Guest blog by Cassandra Parkin, H&H Communications*
Yes, you read that right. We think that you, the CEO of a madly important organisation with ten gazillion calls on every single minute of your time, need – yes, need, damn it – to start a blog.
You need to start a blog, it needs to be totally open to all employees, and you need to update it at least once a week. You need to invite everyone in your organisation to read it.
And enable your “comments” function. And read the comments. And reply to them. Even when they’re negative. In fact, especially when they’re negative.
(1) You need to explain to the people who work for you, what you actually do all day
If we give you the job title of one of your employees, we reckon you’ll be able to tell us pretty much what their job is actually like. You might get a couple of details wrong, but overall and generally speaking, you’ll know why they’re working for you, and what their role contributes to the organisation.
Now here’s the kicker: if you try it the other way round, the result will be totally different. Most of the people who work for you, don’t really know what you do. And that really, really matters. Because without that vital knowledge, you’re just some weirdly important bod who gets a great office, visits occasionally, has their photo in the annual report and gets rich off the back of all their hard work.
Not very inspiring, is it?
That’s why you absolutely have to start sharing with your employees what you do on a day-to-day basis. Tell them what you do. Tell them why it matters. Tell them how it makes a difference to the company. Make it clear you’re all on the same team. You already know you need them. It’s time to start explaining why they need you as well.
If this thought is totally new and startling to you, maybe that’s because…
(2) You need to have more conversations
Talking is not the same as listening. Talking at someone is not the same as talking to someone. And a big, important presentation where you set the agenda, dictate the subject matter, control the question flow and choose when the conversation’s over is not the same as inviting your employees to engage with you.
Think about what it’s like when you stand up to talk to your employees. You’re up on a podium, looking important. They’re down in the audience, looking faceless. You’re standing in the spotlight. They’re sitting in relative darkness. Your voice is artificially made louder. They’re not allowed to speak until you give them permission. You choose what to talk about. They didn’t even choose to be here. Every single thing about this interaction gives the message: The views and opinions of the person up on the podium are far more important than yours.
When 90% of your interactions with your workforce take place in this format, is it any wonder you don’t get to have many useful or insightful conversations? (Apart from anything else, they’re probably terrified of asking a question that makes them look stupid in front of their peers and their manager.)
When you invite your employees to respond to your blog, you make it much easier for everyone to share what’s really on their mind. All those horrible, stifling status cues disappear, leaving just words on a screen; yours and theirs. Social media is the great leveller.
And that’s really important, because…
(3) You need to be more human
Would you feel happier and more motivated working for:
(a) A real human being who shares their successes and failures, talks about how they’re feeling occasionally, has views and opinions, and sometimes tells you what they did at the weekend?
(b) A strange, lifeless robot with no apparent existence outside of the workplace, who mysteriously appears in your office a few times a year to deliver a numbers-based monologue, then melts away again into the darkness?
Human beings are genetically hardwired to respond to other people: we’re essentially social creatures. If you want your employees to feel warmly engaged with your company, you need to make sure it has a face and a voice. You’re the boss, so that face and that voice are yours.
Also, that’s why you need to write your blog yourself. Giving it to your shiny new intern as an exciting social media project to get their teeth into is absolutely not okay. This needs to be all your own work.
While we’re on the subject, here are some of the things we think you need to talk about…
(4) You need to talk more about how your company’s doing
We bet that if you only talk about one thing to your employees, that one thing is company performance. In fact, we bet that ninety per cent of your face-to-face time with employees consists of you talking to them about quarterly, half-yearly or annual results. Meanwhile, your employees stare silently into space, either a) enjoying the half-hour of company-sponsored daydreaming time or b) counting down the minutes until they can get back to their desk and do some real work.
We’re not saying results aren’t important. We’re just saying that, for the average employee, most Annual Results presentations might as well be written and delivered in Klingon.
