Those hard-charging executives: rushing to meetings, flying to Fresno for that town hall, wandering the factory floor to ask again what exactly it is that you guys make.
Is there a strategy to all this interaction with the little people? Or have the execs—and you in internal comms—lost sight of what it’s all about?
If your leaders’ internal communications tend to be sporadic or rudderless, steal a tool from the kit of Matthew Young, U.S. internal communications manager for ABB, power and automation technology leader, ship propeller builder, robot-maker.
Young creates calendars planning engagement opportunities for the year. Each participating executive gets a one-page document mapping out opportunities to meet and talk with employees, whether in a lunch, a speech, or a workplace walkabout.
Young is introducing this at ABB, where he has worked for less than a year, but he has successfully used the same calendar, known as The Plan, with previous employers.
“It gives the leader an idea of how they are doing their internal communications with their team and their entire organization at one glance,” he says. “And they know where their next opportunity is to get their message across.”
ABB has 150,000 employees worldwide, with more than 20,000 of them in the U.S.
Meetings, town halls, one-on-one talks
Young uses the calendar to push business goals, increase the visibility of executives, and boost employee engagement. The communications team maps out a calendar for each participating exec, listing everything he or she does to increase visibility and drive employee communications.
To create such a calendar, start by asking what internal interactions the executives are currently conducting. (Administrative assistants are helpful here.) Are the bigwigs walking around talking to employees? Are they holding meetings? How about town halls or one-on-ones with staffers? Do the execs write notes to people, take groups out to lunch?
“We map that out first and give them credit for what they’re already doing,” Young says.
The calendar isn’t just a list. Write down the events, when they occur, and, crucially, why they happen. Who is involved? Who coordinates it? (Corporate comms? An administrative assistant?)
The bosses may think about additional opportunities, Young says. Internal communicators may suggest their own ideas, such as asking a leader do more field visits to facilities across the country to meet with people.
“And while you’re there, maybe you do a little town hall,” Young says. “Or maybe a team dinner with your staff. Or who knows, maybe could meet a customer while you’re there.”
An à la carte menu
The idea is to create an à la carte menu of events and meetings the execs could choose from. What used to be chaotic is scheduled in a “disarming, friendly structure” that tells the bosses, “Here’s what you need to do. Here’s your calendar,” Young says.
The communications team also can see, for example, that March is a busy month, maybe something can be punted until April. Likewise, gaps in the communications flow become obvious.
“If the leader talks to his team once a week, how often does he talk to everyone else?” Young says. “Is it once a quarter? Maybe there’s something else we need to do.”
It’s a way to see if we need to add more communication to fill in gaps, he says.
Sounds good, but don’t Pointy Haired Bosses bristle and tell their comms staff to butt out?
Actually, no. They usually respond well, and soon they are adding their own meetings, Young says.
Though some might resist, the calendar becomes a priority once the bosses grasp its strategic importance.
‘Get me one’
Leaders who drag their heels tend to grow interested if they see one exec having success using the calendar, Young says. Then the others say, “Get me one of those as well.”
The calendar is a good place to schedule lunches where ordinary Joes and Janes sit down with the big boss to talk. The exec doesn’t bring a message to deliver, but just buys chow for 10 people and hears what they have to say.
Executives can also schedule walks through work areas, hitting one floor this month, a different one next, a third one the following month.
Don’t be discouraged if your bigwigs don’t adhere to the schedule 100 percent of the time. If they stick to theirs 75 percent of the time or more, it’s going pretty well, Young says.
In December, set up a time to schedule the calendar for the following year. Execs who have seen the success of the calendar will say, “Oh, yeah. Let’s set up a meeting. We can talk through ideas.”