My CFO, the No. 2 executive in a multi-billion-dollar public company, called me into a meeting with almost no notice. I grabbed my notebook and headed to his conference room. This could be anything from No Big Deal to a Really Big Deal.
Turns out it was a Really Big Deal. The company was in discussions to make its largest acquisition in history. He spent 30 minutes giving me the background of the proposed acquisition, the reason the company was doing it and the implications for both companies.
The CFO knew this would be a Really Big Deal for employees on both sides. He wanted me to start early on a communications plan to promote buy-in. I gave him some initial thoughts, told him I’d get back to him, and then got up to leave.
Then I stopped.
I turned back to the CFO and said, “By the way, this meeting…this was good. It’s very helpful to get up to speed early on. We’ll be able to do more thoughtful, strategic communication than if we were brought in later. So, thanks, and if you don’t mind, let’s do this again for other big things in the future.”
The CFO seemed simultaneously surprised and pleased with himself. He didn’t necessarily think it was noteworthy or important to have this kind of meeting, but he was happy that I pointed out to him that indeed it was.
We internal communicators often lament that even our own bosses or executives don’t understand the value of what we do. That is why it is so important to provide them with positive reinforcement when they do something conducive to good communication practices, from bringing you in early like my CFO did, to a particularly strong performance at a Town Hall, to communicating effectively in a crisis and more.
Here’s the thing: often, as in the case of my CFO, they don’t even know they are doing it. But when we point it out to them, they can internalize it on their own terms: “Oh, that’s what they mean. I get it,” they’ll say to themselves. And then they know how to do it again.
This is a form of “managing up,” so it needs to be done with some care. Here are some ways to go about it:
During the COVID-19 crisis, we have enthusiastically demonstrated the value of internal communication. Executives have rightly turned to us in a time of need. We can use positive reinforcement for that behavior as we embark on post-COVID work. Tell your execs: if you like how we helped you during COVID, reach out again and bring us in on your next project/strategy/event. We’ll help you succeed there, too.
Positive reinforcement works. How do I know? A year or two after that meeting with my CFO, the CEO called me in to a meeting and told me about another pending M&A transaction that would be even bigger than the last one, and we needed a good communication plan to ensure it was successful. I was one of only five people that the CEO told about this in a company of thousands. Months later, the CEO said the communication plan was a driving force behind the ultimate success of the transaction.
I don’t think it was a coincidence that they brought me in early for another big project. They saw it work before, and they remembered I pointed it out to them.
Positive reinforcement directed upward can seem awkward at first. Some may mistake it for sucking up. It’s not. It’s a legitimate tool to help you do your best strategic internal communications work.
Do you have an example of providing effective positive reinforcement to an executive?
Keeping the Lights on In a Crisis (or, How many internal comms pros does it take to change a lightbulb?)
So many of us internal communication pros have been All Coronavirus, All the Time in recent days. Understandable, and necessary. Our organizations need us, and it’s our time to step up and show them the power of what we do.
At the risk of getting the virtual stink eye from you, dear reader, for giving you one more thing to think about, let’s not forget one of the key tenets of crisis management: Keeping the Lights On. In other words, as annoying as this might sound right now (sorry!), we can’t forget our day jobs.
In your abundant spare time (Ha!), go back to your annual plan and check what you were planning to do right about now before the world went haywire. If it can be postponed, great. But some things can’t or shouldn’t be put off, and even in the midst of this crisis, there are some things we still need to do to help keep our businesses running and our people informed and engaged.
That annual employee awards program? May seem trivial right now but it could give people a morale boost.
Feature stories for your intranet on interesting projects or employees? We still need to keep our intranets fresh, and boy, it would be great to have new content that’s not Coronavirus-related.
A regularly-scheduled Town Hall? People still like to hear what the organization is doing, especially in a crisis.
Keeping the Lights On helps move our organization forward and provides a sense of normalcy during turbulent times. It’s another way we can be there for our organizations and each other.
How many internal comms pros does it take to change a lightbulb? All of us.
Let me know how you are keeping the lights on at your organization. And as always, reach out if I can lend a hand.
Of course the fine folks at the Florida Highway Department shouldn’t expect people to start creating pictures of bridges upon seeing this sign. That’s a reasonable assumption. The object of the sign is to let people know that the bridge ahead may be raised to let boat traffic pass, and not much more needs to be said. Draw Bridge Ahead. Got it.
But how many times as internal communicators do we prepare messaging or a piece of communication and simply assume people know what we are talking about or what we want them to do? More often than we'd like to admit.
We focus on strategic messaging or making sure we get the boss's main points in whatever we are creating. And that's important.
But I’ve also seen many examples where we fall short of answering our audience's key question: “So what do you want me to DO?”
We've all seen all-company emails that talk about a company's strategy moving forward, the importance of focusing on our goals and the need to finish the year strong.
But where does it say what we actually want people to do when they begin their next workday? Someone reads this common corporate communication and thinks: “Great! I'm on board! But what do I actually DO?”
Here are some tips to avoid this common trap:
What are some ways you make sure your people don’t whip out a sketchpad when you tell them “Draw Bridge Ahead?”