5 reasons leaders fail to recognise the strategic value of internal communications & engagement?

The ability to communicate has been considered a key competency for business leaders for several years now.  Although a growing proportion of leaders are natural communicators and readily prepared to invest valuable personal time in it, there are still many who are not.  That comes across clearly, and the reasons explained, in the longer version of our latest report, “The Missing Link” which  identifies the growing convergence of culture, purpose, brand and reputation and explores the organisational gap that companies have yet to address

Do you believe leaders STILL fail to recognise the importance of employee engagement and still operate very much from a left brain perspective?

With the help of our interviewees explain seniority) we identified the reasons for this unwillingness or inability to truly engage and communicate. Five factors dominated:First the ‘command-and-control’ model of leadership still exerts a strong pull on leaders. This type of leader, according to some of our interviewees, is likely to regard two way communications, based on conversation and dialogue, as actually hindering rather than helping. It can be seen as slowing decision-making and takes up time that could be better spent working on core business issues. It’s more of an occasional add-on to be used for specific and short-term purposes, often resulting in top-down, one-way communications

  1. “The way that the executives view leadership informs their view of internal communications. It is still one way – this is our vision, this is where we are going, this is what we need from you. They engage on ‘their terms’”.

 The second factor is personality. A number of interviewees spoke of their leaders as introverts, not comfortable talking in public and not comfortable engaging at a level that allows people to see the true them (or in some cases concerned that employees will see the real them!). Leading by engagement, rather than dictats, can also be emotionally demanding. David MacLeod and Nita Clarke’s “Engaging for Success” report quoted one CEO as saying: 

“CEOs just find that deeply awkward because it requires a degree of openness and personal risk which, to be frank, they find uncomfortable.”

 Once these leaders have attained high office, such people can be reluctant to change their ways or to admit vulnerabilities and the need for counsel. The other personality trait is a lack of emotional intelligence, which makes it difficult for them to empathise with the circumstances and needs of others.

 The third factor is the perennial challenge of measuring the correlation between the investment of time and money in the softer issues of culture and engagement, and the harder business outcomes it delivers. The linkages with corporate success can be difficult to prove and senior, data-led executives want to see a measurable return on investment. The fourth factor is time: an investment in culture and engagement, with its slower burn but significant payback, is not an attractive proposition if you’re being incentivised and judged by fast results. Indeed, there are CEOs who have built entire careers on quick wins, and the longer-term nature of culture change does not sit easily in that kind of agenda. There are significant disadvantages to this approach and, again, it is worth quoting the Engaging for Success report:

 “The system (i.e. short termism) itself drives dysfunctional and disengaging behaviours.”

Lastly, most senior communications leaders (and advisors to CEOs) have come up through external corporate communications/affairs or investor relations roles. Senior executives are more likely to receive better counsel from them on the external operating environment (which tends to be the priority of many business leaders anyway), because it is the ‘sweet spot’ of these senior communications leaders. There is not a large enough cadre of communications leaders at this level, who can talk to CEOs about employees and broader cultural issues with the same depth of insight and knowledge as they can about the external stakeholder environment. 

 Of course, there are exceptions, but this picture is likely to resonate with many people in our network.

 The full report (£500) which looks at the solutions to this problem and many other related issues, if you are interested in a discussion, please email Nick Helsby on nickh@watsonhelsby.co.uk

 The executive summery is now available to read on our website here:

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