Internal communications: Get the best out of your boss

Whatever the personality traits of your boss, making the most of their internal communications abilities can be complicated. Arun Sudhaman examines the options

Companies are built in the image of their leaders. It is as true of Virgin’s cheeky Richard Branson-inspired persona, as of an RBS that – under Sir Fred Goodwin – believed it could do no wrong.

Determining how to make the most of your leader’s qualities is an important task for internal communicators. In difficult times, the leader has to set the company’s agenda, raise and maintain morale and chart a path forward – all at once.

Working with Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman, and management consultancy the Hay Group, PRWeek investigated the six most common leadership styles. So which one is your boss? Read on to discover top tips that will help you transform your leader from The Office’s David Brent into The West Wing’s Jed Bartlet.

Barack Obama

Key personality traits The classic rock-star CEO sets the big picture, moving people towards a shared vision. Superb public speaker with an abiding fondness of the limelight

Internal comms advice ‘Visionaries work well when they have a day or weekend to explain their vision and allow the interchange of ideas,’ says Ash Communications CEO Sue Ash. ‘Webcasts also provide the perfect vehicle for visionaries to reach beyond national boundaries and use the film footage to inspire their workforce. Regular communication in the form of picture-led newspaper-style updates is also a great way for them to reach employees.’

‘It is not about the facts and figures,’ adds MS&L associate director Kate McFerran. Accordingly visionaries often need internal comms support to compensate for their lack of detail.

‘One tool that I have seen work well is a desktop behaviour box distributed to staff, filled with cards of daily activities encouraging behaviour that supports the corporate vision,’ continues McFerran. ‘A CEO’s vision might include improving cohesion, so the box could include a challenge to introduce yourself to someone you often see but never talk to.’

Angela Merkel

Key personality traits The type of leader who also wants to be your friend. A collaborative figure who focuses on emotional needs and is most likely to say ‘how are you?’

Internal comms advice ‘These are often very effective senior managers,’ says Able and How MD David Ferrabee. ‘But they need to find a way to show steel.’

Accordingly, getting back to the shop floor can work well with this leader’s collaborative qualities, while also demonstrating that they are not afraid of rolling up their sleeves.

‘These leaders generate a lot of goodwill, so they can build on that to drive performance,’ observes Stephen Welch, global director at management consultancy Hay Group.

With this in mind, MS&L associate director Kate McFerran proposes regular ‘health check’ team meetings to discuss company progress. ‘This is an opportunity to share constructive feedback in a group setting, which the affiliative leader will find more comfortable. Feedback from external sources, such as customer satisfaction surveys, will address any reluctance from the leader to communicate anything other than positive points.’

Dr Who

Key personality traits Holds long conversations that often reach beyond the work place. Good at helping staffers find strengths and weaknesses and tying these to career aspirations.

Internal comms advice ‘This style is useful in intimate sessions and small groups,’ says Welch.

But a critical issue, points out Able and How MD David Ferrabee, is that the leader does not simply mimic an effective manager.

‘It is time intensive as it requires almost constant dialogue between the leader and their direct reports,’ agrees MS&L associate director Kate McFerran. ‘While a coach is likely to be productive due to technical proficiency, their focus can stray more towards managing than leading.’

It is important, therefore, that day-to-day comms requirements do not become the focus. Specify a senior manager who can handle these, leaving the leader to focus on the bigger picture, and the one-to-one coaching at which they excel.
But do not remove this leader from the group. ‘Regular events such as drinks and off-site team events will allow them the opportunity to play to their natural strengths of mentoring the team,’ advises McFerran.

Lord Sebastian Coe

Key personality traits Listening, often at the expense of immediate action. ‘What do you think?’ is the obvious catchphrase for this leader, who likes to show the way without pushing people through it.

Internal comms advice ‘A democratic leader likes to involve people and provide opportunity for feedback, in which case, workshops, online forums or a blog allow them to manage downwards to the team,’ says theblueballroom MD Sheila Parry.

Audience insight is crucial for a leader that likes to listen. ‘When a client took over the role of head of comms for a global business, she spent the first six weeks meeting employees so she could understand first-hand their issues, concerns and needs,’ says HarknessKennett founding partner James Harkness.

But the desire to reach a consensus often puts the democratic leader at risk of fostering an environment of management by committee.

‘It is vital the democratic leader is able to communicate decisiveness,’ warns MS&L associate director Kate McFerran. ‘Support the style with two-way comms channels. Create a forum on an intranet – this will enable a democratic culture to thrive.’

Margaret Thatcher

Key personality traits Most likely to say ‘copy me’, a back-breaking workhorse who leads by example and never shirks a challenge. Expects employees to automatically get the picture.

Internal comms advice ‘They need help in consideration, listening to people’s problems, caring for those less able and managing egos,’ explains Able and How MD David Ferrabee.

Therefore, focus on building a more inclusive approach, and advise this leader to take some time to understand team needs. ‘This can be addressed by implementing a recognition programme that celebrates team wins at all levels of the organisation,’ says MS&L associate director Kate McFerran.

Social media tools are likely to work well, because they can keep up with the leader’s pace. So can focusing on content over style, says Comma Consulting consultant Michael Croton.

The agency used employee feedback to ‘track mood and fine-tune the volume and tone of communication accordingly,’ says Croton, while it worked on helping a pace-setting leader deliver a complicated message amid a merger.

Montgomery Burns

Key personality traits Typical catchphrase is ‘do this’. An old-school taskmaster who brings playground dynamics to the boardroom. Refuses to consider an alternative message.

Internal comms advice ‘The key to successful comms as a commanding leader is in ensuring you always communicate the why as well as the what,’ says HarknessKennett founding partner James Harkness. ‘Expecting employees to jump when you ask them to is more likely to result in people digging their heels in.’ Harkness advises a focus on simple solutions that outline the big picture internally, such as ‘a one-page visual that shows the business strategy, objectives, resources, issues and levers’.

Commanding leaders can breed distrust, and a sense that internal opinions do not matter. ‘People therefore need a channel to communicate that gives them their voice safely and without fear of intimidation,’ says McFerran. Look at newsletters, blogs, surveys and feedback forms.

Also, work on the non-verbal comms aspects.

All that frowning, posturing and glaring can speak volumes and rapidly disenchant a workforce.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in