Oct 28

Effective Leadership Communication

Heinz Landau
Heinz Landau is a seasoned business leader who has gained valuable working and leadership experience on three different continents.

Mastering your skills in connecting with people by making them feel that they matter to you is a key element of caring leadership and is crucial to the success of any leader and any organization. Effective leadership communication typically increases trust and respect, can build morale and manage conflict, influences employees, can win hearts and minds and  builds credibility, rapport and relationships. It can also build concensus, cohesion and buy-in, gains team commitment and leads to superior business results.

A study by Human Resources Consulting firm Watson Wyatt demonstrated that effective communication is a leading indicator of an organization’s financial performance. Shareholder returns for organizations with the most effective communication were over 57 percent higher over the last five years (2000-2004) than were returns for firms with less effective communication. Furthermore, the study revealed that firms that communicate effectively are 4.5 times more likely to report high levels of employee engagement versus firms that communicate less effectively.

Being aware of the crucial role of leadership communication in high performance organizations, we had established at Merck Ltd., Thailand the following internal communication events:

1) Annual Corporate Take-Off Meeting

For me as the Managing Director, our annual take-off meeting was always the most important event of the year, even leading to a competitive advantage. It was the best opportunity to generate buy-in for myself (in Thailand, people are attached and work more for the boss than for the company) and for our cause (i.e. our strategy and goals).

For this event, which was always held at the third week of January, we took all our employees along (about 170), from warehouse worker to Director. By the way, this was a real communication challenge. After our first event ten years ago, we got the feedback from our staff that “you need to have a MBA – degree in order to be able to understand the message”. Obviously, we had made the mistake to use too much “business jargon”. However, already the following year, we switched more to story telling techniques and also used more pictures and metaphors resulting in a much better feedback from our employees.

The event started on Friday morning when we went by bus to a hotel two to three hours away from Bangkok. On Sunday, after lunch, we went back. We always created a theme for the year (like e.g. “The Hand In Hand, Because We Care – Year”, “Who Cares Wins”, “Back to the Future” etc.) which we launched at that occasion.

I was always the first speaker giving a short overview about the previous year and a lengthier talk about our strategy and our goals for the upcoming year. I put our team on track! To make sure that the whole audience got my message, a senior member of our Leadership Team repeated it in Thai language. In line with our company’s 4 stakeholder approach, our event (and also my presentation) was organized in four parts: a) care for employees, b) care for customers, c) care for shareholders and d) care for society.

To get some new perspectives and ideas, we always invited some external speakers who were either succesful leaders who had a story to tell or subject experts. For Sunday morning, we offered some recreational activities, or, alternatively, on a voluntary base, some employee volunteering opportunities in a location nearby.

On Saturday, we always celebrated a mega party, a great way to foster team spirit and employee bonding. In order to show our appreciation for our employees’ willingness to sacrifice their weekend, we did not mind spending a sizeable amount of money for the event. We stayed in a top hotel and we hired for the Saturday night party TV – personalities like announcers from MTV, famous singers or bands. Life is always about giving and taking, not only taking.

The whole annual corporate take-off meeting was in this form a rather unique event that helped us to win the hearts and minds of our employees. Relationships were strengthened across all departments, major corporate initiatives were rolled out, morale and momentum were built and higher employee engagement was achieved. In our regularly conducted employee caring survey, we used to obtain a high score in the area of clarity of mission, vision, value statements and clarity of strategy and goals. Without any doubt, our annual take-off meeting played a major role in this. This gathering had become a firm part of Merck Thailand’s culture and an event where our employees were looking forward to. And I believe, it was a key succes factor for the outstanding business performance that we had achieved over many years.

2) Mid Year Strategic Review – Meeting

This meeting which is held in a hotel in Bangkok every year early in July is attended by about 40 upper and middle managers. I will give an overview about the company’s performance during the first half of the year from a 4 stakeholder – perspective. This means that I am talking about the progress that we have made in terms of care for employees, care for customers, care for shareholders and care for society. Strategic issues for the second half of the year will be presented and discussed. Typically, an external speaker on a relevant subject will be invited.

