Everyone communicates, but some are more effective than others at being heard and understood. In a leadership context, this might also mean some are more effective than others at creating ‘followership’; at bringing people along on a vision, at inspiring advocacy and, yes, at making profit.
So, here’s my three-step argument for why the boardroom should view excellent communications as a mechanism to accelerate growth.
Values-based leadership has a consequential bearing on the bottom line; externally in buying behaviour and investor confidence, and internally in relation to employee engagement and productivity.
Our values shape the way we behave and what we expect from others, but when it comes to business, they often go unarticulated. Boards set goals for growth in business plans, but may give scant attention to how they want the business to be run.
Some start the process by listing the company’s values, maybe asking staff for their views and sharing them on word-clouds and websites. But how are the values lived day to day, in every part of the business? How present are they in the way the staff are appraised and rewarded? How consistently are those values displayed by managers, by the boss, by the frontline staff or the backroom support team?
Values are only worth anything if they are lived in daily behaviours. When they are evident, they will feel authentic; authenticity is a key attribute of leadership.
But what about the impact on the bottom line?
Increasingly, it seems values and the ethical, social or political position taken by brands matters to consumers. In research by Edelman in 2017, surveying 14,000 people in 14 countries, 57% of consumers were buying or boycotting brands based on the brand’s position on a social or political issue.
And of course, we’ve seen the impact on share value when investor confidence wains or corporate reputation takes a tumble.
The effect within an organisation can be powerful too. When we experience values-based leadership, we trust the person we are following; we feel motivated and engaged and performance lifts. It’s well documented that employee engagement impacts positively on productivity. One of the most authoritative studies is the MacLeod Report, which found an 18% increase in productivity among those businesses with high employee engagement.
So, it matters. But how can we make values-based leadership evident?
It’s easy for communications to go unrecognised as a leadership responsibility, and as a consequence it may be undervalued by the board, or neatly delegated to a departmental level (marketing, PR or HR).
Such skilled teams (whether in-house, agency, or both) provide a fantastic resource for advice and delivery, but their work can be undone if values’ messaging appears to be inconsistent with the culture (as experienced by staff) or the brand (perceived by external stakeholders). So how can we be truly effective and authentic in our communications?
As a rule of thumb, communications that are ‘involving’ achieve longer lasting resonance. So don’t just ask “who can we tell?”; ask “who can we involve?” In board-level strategic comms workshops we’ve run in both private and public sector organisations, the insight and reflections shared between a leadership team that’s comfortable to question, challenge assumptions and look at the world from a different stakeholder perspective, has been invaluable. Every aspect of business performance stems from the leaders, so it’s a great place to start when refreshing a company’s communications strategy.
From there, the opportunity to involve other roles beyond the marketing and comms team can be a win-win; a sense of ownership seeded around the organisation, plus insights from those in close contact with external stakeholders.
Learning and changing more quickly than your competitors is a sure-fire way to create competitive advantage. Take a moment to consider:
So, if you think there’s room for improvement, jump into this gap ahead of other players in the field and make values-led communications a boardroom priority.