ComPRehension

Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
July 16, 2012

Why Should I Listen To You? How Global Trends Are Challenging Traditional Employee Communication


Connect with Scott Spreier on business integration and alignment at the PRSA Connect 13 Conference, March 26–27, in New York City. Scott will be giving a keynote on “Why Should I Listen To You?: How Global Trends Affect Employee Communication and Engagement.”
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Like it or not, today’s employee communication — in all of its glittering technological glory — is quickly losing its mojo. Finding it again will take more than another cool digital download.

There was a time when most organizations and their leaders were afforded a certain level of respect and trust, whether or not they earned it. Employees listened to — and usually believed and did — what they were told. Not anymore. Today, credibility is finicky and fleeting. While employees may be hesitant to publicly proclaim their skepticism about their organization and its leadership, many are thinking it. And, if it hasn’t already affected their performance, it soon will.

This decline in respect, authority and trust can, in many ways, be traced to several emerging global, organizational, individual and — perhaps ironically — technological megatrends that are fundamentally altering the relationship between leaders and followers.

These megatrends, which surfaced in Hay Group’s recent “Leadership 2030research report, include accelerating globalization, climate change, individualization, shifting demographics, an emerging digital lifestyle and the convergence of technology. Together, they create a formidable challenge for how we connect and communicate with employees.

Take globalization, which has given rise to more complex organizations, and the need for networking and collaboration across boundaries. Traditional organizational silos are being replaced by matrix structures, which limit the impact of positional power. To be effective, leaders must be less directive and instead, engage, influence and mediate, all of which require a different communication approach.

Consider the growing emphasis on the individual. Self-expression and self-fulfillment may have been non-starters when you were young, but today’s rising stars have different values and expectations. Again, how you communicate is critical; if you don’t acknowledge and embrace these new expectations, some of your best talent will flee. Loyalty, like credibility, is transient.

As for the rise of the digital society and convergence of technology, it’s time you realized the impact of tweeting, texting and “telling it like it is.” As the Arab Spring so dramatically demonstrated, digital communication is democratic communication. Like it or not, you no longer control the dialogue. At best, you shape and influence it. More than ever, you must align what you say with what you do. Otherwise, you lose credibility, trust and impact.

Finally, no matter what your strategy, media, or technology, don’t think you can win the credibility battle with communication alone. More than anything else, what this new order requires is emotional intelligence, a major dose of trust, transparency, empathy, resilience, self-awareness and self-control. Without this, no matter how hard we try, what we say will ring hollow.

To communicate effectively in this new world that is for many, more baffling than brave, we need a better understanding of these megatrends and how they are reshaping our organizations. We also need a better understanding of our changing workforce — its values, beliefs and needs, as well as our own. Only then can we effectively embrace the power of today’s technology.

Scott Spreier knows firsthand the challenges of today’s business leaders and the pressures they face during these economically troubled, rapidly changing times. As a senior principal in Hay Group’s Leadership and Talent Practice, Scott helps executives around the globe cope with these challenges while continuing to drive organizational growth and performance. Connect with Scott on Twitter.

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