Six ways for leaders to improve communication and build high-trust relationships
C-suite professionals have probably heard countless times that effective communication is good for business. But where do you start? How will you know it’s working? Leadership communication is a skill, and it takes practice.
Good leadership communication is essential to creating an effective organization and a high-quality product.
Every company has different needs and building trust for internal stakeholders will take a different form for each. Take these six principles as a “North Star” to keep in mind, and you’ll find them adapting naturally to your communication approach.
As a leader, transparency and “radical candor” starts with you. As you become more transparent, you can expect employee engagement to improve.
Honesty has always been the best policy, but to create a culture where people feel safe talking about the problems they’re experiencing, you’re going to have to lead by example.
In all-hands meetings, be open about any pain points the business is facing. In small gatherings, make a point of telling people when you don’t quite understand something and ask for clarification. One-on-one, hold yourself accountable and show employees your standards are just as high for your own performance as they are for them.
One tactic to increase transparency is to make a habit of making specific, measurable promises, in the same way you’d make SMART goals.
This will improve communication overall, as people will know exactly what to expect from you. You’ll also build up a record your staff can refer to, should they need present proof of met requirements.
An investment in communications software like Slack or Basecamp can help you stay closer to every team in the company. This is especially true in a remote setting where there’s no break room people can bump into each other.
This is true right across the company. An organization is a complex network, and it only moves as fast as the different “nodes” can communicate with each other. Poor internal communication can cause huge frustrations, even leading to high turnover rates.
Tools can improve communication between management and employees. It can also help communication between teams and customers. Software like predictive dialler technology can speed up your customer service operations so it’s never a bottleneck between you and the customers you have to be listening to at all times.
Get out of the corner office
Companies are built on relationships, and you’re not going to build them with your employees over email. But with the demands on your time, how can you build relationships with people at scale?
There are a number of ways to be present while also being productive. One is to simply get out of the office and be seen working alongside the rest of the company. Even if you’re just sitting with the marketing team for fifteen minutes while you work something out with the manager, it makes a difference.
In a remote setting, you could try to sit in on strategic meetings where possible, just to get some “face time” with as many employees as you can. Just showing up and being present can make people feel like they can talk to you. Not all leadership communication is done with words.
Make it simple
There’s a saying that you don’t understand anything you couldn’t explain to a five-year-old. You’re an expert in your field, and you want people to know it, but your knowledge isn’t useful if you can’t break it down and relay it as simply as you can.
Stripe is known for emphasizing clear writing as an organizational tool. CEO Patrick Collison writes: “we care about effective reasoning, clear and specific prose, and general avoidance of corporate euphemism, passive exonerative, and all of the other mumbo jumbo that people so often subconsciously think they’re supposed to use.
Signups are going down because we don’t understand how to target likely buyers in Canada is a lot better than ‘We’re seeing softness in our acquisition metrics.’”
For written communication, Hemingway is a handy little tool for aggressively cutting complex sentences. It won’t win you a Nobel prize for literature, but jargon and wooly “corporate euphemism” won’t survive it.
This goes for all forms of communication. Embedding the inventory tracking spreadsheet in a weekly email might emphasize your point, but maybe it’ll complicate it.
By making data visualization as simple as you can, you’ll make it stick in the minds of employees so they’ll remember it when it’s relevant.
It’s easy enough to isolate data points in your spreadsheet software’s graph tools. Also, look into visualization tools like Tableau or Microsoft Power BI to see what they can do for you. You don’t have to have design skills to make something look impactful.
Make it accessible
Sometimes the best business communication is none at all. In an increasingly remote/hybrid setting, it’s important to make as much information as self-serve as possible.
That means using tools like Confluence or Notion to build a library of information people need to get their work done, in one single source of truth. It might mean embedded analytics tools like ClicData so that even the front-line customer support staff are making data-driven decisions.
But for leadership communication, this means making leadership information more easily accessible.
One aspect of the radical transparency movement was making the minutes of executive meetings available to anyone. This isn’t always useful or appropriate, but there’s value to be found thinking in public.
Amazon’s famous six-pager memos, which begin every meeting, aren’t just thrown away at the end of the day. They’re carefully archived and used as an extremely high-quality onboarding tool for new hires.
These aren’t subjects such as “who to ask for a login,” they’re deep insights into the way the company makes high-stakes decisions such as pursuing a new product. And it’s written to be as simple, specific, transparent, and accessible as possible.
The benefits of good leadership communication
There are many tangible business benefits to good leadership communication but don’t lose sight of the intangible ones. As you improve communication and build better relationships with internal stakeholders, you’ll notice the return on investment as your workplace feels closer, more trusting, and more harmonious for everyone.