Your Secret Weapon to Help Leaders Communicate with Employees

How do you motivate leaders to commit to communication?

Leaders are numbers-driven — what gets measured gets done — so you need to create a way to measure both their activity and their effectiveness.

You may think measurement is too time-consuming or expensive, but there are ways to build it into your leader communication routine. Follow these tips and put the power of measurement to work for you.

1. Assess to get a sense of what’s working

To lead effectively, your leader needs to understand who his/her employees are and what they need. To get a sense of what’s working, do some research first.

For instance, focus groups can help you dive deeper into what employees think and believe. While it’s true that a comprehensive focus group study requires planning, it’s possible to conduct “fast” focus groups to get valuable feedback.

How fast is fast? In just a few days you can pull together one or two 45-minute sessions and quickly select participants based on their locations, levels or roles. You can even make the sessions web-based for a wider geographic reach.

To get started, try to schedule a focus group following an important leader announcement or meeting. That way the communication experience is fresh in employees’ minds, and you can accurately assess how employees feel about it. Here are some questions to consider asking focus group participants:

· What do you think is the biggest challenge our leader faces when communicating with employees?

· How well does our leader’s style and approach fit our culture?

· What advice would you give our leader to better connect with employees?

You might also conduct one-on-one interviews with a few of your leader’s direct reports to dive even deeper into specifics.

2. Build a plan and set a standard

Leaders play a key role in supporting effective internal communication. They provide direction, context and vision. And leaders are responsible for explaining where the organization is going and what employees need to do to get there.

But how well are leaders fulfilling their communication role? Leaders may think they’re doing a good job, but to really know how well they’re doing you first need to define what “effective” means. That means setting communication standards and expectations for leaders. Some things you might think about are:

· Should communication from leaders be action-oriented?

· How important is it for leaders and employees to have face-to-face interaction?

· Do employees feel that leaders are hearing employee perspectives and insights?

· Are there ways leaders can be visible without actually meeting employees in person, such as videos or micro-blogs?

After you’ve defined what “effective” looks like for your organization, you can build a plan so leaders know what’s expected of them. Be as specific and realistic as possible when setting standards and building your plan to ensure clarity. For example, you could tell leaders you expect them to host two, one-hour coffee chats per quarter. Then measure against the standards and plan to see whether or not leaders are living up to expectations.

3. Measure key tactics

Once you’ve put your leadership communication strategies into action, take advantage of key events like town halls or key meetings to take a quick check on how leaders are doing. While you don’t want to give employees a bad case of survey fatigue, you can easily run a pulse survey every three to six months.

The key here is to make your survey short and ask questions that will really demonstrate impact. So instead of asking “Did you find the town hall informative?,” ask questions that focus on what you’re trying to achieve, like:

· “Were you motivated?”

· “How much do you now know about X topic?” and

· “Are you prepared to take action?”

That way, when you analyze the results, you’ll be able to identify opportunities for making enhancements that really matter to your leader communication program. For example, if employees consistently ask for more interaction after town hall meetings, you might recommend hosting a series of coffee chats throughout the organization.

You can also use the data you gather throughout the year to develop a quarterly scorecard. Review the scorecard during recurring meetings with your leaders to keep tabs on internal communication efforts. You’ll look like an expert when discussing changes to your leader communication program and hold leaders accountable for meeting expectations.

4. Conduct an annual communication survey

Now that you’ve got your leader communication strategy rolling, consider running an annual survey that includes questions focused on leader communication to employees.

The bulk of your survey should be composed of closed-ended statement questions: describe a situation and ask employees to respond to a four-point scale — strongly disagree, disagree, agree or strongly agree.

For leader communication, your survey should focus on these three areas:

1. Communication activity. Do leaders share information regularly? Are they meeting specific objectives? For example, if the expectation is that leaders will have monthly meetings with staff, is it happening?

2. Comprehension. If leaders are indeed having monthly meetings, are employees getting the information they need? Do employees understand key concepts? Can they use that knowledge to do a better job?

3. Interaction. Leaders may be sharing information, but are they also engaging employees in dialogue? Can employees ask questions or raise concerns? Do they feel that communication is two-way?

You can also include one or two open-ended questions to get comments and suggestions from employees. Be careful not to include too many open-ended questions, and make sure the ones you do include are specific. For instance, don’t ask “Do you have any suggestions for improving leader communication?” instead ask “What’s one way our leader could improve employee communication?” or “What one thing can our leader do differently to improve interaction with employees?”

Once you’ve got your baseline assessment, you can conduct an annual survey to compare year-over-year results. This will give you solid data you can use to convince your leaders of the changes you want to make for the next year’s plan that will make leader interaction with employees even more impactful.

Alison Davis is founder and CEO of Davis and Company, the award-winning employee communication firm. Visit to know more.