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10 principles to guide 21st-century communications

3 min read


Miri Zena McDonald attended the 2012 International Association of Business Communicators World Conference in Chicago and is providing coverage for SmartBrief’s SmartBlog on Leadership. She tweets @mirimcdonald.

David Grossman, founder and CEO of The Grossman Group and former director of communications at McDonald’s, addressed a packed room to talk about what he terms 21st-century communications — namely, that the communicator’s role is changing.

Yes, the nuts and bolts still matter, Grossman said. Employees still want the traditional channels — e-mail, the employee intranet and supervisor communications. However, with growing organizational complexity, information overload, increased job insecurity and the advent of social media, employees want to hear more about where the organization is headed and why. And, they want to hear more from senior leaders. Oh, and those leaders better be authentic and trustworthy.

Grossman shared his top 10 principles to guide communicators as they work to develop authentic communications that engage employees and build reputation.

  1. Character is the differentiator for organizations and leaders as individuals. The world is scrutinizing organizations more than before. Companies must sync their culture internally with the brand reputation they project outwardly.
  2. There is no one leadership style. The role of the communicator is to help leaders demonstrate who they really are. Grossman suggested helping leaders define themselves by getting them to articulate key messages and stories that help bring humanity to their personal style.
  3. There is a greater need to imagine and advance a vision. Provide leaders with tools such as a one-page elevator speech, frequently asked questions and key terms so they are prepared to explain the vision in a way that helps people think about it, feel strongly about it and, most importantly, act on it.
  4. People really are our greatest asset. “Organizations don’t do anything; the people in them do,” Grossman said. If employees see the value proposition, they will play a positive role in brand advocacy and sales. If they have a bad attitude, well, you get the picture.
  5. Everyone is a leader. Employees who are given autonomy and responsibility are more engaged and can play a real role in company success.
  6. Greater focus on self. People can’t lead well if they don’t know themselves. Organizations owe it to themselves to help all employees raise their competence level.
  7. Change is only constant. People need to be more comfortable with ambiguity. It’s the communicator’s job to persuade leaders to be more proactive with communications about change, even though all information is not known.
  8. Employees’ fundamental needs won’t change. Every employee has the same key questions, and if communications answers them, employees will move through change more quickly. These questions move from a “me” focus to a “we” focus. The questions:
    • What’s my job?
    • How am I doing?
    • Does anyone care about me?
    • What’s going on?
    • What’s biz strategy?
    • How are we doing?
    • What are the vision and values?
    • How can I help?
  9. More and better listening, individually and systematically. We need better and more data. For example, collect data about perceptions of the CEO and other top leaders, and track them over time.
  10. A communications system that is better honed to manage overload and inefficiency. Organizations typically add more vehicles but are reluctant to take things away. We owe it to our employees to re-evaluate vehicles and combine where it makes sense.