Helping leaders to walk the talk | S3 E4

First published: 1 March, 2022

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Engaging Internal Comms Series 3
Engaging Internal Comms Series 3
Helping leaders to walk the talk | S3 E4

After an extensive career in marketing and internal communications in sectors such as technology, gaming and agriculture, Dean Batson now operates as an educator of communications to students at colleges across Arizona.

In this episode he explains to Craig Smith why organisational change needs authentic leadership-buy in, what happens when this isn’t the case and some practical examples for helping leaders ‘walk the talk’.

This interview relates to the ‘Action’ section of the Big Picture People’s Connection Framework, which more broadly looks at how serious your organisation is when it comes to implementing change and transformation. Having leaders show that they believe in change is essential to making it work.

This forms part of The Big Picture People’s Pulse Check Diagnostic Tool, which helps you assess how you can improve your organisation’s efforts when it comes to communicating change.

The short survey consists of numerous statements that you can rate your own organisation against based on a scale, providing actionable feedback on what you are doing well and where you can improve.

Click here to find out more and take the Pulse Check Diagnostic.

The transition from corporate to education

Dean starts by telling Craig the main reasons for his move from the corporate world of communications to the educational sector and how this came from three unrelated factors:

  1. His previous experience working as a communicator in higher education, where Dean says he saw first-hand the struggles of students when it came to graduating.
  2. His experiences in playing a role when it comes to hiring new employees and their struggles associated with this.
  3. His confusion at many organisations’ lack of effort when it comes to internal communications and their habits of often ignoring or undervaluing it.

These factors motivated Dean to want to teach the field of communications to students, so they could become experts in this and bring it into their corporate and professional careers. Now he works with college students of many different ages and backgrounds.

Leadership buy-in for transformational change

Craig raises the point of how many leaders are carrying out organisational change that they do not believe in. They are driving compliance to the change rather than building conviction.

This is something Dean concurs with, and he draws upon three examples of transformational change that can be seen as examples of opprtunities for leaders to walk the talk:

  1. Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts (DEI or D&I)
  2. The hiring struggle
  3. Remote working

These three topics are ones which are forcing leaders of almost every organisation to implement some form of change, something which is left to communicators to relay to employees. For Dean, the problem with these is that he often finds they are inauthentic.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts

When it comes to DEI efforts, Dean asks how impactful these efforts are when employees feel that this is not something the organisation truly believes in. This is something he has seen a lot, meaning it is vital leaders are on board with this and walking the talk.

He has looked at data from a Inc. Magazine article (linked below) that illustrates this issue for organisations. 1,000 employees and 500 HR professionals were surveyed on their company’s DEI measures. 100 per cent of those in HR said their organisation was making good progress with this issue, but only a third of the employees knew their organisation was doing anything at all with this.

This discrepancy highlights certain issues, such as communication in these organisations or the fact that these organisations are not doing anything at all. It also demonstrates the possibility that these efforts could be inauthentic as employees don’t see any real commitment behind this.

Dean says he believes the main reason for this is that these efforts are simply tokenistic and lack conviction. Many organisations either don’t know how to properly carry out a DEI effort or they don’t truly believe in it and are not willing to make the sacrifices that make this work.

The hiring struggle

The hiring struggle refers to a global problem of companies being unable to fill vacancies. Often referred to as the ‘great resignation’, part of this issue comes down to so many people wanting to change their career for several reasons.

Dean says there is a structural change that needs to take place which helps connect people to the roles that suit them, and this must come from leadership. When organisations hire, they often speak about how great they are, but they don’t reflect this is the employee experience they deliver, which is why this comes across as inauthentic.

A direct example Dean refers to is salary expectations in recruitment. Many organisations wont display this, but it is something candidates want to know upfront. The organisations that refuse to acknowledge this are losing out on talent, so it is up to leaders to commit to this and implement change.

Remote working

On the issue of remote working, Dean mentions organisations are gaining feedback from their employees relating to how they work and how the vast majority do not want a return to normal office working. Despite this, many organisations have already made the decision to bring employees back to their “offices”. A challenge like this is something that needs to be addressed by leaders and they need to walk the talk of this change if they are serious about the happiness and motivations of their employees.

How to help leaders walk the talk

When an organisation is looking to help its leadership buy into change, it first needs to understand how doubt manifests itself.

“Communication and content are much less impactful when the audience don’t buy it,” Dean says. “This can taint all other forms of communication.”

He draws back to the examples of DEI efforts, saying if communicators are putting out content that says how well the organisations is doing in this area and employees don’t believe it, then it harms the impact of all other forms of communication being put out by the company.

One solution Dean draws upon that can be used to help employees see this authenticity is showing leaders the data on these issues. This needs to be reflective of both the goals of the company and the CEO, which can often be different. Leaders need to be able to connect efforts and goals and relate them to the bottom line for employees and how this helps their roles. Effectively, communicators need to step into the shoes of leaders and see the change from their perspective.

Gaining alignment from other leaders is also an important step to making change authentic. When employees see multiple different leaders in an organisation walking the talk, they are much more likely to believe it.

Furthermore, Dean says that leaders finding a way to illustrate the problem change efforts are trying to tackle is crucial to employees on board. Although he said employees need to be shown the data, he states this needs to be done in a way which allows them to humanise this and the issue it represents.

According to Dean, when communicators are looking for leadership buy in, it can often be helpful to treat this as a sales task. Setting ground rules and being honest is vital and can help both leaders and employees know they are working towards the same goal. This helps create the initial buy in. After this, communicators need to show what needs to be done to reach this common goal.

Influencing the corporate world

Dean admits his love of his role as a teacher, but says he still has ties in the corporate world. There are a lot of aspects of this space he would like to see change when it comes to leadership buy-in and to tackle this he has created a website named ‘Corporate Uprising’ to help guide leaders.

Here, he will be consulting with organisations and sharing his experiences as a communicator and educator, focusing on the issues discussed in this interview like DEI and the great resignation.

Experiencing change

Dean explains how the most important take away from this episode for communicators is to help leaders live the experience of the change they are trying to implement if they want to walk the talk. Once they do this, it makes efforts much more impactful. Getting leaders to relate to the emotions and meaning behind change efforts means they are much more likely to buy into it and eventually walk the talk.

Furthermore, communicators should look to be creative when explaining change. Communicating change in an innovative way can heighten its impact.

Useful links

Dean Batson LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/deanbatson/

Corporate Uprising – https://www.deanbatson.com/

Inc. Magazine article – https://www.inc.com/marcel-schwantes/study-what-companies-are-doing-and-not-doing-to-make-workplace-more-diverse.html

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