Leading through a screen: part one

We don’t know about you, but at the-thread, we spend a lot of our time jumping on a MSMS Teams call, collaborating via online brainstorming platforms, or sending quick messages on WhatsApp. Many, if not most business leaders now have no option but to do the same.

Running a tight team meeting via videocall is one thing, but this goes beyond line management comms. As organisations are forced to rapidly pivot their strategies, operating models and cultures, leaders have a key role to play in business success, by communicating strategic messages to the workforce, modelling desired behaviour and all-round cheerleading. What makes this trickier is that home-working employees can be much harder to engage. They’re feeling more anxious, distracted and under pressure than ever before, just when the face-to-face channels we often rely on to whip up enthusiasm aren’t available. How can communicators support their most senior stakeholders to overcome their fears of the unknown, become digitally savvy and really connect with employees, just when they need it most?

Like many things in life, there’s a macro and a micro level to this challenge. This week, we look at the big picture, understanding what it takes to map the environment, think beyond the short-term and develop a holistic approach. Next week, we’ll look at how best to help individual leaders improve their digital skills, find their communications style – and most importantly, adjust their mindset to embrace the wonderful world of online engagement.

The opportunity
The first step is to reframe this ‘problem’, and see it as an opportunity. Don’t forget, these are not a new set of issues – many businesses have been grappling with digital transformation as a long-term strategic goal, as well as ensuring their senior executives keep pace with the expectations of a growing millennial and Gen Y demographic. If they have them, this is the time for organisations to make use of their enterprise social networks (ESNs) as never before.

We spoke to Mark Allotey, Channels Manager at insurance giant RSA, to get his take.

“If Teams is where people collaborate with their team members, ESN platforms like Yammer and Workplace allows people to engage and communicate across silos, hierarchy and geographical boundaries. It’s where people go to ask for ask for help, share knowledge and – crucially – engage with their leaders. But the key to leadership engagement on ESNs is having leaders being visible inside them. 

“Some leaders struggle with the switch from old ways of communicating to new, so our role as communicators is to help leaders to get comfortable with those channels too. We need to help them to learn how to be visible and find ways to engage with their people that feels authentic and natural.”

It’s clear that time and effort invested now will enable businesses to remain agile through this difficult period. Even more importantly, it will build a culture of digital confidence that will become more and more critical over time.

Finding your virtual water cooler
So, first we need to understand the environment – what platforms are available and how are they being used? What kind of content is popular, what themes drive the most interactions, at what times in the day and week do we see most engagement? Most importantly, how can we best tap into what employees are thinking and feeling, now that we can’t just hang around the coffee machine? Allotey comments: “If you already have an ESN, they often have built-in tools that provide basic insights on how engaged your network, people or communities are. Third party tools, such as tyGraph or Swoop Analytics, provide even richer insights such as sentiment analysis so you gauge the temperature of communities or conversations across the network. But these insights are not fool-proof and understanding the context is the most important part, which only you can do.”

Not every business has a Slack or a Yammer in place – or if they do, it may not currently be consistently used. This is where you may need to get creative. A virtual focus group, short online survey or series of phone or video interviews can give you valuable insight that can replace or complement harder data.

Setting your course for success
From your insight, you can develop objectives that will drive your activity in the right direction. When you come to the next part of the plan – engaging with individual leaders – you’ll be more successful at winning them over if you have a clear idea of what success looks like, a strategy to get you there and a tailored pathway to tell them what their role in this adventure is – and importantly, what they can expect to get out of it.

Be realistic here, both about your organisation’s culture and the speed at which you’re expecting leaders to adapt their behaviour and adopt new channels. It’s critical to have a long-term vision which is complemented by a pragmatic plan sitting alongside it that makes it clear what the key milestones are on this journey. That way, everyone gets to share in the success as the milestones you’ve agreed upon are reached.

When it comes to the crunch, you can have the best plan in the world, but if you can’t get traction from those that count, you won’t make progress. Join us next week, as we explore what it takes to win senior leaders round and support them to develop the confidence, skills and know-how to lead through a screen.

If you’d like to better understand how to connect your people in this new, virtual environment, the-thread offers an Actionable Insights tool, which uses internal communications, engagement and cultural auditing​ to map your communication and leadership levers​. ​We offer bronze, silver and a gold package subject to your challenge and needs so, if this resonates, get in touch via hello@the-thread.com

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