the success of the organization.
They Walk The Halls And The Production Line – Impromptu Interaction Builds Credibility. In manufacturing, a gemba walk refers to a Japanese productivity tool where leaders get out of their office and on the shop floor, following the production process from the raw material stage, to the manufacturing and assembly process, all the way to the shipping dock. These leaders ask employees about quality, scrap, standard work and production roadblocks as they walk the line. Gemba walks help support an engaged workforce, as employees see management coming to them for feedback and news, taking the time to learn their individual role in customer satisfaction and operational effectiveness.
For leaders in an office environment, take that gemba approach and be visible in the hallways. Don’t be the boss famous for leaving every night by the back corridor so he or she won’t have to say a few “goodnights” to their team. Roam the floors and buildings where your employees work, and get a cup of coffee from a different break room further away from your office. Stop by a team meeting for a few minutes to learn how a project is going. The spontaneous conversations that result will reveal customer issues that need solving, provide an opportunity for praise, and encourage sharing of your workforce’s family and personal interests.
Setting expectations, delivering regular communications, and maximizing informal opportunities to learn and interact . . . they are the building blocks of strong external customer relations that your organization is likely already implementing to remain competitive. It’s no surprise that these same three practices, when focused on your employees, can help boost your internal relations and leadership reputation as well.
Kelly Blazek is a senior communications practitioner who counsels global manufacturers on their internal and executive communications practices as they relate to change management and employee engagement. A Six Sigma Green Belt, her website is www.gembacomms.com