Building an internal connection forum for your leadership


Over the last few days, I’ve heard of a couple of requests from my fellow communicators in Bangalore on the need to create an ‘internal’ CEO brand and build connection with employees.

 

One request stemmed from an overall internal communication objective to improve the leader’s image and the other was from a tactical perspective of launching a CEO ‘live’ chat with employees.

 

table-for-three-sterling-resort-ooty

Table for three

 

The interesting linkage among both these requests was that there is increasing awareness of the merits for tangible connections for senior leadership.

 

In this post I wanted to share insights on launching and consistently managing an internal leadership forum, be it a face to face conversation, chat, ‘walk the talk’ video version or even a podcast.

 

These are some of my recommendations on crafting a suitable program:

 

Get your purpose right: Before diving into the logistics of the forum, know the business objective and how you want to measure progress. Are you gauging ‘pulse’ of organization? Are you breaking hierarchy? Do you want to make the leadership visible? Is it a structured meeting or an informal chat? Is it a 1:1, many-to-one forum? What are the key messages you want employees attending and those not attending to take away? How much time does the leadership have to spare? Are you confident of consistency and continuity? Another point to remember is to put emphasis on conducting face to face sessions if you need to choose between an online version and a direct ‘in the face’ conversation. Also, if you have your workforce located in one or two locations in the same city, getting them together at one site is better than creating an expensive online set-up.

 

Planning and setting expectations: Announce the objectives ahead of starting the forums. Set expectations on format (duration, timing, is there involvement of video footage being captured, number of employees per batch, frequency among others), logistics (venue, is it breakfast or lunch, it is on a weekday or a weekend?). What if there are drop-outs? Can others join in if there are drop-outs? Have a checklist which contains among other elements the communication plan, timelines, registration guidelines, reference material and CEO’s thank you mailer template.

 

Brand the forum but avoid the pitfalls: Coining a name and designing an innovative direct mailer to invite participants can work wonders for gaining awareness. Avoid the temptation to take-off on popular TV chat shows. I remember one organization which used an adaptation of ‘Koffee with Karan’ – a celebrity talk show in India and it resulted in employees believing that the communication team lacked creativity and wisdom. The focus shifted from learning more about the program to what was going to come next – ‘Jiving with Jane’, ‘Tea with Theresa’, ‘Dosa with Dasappa’ ‘Talking with Tony’ or ‘Parathas with Pandey’! What if Tony exits the organization? I would recommend sticking to something distinct, clear and easy to relate to depending on how ‘formal’ or ‘informal’ you believe the forum should be. Something as direct as ‘Meet the CEO’, ‘The CEO Breakfast Forum’ or CEO Connect Session’. While you make events such as these exclusive, it may also result in a backlash from employees who think it is all ‘stage managed’ and ‘propped’. I think transparency and directness is what makes such forums impactful.

 

Measure what you do: This is easily the forgotten piece of the puzzle. Unless you monitor participation, feedback from employees and regularly improvise, these forums run the risk of dying a natural death. It is vital to measure based on agreed parameters like format, content, delivery, assimilation of messages and overall image change of leadership.

 

Involve employees: At this point I would like to highlight the importance of garnering support from employees for such forums to aid in percolating messages via informal networks and also to gauge impact. Considering you may not get all possible views coming in from your surveys, it makes sense to tap the ‘watercooler’ conversations.

 

Report out when you finish: In my opinion, this element of the event ensures robustness and clarity. Reporting event summaries which include questions and key themes discussed, internal communication news snippets and photographs on the intranet or Portal, update to the senior leadership and results of the survey guide how the event gets branding and improves focus.

 

To sum up, there are three key themes which drive successful internal leadership connection forums – transparency, consistency and measurement.

 

Conducted sessions in your organization and have a different viewpoint? Share it here.

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One thought on “Building an internal connection forum for your leadership

  1. Hi,

    Let me speak from experience here:

    Having conducted over 200 sessions with senior leadership over the last few years, here are a few thoughts that I have found relevant to branding leaders and CXOs:

    1) Create a platform where you moderate and set the tone for discussion (be it a video conference, board meeting, webcast or town hall-type discussion).

    2) Tie the meeting in with organizational goals within the first three minutes.

    3) Like Aniisu says, stay with the Generic titles. Personalised brand initiatives do not work in a corporation that is a perpetual entity.

    4) As go-between the audience and leadership, ensure that questions are rephrased so that the leadership can provide a real time perspective on how the situation or problem can be resolved.

    5) Ensure that the forum creates a platform for ongoing dialogue.

    – Joseph

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