Updated: Jul 13, 2020
In the last post I wrote about the importance of open and authentic staff communication, especially - but certainly not only - in difficult times. One way to do that is to gather everyone occasionally over lunch, coffee, or Friday drinks. But that’s not always possible. You may have interstate or overseas offices, and it’s more and more common - even pre-COVID - for people to work remotely.
So it’s best to use a range of channels to engage with staff and deliver a regular drum beat of messages. Repetition is important – keep telling the story. For example, in nearly every presentation I gave at Aconex, I’d start with our purpose, our vision and our values, before going through a one-pager highlighting our strategy. It brought new staff up to speed but - even more importantly - kept reinforcing for the whole team the direction of the company and what we expected of our people.
Aconex grew to nearly 50 offices around the world, so to communicate effectively our communications always had a digital overlay. We recorded and distributed video, used video conferencing (10 years ago it was much harder to use and way more expensive - $25,000 per boardroom unit across our larger offices), used internal blogs extensively and spent a lot of time on the phone. We sent out our key messages across multiple channels to reinforce them and leave nothing to chance:
● Townhall (all-hands) meetings: We structured core communications around a monthly company-wide town hall, which we recorded on video to share across time zones. If we were in a fast-changing environment, such as the GFC, or leading up to our IPO, we’d increase the cadence to fortnightly or weekly. These meetings were supplemented with local townhalls as I travelled to our larger offices. We always encouraged openness and two-way communication in these groups and made sure there was an anonymous question box. It meant I got some brutally awkward questions over the years, and I didn’t always have an answer, but the benefit of creating trust, transparency and a culture of authenticity made it worthwhile. During COVID-19, face-to-face townhalls are off for now, but you can replicate them using video conferencing.
● Small group meetings: I’d regularly meet with small groups across Aconex – for example with the engineering managers, the marketing team, the sales leaders or the French team. It was a way for me to present the strategy of the company and then connect it specifically to the work of each of these groups. And it kept me connected to the business and the people that made it up, even as we grew beyond hundreds of staff towards a thousand.
● One-on-ones: This was clearly easier when Aconex was smaller, but even as we grew, I’d make time for one-on-one interactions across the company (in addition to regular one-on-ones with my direct reports). A five-minute call from the CEO or founder means a lot to staff. In my experience time spent talking to staff was never wasted – I’d always learn something about our business, and it was a chance to re-enforce our purpose and strategy, while increasing engagement.
● Walking the floor: In our Melbourne office, or any office I visited around the world, I’d take time to circulate and speak to our teams. It might be just a simple “g’day” or asking what someone is working on. Being visible and accessible, especially in difficult times, helps reassure staff that you are engaging with the business. In the current COVID-19 environment you can replace the ‘walk’ with increased group video meetings or one-on-one calls to your staff.
● Internal blogs: At Aconex, I wrote an internal blog, (called “The X-file”) to update everyone on what was happening in the company. I’d post updates every couple of weeks on key events for the company, to highlight our strategy, share progress against our goals, provide feedback from our customers, or just share good news stories.
Finally, you don’t need to do all the communication on your own. Leverage your leadership team to spread your message. Having many voices delivering the same story is much more powerful than a single voice. Establish a comms plan with your managers to meet with their departments and team. Include talking points and questions to ask their teams. Then set time aside to review feedback with the leadership group and refine your company-wide messages. And if you need help to prioritise and sustain all of this communication, remember you can delegate the planning and even some of the delivery.
The message and the voice, though, must be yours.
Even in tough times like these, your people will join you on the journey when they understand the challenges, your strategy and the crisis response plan. In sharing your message with the team, you just need to be organised, consistent and - most of all - authentic.