That doesn’t mean you should stop talking about your company’s successes and challenges. It means you should talk about them more. Go into details. Talk about what four per cent growth really looks like and what your EBITDA means and why currency fluctuations make a difference. Most of all, explain why this stuff matters – not to your shareholders, but to your employees. If you don’t explain what difference an improvement will make to them, the chances of them being interested in making that improvement are remote.
Of course, all of this takes time. Also, some of these subjects are potentially quite dry and complex. Unless they’re delivered in bite-sized chunks, they’re likely to be absolutely unbearable for your audience.
Fortunately, there’s this great new way to talk to your employees regularly. They’ll get a notification whenever you update, they can access the content whenever it suits them, and it will only take you an hour or so a week! It’s called a blog. Did we mention we think you need to start a blog?
Here’s another reason why:
(5) You need to give more information straight from the horse’s mouth
Times are tight; incomes are squeezed; the economy is fragile and everyone’s nervous. It’s the perfect environment for terrifying rumours to start. Someone you know has a friend in Accounts who says someone higher up asked for a breakdown of the salary bills by department. Your boss heard from his boss that there was a big management meeting last week and they were all told not to bring their phones into the meeting. What’s going on? Are we being sold? Going broke? Having our hours cut? About to get fired…?
Negative rumours are slow poison. They drain away energy, time and enthusiasm from your workforce. They make people nervous and uncomfortable. They promote cynicism and leave everyone feeling demotivated.
The best way to control the rumour-mill is for you – the CEO, the person in charge – to tell everyone what’s going on. Clearly, loudly, publicly and on the record. Going public with the truth (even if the truth isn’t always easy hearing) is the best and quickest way to shut down the rumour mill.
Why will employees believe your blog more than any other form of corporate briefing? Two reasons. Firstly, it’s you talking, and since you’re everybody’s boss, you’ll have all the facts. Secondly, you’re saying it in writing and in the open. Openly-available written records force everyone to be honest.
(6) You need to acknowledge that none of us is smarter than all of us
Your employees are brilliant. You already know that: that’s why you hired them. But how often do you ask them for advice?
Crowdsourcing models have created brilliant solutions to challenges of every shape and size, from cancer research to creating art to spotting Alien deep-space radio transmissions (seriously) to Wikipedia.
When a difficult problem lands on your plate, use your blog to ask your employees for help. It won’t just help you solve the problem you’ve asked for help with. It also builds a stronger connection between you and your workforce. Asking employees for advice, and acting on what they tell you, is possibly the biggest and most sincere compliment you can pay them.
And when you take their advice, make sure you let them know the outcome. Thank people, in public and by name. Share the results. Tell them exactly how they made a difference.
(7) You need to be really, really brave
Starting a blog is scary. (We know; we’ve done it.) What if nobody reads it? What if everybody reads it? What if everybody reads it but nobody likes it? What if everybody comments on it and all their comments are mean and horrible? What if you make a mistake and that mistake goes viral and everybody in the whole of cyberspace laughs at you for the rest of time?
And you know what? All of that is good. Feeling slightly exposed is good. Doing things that make you nervous is good. Opening yourself to criticism is good. Opening yourself to criticism in front of your employees is excellent. It’s very, very easy for CEOs to come across as invincible Illuminati types who basically belong to a different species to the rest of us ant-like mortals. If you want to build better relationships with your employees, do everything you can to get rid of the barriers between you. Including starting a blog.
That’s what we think, anyway…but then, what would we know? Now it’s your turn.
Does your CEO blog? If so, what do they write about? Do you read it, and why / why not? Are you a CEO who already blogs? Are you a CEO who thinks starting a blog is the stupidest idea you ever heard?
Let us know what you think in the comments. We promise to read them all and respond as soon as we can.
*We’re H&H, and we’re on a mission to create business communications that are clever, engaging and fun. We love to get employees feeling happier and more connected at work – in fact, we’re CiPR Inside’s Agency of the Year, and our (absolutely smashing) clients tell us we’re creative geniuses. You can find more at www.handhcomms.co.uk.