Inspirational Communication

Clear and effective communication from leaders is important in any environment but in a downturn it becomes a critical success driver. Indeed, how well you motivate and engage people in times of fear and uncertainty is likely to play a significant part in boosting performance, productivity and, ultimately, survival. In many ways, the recession provides a great opportunity for leaders when it comes to communication. As Paul Drechsler, Chairman and Chief Executive of Wates Group Ltd, mentioned in a recent interview with Criticaleye, "Never has there been a better time to re-engage employees, to get them to rethink about what business their company is in, what is the role and purpose of that company and what difference it makes to the world." 

Advances in technology since the last downturn have increased communication options for leaders and the expectation that they will interact with their staff more regularly. As Martyn Fisher, Managing Director for ELGA Process Water, Veolia Water Solutions & Technologies, explains: "It's important to remember that the economic downturn has brought decision-makers and leaders into the spotlight, especially those in banking and the finance sector. There is inevitably going to be more expectation from employees that leaders should have a clear plan and this needs to be communicated clearly and effectively to avoid the sort of fear and mistrust that could sap motivation and staff retention."

The current downturn certainly seems to be separating leaders when it comes to communications. Geraldine Sharpe-Newton, Director of First-Take and Associate for Criticaleye, explains "The current downturn will certainly separate leaders who can and cannot communicate effectively. A great leader is someone who can communicate not only good news, but also engage with staff in difficult times and inspire them to perform well even when the chips are down." This will require new skills from leaders, according to Jon White, Visiting Professor at Henley Business School, who says, "Current economic difficulties have created a complex and uncertain environment for business leaders.  Clarifying the challenges they face, and getting the support they need on the exercise of well-developed and new communication skills.  The new skills involve the use of narrative and emotional content that can reassure, motivate and, in the end, inspire.  These are new skills and they are in short supply."

There is an assumption that leaders, by dint of their position, find communication easy but in a world of mass media and advanced communications technology, conveying messages in a timely and effective way has never been more challenging. Geraldine explains "Leaders need to understand and appreciate the speed of communications in this ever-changing multimedia world. They also need to realise the danger of not communicating and the perception and reactions that this can lead to with staff and stakeholders."

In a recession, it is likely that many leaders will be involved in communicating bad news at some stage. Mass redundancies are a clear example of this. Phil Streatfield, former Commercial Supply Chain Director for Woolworths gives this advice: "During times of redundancy, it is important to be tuned in to your peoples needs, as well as being as open and honest as possible. Leaders have a duty and a role to help people through the experience of redundancy in the best way that they can."    

Honesty and authenticity are key to communications in the current climate as Kevin Murray, Chairman of Bell Pottinger adds, "These are tough times for leaders. To be successful, leaders must inspire others to achieve great results. How ironic then, that so few leaders are taught the critical communications skills that enable them to be inspiring. I believe leaders can easily derive competitive advantage by learning how to be more inspiring. It can be done, but they need to be more authentic, more empathetic and more engaging. And they need to learn how to tell stories. It is this mix of skills that can provide the super-fuel that will enable them to be even more effective."

Rosann Ashe, former Head of HR for BT Operate expands on this, "Authenticity in leaders can be both an advantage and a liability to communication.  Most of us have come across dynamic leaders that, at times, cause us to cringe or worse. Authenticity can be best showcased in a leader who is self aware and open to feedback. As such, when we think about communications strategies and approaches for our leaders it is best coupled with expert, ongoing leadership development coaching. The two should be intertwined."

Inspirational Communication Insights

We've got some great insights on leadership communications including Communicate to Inspire: A Leaders' Guide, a paper by Kevin Murray where he explores why leaders lack vital communications skills and offers practical tools to becoming an inspirational leader. Also see The Financial Crisis: What Can We Say To Employees? on the main principles of communicating in a crisis.

Matthew Blagg, CEO, Criticaleye