When employees hear “CEO,” they may envision an unreachable suit in a corner office.
Executives today can—and should—communicate with their employees up close, often, and with a personal touch; video can be the best way to do that.
“Using video lets you capture small moments—those facial expressions and gestures where you think: ‘He’s a real person. He has feelings and opinions about this, too,'” says Annie Burt, institutional communications manager at Mayo Clinic.
For organizations with a large geographic footprint, video is an especially easy way to help employees feel connected.
Wells Fargo’s TeamTV network comprises more than 20,000 screens companywide in roughly 6,700 office and store locations. It enables the organization to share news daily and to broadcast live events, such as its quarterly CEO town hall series, says Arati Randolph, Wells Fargo’s senior vice president for corporate communications.
“After each town hall, we get incredible feedback, and one of the key themes is that people feel more connected to the company,” Randolph says. Employees can access the town halls on their desktops via Wells Fargo On Demand, its desktop video delivery tool.
That type of open, transparent communication is the top-ranking attribute to effective leadership, according to a recent survey, with 74 percent of employees viewing effective communication as very important.
Changing employee behavior
Using video as a means to communicate CEO messaging helps employees to see the leader’s passion and enthusiasm. Establishing this personal connection—even distantly through video—increases confidence, trust and loyalty.
When L.A. Care Health Plan celebrated its 17th anniversary this year, the communications team created a video featuring its CEO and a montage of events to illustrate the organization’s evolution.
“Video allowed us to create a narrative that told the story of the organization and created a human connection through a message from our CEO,” says Hovsep Agop, video communications specialist at L.A. Care. “It was much more effective than an email or a slideshow.”
Just because videos are typically more compelling than text doesn’t mean that you should use it for every leadership message. Scott Kallstrand, senior manager of internal communications at Jones Lang LaSalle, says informational messages boost engagement more than videos that ask employees to do something. For example, Greg O’Brien, who is CEO of the Americas for JLL, participates in a quarterly earnings video; employees typically watch those videos 95 percent of the way through.
Similarly, Aerospace Corp. uses executive videos as a way to change employee behavior. When the organization created an HR benefits video to educate employees on when they should go to an urgent care clinic versus a hospital emergency room, it saw major results, says Bryan Tsunoda, its director of internal communications.
“The corporation saved 88 visits to the emergency room over a 12-month period, which saved the company $63,360 on current costs,” he says.
Mayo Clinic produces a regular video series featuring its president and CEO, Dr. John H. Noseworthy, in which he and a facilitator sit down every six weeks in an informal setting to discuss topics including scientific discoveries and other important matters in the news.
“During an internal video interview, our CEO answered a direct question about a recent external media interview he’d done that had gotten a lot of attention from our staff,” Burt recalled. “Dr. Noseworthy kind of chuckled and got a big smile on his face – you could really see his human side coming out.”
Videos require preparation
Getting your top execs to warm up to the camera and show their human side isn’t always easy. To get them engaged, control the room and make the subject comfortable, Agop says.
“Warmup questions are a real energy changer and can enliven an apprehensive executive. We’ve asked questions like, ‘What is your favorite rap song?'” he says. “Even CEOs and executives have a sense of humor, and if you tap into that, you can create a comfortable interview and a real connection.”
The team at JLL spends time prepping the exec for sheer logistics: what to clothes to wear, who will be in the room, how he will interact with the script and, most important, practicing the content.
“The roughest videos we’ve ever produced are the execs who just finished reading the scripts two minutes ago and haven’t practiced,” Kallstrand says. “Videos take prep work. The greatest comfort level comes when the CEO is not going in cold.”
There is also the challenge of showing a polished leader who is also authentic. Authenticity wins with employees.
Prior to the Wells Fargo town halls, for example, team members submit questions for CEO John Stumpf through a callout on the company intranet, and the communications team identifies about 10 people to record their questions for airing during the live event. They alternate questions from the live audience with these video questions, so that all team members in remote viewing locations feel included.
“People love John’s unscripted responses,” Randolph says. “Many tell us it is their favorite part of the town hall. It’s authentic and real, and we hear time and time again how much team members appreciate that.”
Don’t let perfectionism get in the way, Burt adds. A CEO’s video message doesn’t have to look professional. Mayo Clinic has found “homegrown” videos can sometimes be the most engaging. For example, Dr. Noseworthy completed the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge over the summer and recorded it himself while on vacation at his cabin.
“It was just him; you could tell there wasn’t a bunch of PR people behind him telling him what to say,” Burt says. “It was a super authentic, really nice message.”
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge video at Wells Fargo was “an absolute runaway hit” for the same reason, Randolph says. It was authentic.
Two staff members came from behind and dumped a bucket of ice water on Stumpf as he was writing a donation to ALS. After shaking it off, he announced, “Team members, that was for you!”
“While John was giving his remarks, we cut periodically to a “bucket sequence”—a bucket being filled with ice, being carried into Wells Fargo offices, being loaded into an elevator—which helped build viewer anticipation,” Randolph says.
Setting the mood
Along with calendar constraints, the biggest challenge you may face when crafting a CEO leadership message is the creating the right environment.
“With lighting, for example, people don’t understand that our eyes don’t behave the same way as a camera lens,” Kallstrand says. “Just like you don’t want your executives coming in cold without having looked at the content, you shouldn’t just swipe your camera without having worked through all the essentials.”
Your best bet is to put in the time to scout locations. Figure out where the ambient noise is, where the best natural lighting is, and whether your best bet is to go into the studio.
Ultimately, if you’re not doing video with your CEO now, you should be, but don’t feel as though you have to get to a professional level quickly. Start small: Use your iPhone at the leader’s desk for an informal, 30-second chat or update for an internal blog somewhere, Burt says.
“Just put your toe in the water. Let him see how it feels to be on camera, let her get a feel for how she might want to communicate an issue using video, and then just work your way up.”
This article is presented by Kontiki.