Senior leaders drive the culture of the company. It's crucial that they are seen and involved with induction training as a way of welcoming new starters. And that they are vocally behind any new company initiatives. In the words, of Dick Brown “The culture of a company is the behaviours of its leaders. Leaders get the behaviour they exhibit and tolerate“.
Margaret Heffernan author of the book Wilful Blindness found that the BP Oil disaster was at some level caused by senior leaders who were cut off from how the business operates. Their assumed power gave them a distorted view of their own skills which made them rely on snap judgements and received wisdom. Heffernan says "It's power. Not your power. It makes you intrinsically more optimistic and detached from the reality of the world. You become psychologically cut off".
That is why CEOs that have been involved with the Undercover Boss series learn so much about their company when they go undercover and work at a variety of job roles within their own organisation. Recently, in Australia this has been highlighted in a small safety undercover study called "The Skeleton Project".
Rose Coloured Glasses
Back when I was a young, green and keen market research manager, I quite innocently told the Managing Director and Owner of the Market Research firm I worked for that everyone was always nice to him because he was the boss. He was shocked at that suggestion believing that people genuinely liked him because he was a great guy. His denial meant that he would constantly flirt with the young female staff because he believed that he was cool. He wasn't. And my comment pretty much stopped me from being able to continue working there. His ego couldn't cope with the obvious truth.
Many companies end up with powerful executives who are surrounded by people who act as buffers and who omit the whole truth. They are always prepared to give the boss a candy coated version of events, despite the reality.
Successful company leaders ask lots of questions about the company and surround themselves with people who will tell them the truth.
And just like Kris Cole said in For Safety Professionals: An interview with Kris Cole "leaders should not just talk, but the other half of talking - listening. You know, even leaders have two ears and only one mouth and even leaders should use them in those proportions".
For senior leaders to be able to communicate effectively with workers means that they really have to be able to 'walk in their shoes". Great leaders manage by walking around and talking to people, no matter what their level.
And with this knowledge, they are able to give more truthful and believable presentations to their staff with real information that's required.
Walking the talk
Workers don't take speeches on-board, it is action that they want to see. It's important that senior management support all company initiatives by being involved in roll-out presentations, taking action on any behaviour that is contradictory and discussing measures to track progress.
Senior leaders need to:
- use stories and metaphors to help people understand their messages.
- talk in 'word pictures'.
- use actual visuals that explain information more quickly than words alone.
There are times when senior leaders are too busy to communicate with workers on a regular basis.
An effective time-saving method is for them to be filmed introducing a new initiative that gives an explanation of why, what, how, when and where the new initiative will be implemented.
Their script must be written in their own words and be conversational and friendly. Viewers will be turned off if they even get a sniff of superficial words and posturings. Where possible, clear visuals, stories and 'word pictures' should be used for optimal results.
And once that is done and distributed, the work doesn't stop there, senior leaders must publicly announce the results of the new initiative and seen to be involved at keeping the initiative on track.
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