We live in a digital world where we adapt to new situations and new ways of working all the time. Our leaders’ role and responsibility as communicators has changed significantly over the past few years, from being the principal information source for their analogue teams to being one voice in a very noisy world. Nowhere is this more obvious than on digital channels where shouting from all corners is the norm, but not the ideal, and the need for credible coaching and role-modelling from leaders is substantial. How can we help our leaders effectively communicate in this noisy, digital space?
Take a fresh look at your digital environment
Whilst internal digital channels have transformed how we communicate, they’ve also transformed how our leaders need to interact with their teams and highlighted more than ever the need for them to be role models, facilitators, and mentors.
To know what steps we can take to help leaders be better digital communicators, we need to take stock of the digital environment we’re asking them to enter.
Because digital channels are noisy places…
We need to acknowledge the noisiness of the digital space with our leaders and commit to not making it worse. We know how important it is for employees to hear the message from their leaders: someone close to them who they trust; someone who can personalise the message and ensure it’s relevant and engaging. But this is much harder when social media, instant communications, and peer-to-peer communications are non-stop. We don’t want our leaders to chime in where their message gets lost and just makes things louder. Instead, we need to commit to making sure everything they communicate is relevant, impactful and can cut through the noise.
Because digital channels are full of uncertainty…
We need to prioritise timely due diligence for our leaders and employees. As with external social media channels, some internal content can be questionable, misleading, or inaccurate. When we ask our leaders to enter the digital conversation, we must equip them with credible information as it comes in so that they can to guide their teams to those same credible sources. This carries a double benefit – first, it ensures our employees and leaders are always operating with the best information at any given time. Second, it helps leaders feel secure in taking risks on digital for issues that are uncertain and prone to rumour – exactly where we need leaders’ voices most but where they are also most often missing!
Because digital channels are filled with user-generated content…
We need to explore where our digital content comes from. More often than not, digital content comes directly from employees and our leaders need to engage, respond and help steer the conversation in positive, value-creating directions. Digital-savvy leaders know they’re often joining conversations already in progress and are shedding the ‘tell and sell’ communications mantra in favour of facilitating, mentoring and guiding employees in the right direction. These leaders are still engaging and informative, with the goals of helping their teams find the right information, confirm what is truth and what is speculation themselves rather than doing it for them. We can help leaders get comfortable in this ‘guide on the side’ role by suggesting low-stakes opportunities to practice, listening together to employees’ concerns and questions, and giving direct feedback to leaders on their digital efforts.
Put specific leader supports in digital places
As a communication expert, you can help leaders understand how digital channels work and how their teams are likely to engage with digital channels. We can give them tips, support and encouragement so they can more confidently get involved, facilitate discussion and take their mentoring and role-modelling skills onto the digital channels. But we shouldn’t assume that our leaders will know how to show up on internal social media, especially if they don’t have a large profile on social media in their life outside work. Our leaders have their own digital profiles, habits, and preferences so our guidance for them will need to be a mix of standard and customized supports. A few supports that we’ve seen work well are:
- Have a clear policy or guide for leaders so they’re sure of what they’re allowed to do on digital channels. This should be written in a supportive and encouraging way and not put leaders off by telling them everything they can’t do! Include examples of what to do and what not to do.
- Educate your leaders on your digital channels.
- Give them the technical skills to use the channels so they know how to like, comment and post.
- Give them an understanding of when to use digital channels (how they fit into your whole channel strategy) and what to use the channel for.
- Tell them what kind of content works best – the length of posts that work well, and how to use pictures and emojis.
- Provide templates and core content, especially for any campaigns you’re running so leaders can re-post or can easily adapt content to be relevant to them and their teams.
- Think about providing a reverse mentoring scheme so your leaders can learn from the new graduates or more digitally aware team members.
Use this list to get started and please keep us posted on your progress, questions and additional needs for encouraging your leaders to join the digital conversation with their teams. Remember that as we adapt our communication to a digital world, our leaders are also adapting to having a team that’s potentially more digitally savvy than them. Let’s work together to help leaders navigate the digital space as they continue their journey toward becoming great communicators.
In our upcoming Leader Roundtable on October 28, we’ll discuss governing in the messy, complicated digital comms space where channels quickly fill with user-generated content, business partners are apt to ignore your team’s expertise and plans, and the voices you want are often the ones missing.
Kademy Coach Helen Humphreys will share her experiences and insights from spearheading digital governance as a former Head of Communications. We’ll also enjoy small group conversations to explore strategies for governing digital comms beyond your direct reports and tips for coaching reluctant leaders to connect with employees on digital platforms. To find out more and register your interest in attending, please email email@example.com.