Concluding: Exceptional leadership in a fragmented world

Organizational Systems Review Research Insights

At Tekara, we provide communication reviews and audits across industries and North American geographies. In the last ten years, we have mapped the communication process and flows for government ministries, crown corporations, manufacturers, broadcasters, and retailers.Tekara Integrated Model

What we have seen is a fractured communication environment, and it is impacting the ability for senior managers to lead. Employees have more access to data and information and less clarity. Email dominates management interactions. Quickly crafted messages are incomplete and they fill the inboxes, only to be scanned and dismissed.

Intranets, envisioned as the digital hubs of internal communications, get cluttered with old and misleading information. Front line employees don’t have equal access to these computers or the opportunity to view corporate information. With inconsistent access to corporate news, employees inform themselves using social media and the lunch room.

Employees look to each other to create their reality. They see evidence of leadership competence in their ability to do their jobs. If employees find answers for customers when they need them, if the printer works, or if they can predict their work schedule, it communicates that leaders are competent. If they can’t do any of those things, they attribute that back to senior management and their leadership.

Employees know and trust their immediate managers. That manager knows them and communicates with them regularly. A long history of research has demonstrated the importance of this relationship for employee retention and the ability to adapt to changes.

My immediate supervisor listens to my concerns and problems. 

Normative Mean 3.75 out of 5

In response to that important relationship with the manager, organizations focus communication efforts at the managers. They get tool kits, conference calls and special intranet pages. The problem is that they become a funnel and they are overwhelmed with information. Finding themselves in that position, managers filter and interpret what they receive and pass on. This adds further to creating confusion and the belief that the strategy and direction is not clear and, in the minds of employees, that senior managers don’t understand them or the client/customer/patient.
Employees are left thinking they have the information, and when they compare notes with other employees, they get different information. The result is a feeling that they are getting different messages – which they are. They don’t attribute this to too much information; rather, they attribute it to too little sharing of information, and they think it is intentional.

In an effort to cut through the noise and create a shared vision and plan, our senior leaders have town halls scheduled; many have blogs, and weekly email updates; and some use video or podcasts. This is an appropriate response, but the predisposition of employees may make these efforts insufficient to create communication. It will not move employees into followers.

What is happening?NC 2

  1. Perception of good leadership is impacted by proximity.
  2. Employees attribute their expectations onto leaders.
  3. Employees are more influenced by colleagues and their immediate environment.
  4. Interspersed interactions with senior management are insufficient to create a relationship.
  5. In most instances we have great leaders.
  6. Organizational leaders need the support of teams, processes, and communication programs to be effective.


What actions need to take place?

  • Leaders need to stay exceptional. The programs and development work of the last 20 years has changed the capacity of organizational leaders to motivate, organize, and sustain their efforts. They need this in a world that holds our organizations transparent and with stakeholder expectation for immediacy. Senior managers cannot control the message or wait to respond to issues and challenges as they unfold.
  • The leadership process has to transcend direct reports and infrequent interactions. We have to think about leadership communications in terms of influencing the conversations between employees. To do that, they have to feel like they know who their leaders are and what they care about. As the data show, this will take a lot of work and creativity.
  • Leaders need help sharing their story. Capturing and inviting employees into continual communal conversations should borrow from traditional community development techniques. These techniques now need to be deployed through digital channels like Yammer and on the social intranet. However, it is not enough to create social platforms. Those platforms need management and leadership to connect employees to each other and a shared experience around what they need to do.

In Summary
We have great leaders. They have had remarkable transitions and histories that have prepared them for their roles. But, employees are not in a position to appreciate that reality. They experience the toil that is work and attribute the hardships onto those in senior roles. This is a leadership issue but it cannot be solved alone by senior management. It is the collective need of the organization to identify how and why employees feel the way they do. Empathy, understanding, and dialogue will be difficult to sustain but necessary to build trust and resilience.

The usual list of communication devices may not be the right way to connect with and inform employees and managers. Each organization will be different, and the mix of roles and communication opportunities will need to be applied to fit their situation. To inform those strategies, it will be important to recognize that how the executive teams see the world is quite different from that of the frontline employee. It is the executive team’s job to ensure that gap is bridged so they can lead their organizations.

The exciting opportunity is to continually find ways of creating space for shared experiences between senior managers and employees. With each shared experience, a new level of trust can form that promotes the ability to change, adapt, and perform.

Ryan Williams


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