Simple, Direct and Often
Jan 24, 2019
By Robert Mai, Alan Akerson
Effective leadership communication is the most powerful tool for managing change and transition in your organization. It is critical in minimizing employee fear, paralysis and disaffection that in turn can hurt organizational performance. Yet, many organizations, especially companies engaged in merger and acquisition activity, communicate too little too late about new directions and what they mean. The poor track record these initiatives have shown is certainly a consequence of a failure to communicate well.
Ironically, at a time when many leaders say they want to be more accessible and open with employees, and with e-mail and intranets providing the means for more regular and easy communication, too many employees feel out of tune and out of touch with the organization.
Not so at Emerson.
Effective leadership communication is the most powerful tool for managing change and transition in your organization. It is critical in minimizing employee fear, paralysis and disaffection that in turn can hurt organizational performance. Yet many organizations, especially companies engaged in merger and acquisition activity, communicate too little too late about new directions and what they mean. The poor
Sharing information and keeping people informed are so important at Emerson, a leading global manufacturing company, that division presidents are required to develop an annual communication plan, and are evaluated on its implementation. “Effective communication is key: it breeds involvement,” says CEO David Farr.
A standard element of the plan is a state-of-the-business address that covers market conditions, the business plan, costs, priority concerns and what people can do to help. This annual address is supplemented by quarterly updates, typically delivered by the division president or the plant manager.
Presenting the Corporate Situation
Prior to these quarterly communication meetings, Farr delivers a Webcast to all company executives worldwide on the corporate picture, reviewing subjects like profitability, inventories and any major issues the company is dealing with. “I communicate very openly throughout the organization, so everyone in the organization can hear clearly this is what’s important,” admits Farr, who adds, “I use e-mail a lot.” The Webcasts create contrast for the dialogue at the division level.
When Emerson wants to alert employees to some fast-breaking news, it also resorts to its Webcast method.
Keeping It Simple
One of the established tenets of leadership behavior at Emerson is to “Keep it simple.” From a communication standpoint, this has some obvious, as well as some less obvious, implications. For one, leaders at Emerson are expected to be direct, open and forthright in their communications with employees. Somewhat ironically, Farr mentions developing “simple plans” as another aspect of this management tenet. And when you think of it, a plan that has been carefully examined and forged through much discussion is ultimately a simpler plan to communicate and implement. It’s got most of the ambiguities knocked out of it and most of the “i’s” dotted.
As a third dimension of keeping things csimple, Emerson prides itself on having minimal bureaucracy to slow down and complicate organizational message delivery. The distance from Farr’s office to any plant operator is among the shortest in the industry. Simple plans, simple messaging, simple organizations: they all contribute to a clear mandate for leadership communication at Emerson.
About the Author(s)
Robert Mai is a consultant to and former vice president of Fleishman-Hillard, Inc.
Alan Akerson is former executive vice president and senior partner at Fleishman-Hillard.