3) Leadership Team – Meeting

At the beginning of the month, in a two to three hours meeting, we always reviewed our performance of the previous month and discussed our upcoming plans and actions. Every member of the Leadership Team gave a short overview on his area of responsibility. Occasionally, middle managers were invited to the meeting to give presentations on projects they were working upon. For the middle managers, it was also an opportunity to show their talent to the Leadership Team.

4) SMM (=Staff Meets Management) – Meeting

Every two months, a one hour meeting is organized where all employees can voluntarily join. The complete Leadership Team (seven managers) plus normally about 40 to 50 employees will show up. I will start the meeting with a five minutes progress report of the company. Afterwards, the employees can ask any member of the Leadership Team including myself about any topic that is interesting to them.

We noticed that over the years, employees were opening up more and more in these meetings due to the increasing trust and confidence level. When seeking to connect with people, it is critical to apply a conversational and relaxed communication style which was a particular strength of our Pharma Division Manager. One mistake that we made during the first few months when we conducted the Staff Meets Management – meeting was the seating arrangement in the meeting room. Initially, our Leadership team was sitting at a table at one side of the room, while all other employees were located at the other side of the room, like in a classroom. Based on a suggestion from a management intern, we changed the seating arrangement to a circle or a rectangle where our Leadership Team members mixed with and sat at different locations among other employees. A seemingly small change, but it had a big impact and contributed to a more open and relaxed atmosphere.

5) Leadership Team Off-Site – Meeting

Once a quarter, we scheduled a Leadership Team off-site – meeting in a nice hotel two to three hours by car away from Bangkok. Typically, we left our office on Friday morning and came back on Saturday evening. Thanks to my Leadership Team – colleagues who were willing to sacrifice their Saturday as a result of their always great spirit! During the meeting, I, a management intern or an external speaker gave a presentation on a hot, new topic or specific subjects were discussed in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Our joint dinner always lasted several hours. I found these Leadership Team off-site – meetings not only very enjoyable, but also extremely valuable in terms of team-bonding and team commitment!

Coming back to the office the following Monday, I noticed an even better atmosphere in the team. Subjects with underlying conflicting interests were discussed in a much more positive way.Even if there was a conflict between middle managers or staff from different departments, the issue could be much easier addressed and solved due to the strengthened relationship between the two Leadership Team members in charge of the two departments involved.

6) Lunch With The MD (=Managing Director)

This is an event where I invited once a month at random three middle managers for a lunch in a restaurant. They can discuss with me anything that is on their mind. At the beginning, I used to invite seven middle managers per event, however, meeting with a smaller group of people proved to be better, since we had more intense discussions.

7) Coff(r)ee Talk

Once a month, I invited at random five people on an officer level for a coffee or a tea in the morning at a Starbucks store in our office building. Even non-English speaking staff were invited. They were able to follow and participate in our discussion surprisingly easily with the help of the better English speaking colleagues. During the first couple of Coff(r)ee Talk – meetings, the staff felt quite some pressure due to the hierarchical distance between them and myself. Since I was able to create a relaxed and friendly atmosphere ( a news which travelled fast within the organization), our staff enjoyed more and more participating in the Coff(r)ee Talk. Also at this level, apart from connecting with people, I gained valuable information which is sometimes not reaching or kept away from the Managing Director. I remember a case, where a call center agent mentioned to me about her problem with the slow operation of the software in our call center having a negative impact on our customer service. With the re-allocation of some manpower resources in our Information Services Department, we were able to get the problem solved within a few hours.

Effective leadership communication is the lifeblood of a high performance organization. It reinforces the company’s vision, mission and values, its strategies and its goals and connects employees to the business. All the above stated events have enabled me as a visible leader to connect with our employees on an emotional level which is a very important aspect. Research has proven that people form opinions and make decisions based on their emotions before justifying them afterwards rationally.

Furthermore, through the above events, I was able to keep my finger at the pulse of the organization. It enabled me seeing and hearing about a lot of positive things in our company and collecting some great ideas, but also spotting some problem zones. Our internal communication events were a key success factor for me in developing trust, creditability, rapport and relationships you need in order to deliver superior results.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 28th, 2009 at 19:56 and is filed under Leadership, Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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