By | Hema Ravichandar | Strategic HR Advisory, former CHRO Infosys Ltd
The board meeting had been stormy, the annual general meeting that followed witnessed an unusually heavy flow of comments and questions. There was the investor call to follow and some media interactions. But what the chief executive officer (CEO) really looked forward to was his employee connect—his quarterly reach-out to employees. This is when he really came into his own. He inspired, cajoled, chided sometimes and envisioned the future, sharing the wins of the last quarter, the challenges ahead, where the organization was and the trajectory that it should take. With technology his close aide, he could reach out to employees across locations, real time. He could invite questions, seek comments and address concerns, all the while speaking to many and addressing the concerns of the individual.
The importance of a robust internal communication framework in organizations is well known, but the case in point is slightly nuanced with the focus on the tremendous impact that a strong direct connect with the CEO brings. Of course, it is important to cascade messages down the organization, get first-line managers to stand up and address their teams, even have regular updates of happenings and developments in different parts of the organization. It is great if different leaders take turns to speak. It demonstrates the depth of the leadership pipeline. And it gives employees perspectives from the vantage point of different specializations and functional heads. But when the No.1 in the organization speaks, it is a different matter altogether. Because it is the numero uno who apexes all stakeholder interests, the customer, the investor, the employee and even society. The buck stops right there. Her message rightly gives a cross-stakeholder perspective and organizational bird’s-eye view, which no single functional head can normally provide; or lend as much credibility to the organizational message. No wonder then that impactful CEO communication provides a totally different impetus to organization building or rebuilding, as the case may be.
Leaders are indeed blessed if they are born with such oratorical skills. But I have seen that it is by no means impossible for them to train to become good orators, to transform from the proverbial goongi gudiya (dumb doll) to attention-capturing, charismatic orators. The transformation cannot be an overnight one and requires painstaking effort—communication coaches who tend to the tone, manner and even mindset, with undivided focus on content to keep the message simple, direct and clear. Brian Tracy, the entrepreneur and author, got it right when he said, “Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve…”
So leaders please put aside your inhibitions, your other calendar conflicts and reach out to your employee base and see how the “vitamin of leader speak” really invigorates organizational spirit. And if like our CEO protagonist above, you embrace this on your calendar right there with the investor and media speak at crucial times like the annual and quarterly results, then more power to you.