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How to connect and empathise with your Senior Execs

Have conversations with your Senior Execs - they’re only human.’ 

This was a key message that resounded with attendees at this year’s CIPR Inside annual conference. 

But what should we be saying? 
How should we be saying it? 
And how do we really tap into the skulls of our senior leaders?… 

The event explored the latest research and opinions of CEOs and Senior Execs alongside thoughts from IC Pros about what we should be focusing on to demonstrate the importance and the value of internal communication.

The research highlighted how, as IC Pros, we experience a distinct disconnect between our own perception of internal communication and the opinions of our Senior Execs.

A few more conversations, some mutual understanding and an empathetic approach could help to close that gap… 

Getting under the skin of your CEOs

As sponsors of the conference, we ran two consecutive workshop exploring how we can make deeper connections with our Senior Execs to strengthen relations, secure our own reputations and achieve business objectives.

The Empathy Map exercise

Attendees worked in groups to find ways to connect with Senior Execs on a personal level, to understand these humans we’re working with, to get to grips with their pressures and problems and to explore what they’re seeing, saying, doing, hearing and feeling by using an empathy map. 

This was followed by a creative exercise where employees were asked to use their findings from the empathy map activity to consider…

  • If IC was a product, what would it be?
  • How would it look?
  • And what features of the design would be a hit with your senior leaders? 
With a great mix of individuals in each group, all with different CEOs and Senior Leaders, the Empathy Map exercise drew out some broad and thought-provoking themes.

To the questions posed, group responses included:

What are your Senior Leaders seeing?
Externally, Senior Execs are continually exposed to competition in the marketplace, changes and challenge are everywhere, they’re seeing things like Brexit, constant digital disruption, fake news and all things Radio 4! They’re always horizon-scanning, looking at the bigger picture from a birds-eye view, forward thinking and forward planning. 

But what are they NOT seeing? Frontline customers, employees on the ground and potential opportunities for improvements are often unseen.

What are they saying? 
Senior Execs are talking targets, the direction and the vision of the business, how we’re going to get there and what’s next? They’re often bogged down in detail, talking share prices and profit margins, adopting the ‘CEO voice’ and using corporate speak that not everyone understands. They’re asking for trust and transparency but often failing to sound personable and authentic. 

What are they doing? 
First and foremost, they’re attending a LOT of meetings, sitting on boards and fulfilling the role of ‘leading figure’. They’re spending a lot of time outside the organisation, building networks and relationships and fronting big projects. Closer to home, they may be difficult to reach and confined to their own private spaces.

What are they hearing? 
On occasion, Senior Execs are hearing a naïve interpretation of their organisation - what is being said by friends, the wider public and the media can be very frustrating. There’s a lot of noise and it’s coming from everywhere – competitors, regulators, legislative bodies, government, influencing messages from shareholders and other Senior Leaders. 

Others are painting rose tinted pictures of what may be going on and talking about the extremes of the good and the bad, often forgetting what lies in the middle. And in many cases, our Senior Execs are only hearing what people think they want to know.

What are they feeling? 
The consensus was that our Senior Execs are feeling overwhelmed by having to constantly prioritise. They feel isolated, exposed and vulnerable with a lot of pressure on their shoulders and frustration about things they’d like to achieve but can’t. 

They’re torn over the constant struggle with work/life balance and can feel like they’re the only people that care, operating in a ‘bubble of one’, resulting in an enormous sense of responsibility. But can they really let go and delegate? 

On a positive note, some of our Senior Execs are feeling motivated to make a difference and a desire to leave a strong and positive legacy.

Putting the empathy map into practice

To bring this section to a close, attendees were asked to take this approach back to their organisations and to work through it with their own teams, using an empathy map tool to help them get to know their leaders, understand their priorities and connect more deeply with them.

If comms was a product, what would it be?

Attendees were then asked, if IC was a product that you could buy off the shelf, what would it look like? What would be the benefit of this product? 

Your audience is your senior leader, and having explored their wants, feelings and concerns together, how will you address their needs, their desires, and their fears, with your super product? 

In less than five minutes, attendees invented some excellent products including:

A Swiss army knife – a multifunctioning toolkit, top quality, reliable, tried and tested and can be taken anywhere - mends, fixes and inspires. 

A bra – it’s adjustable, it comes in different shapes and sizes, it’s supportive, good quality, sometimes pretty, always practical, often bouncy and comes fully endorsed by happy customers.

Magic dust – magic for all occasions, offering honest and instant advice that keeps it real!

A multi vitamin - A critical, daily boost of goodness from internal comms. Your trusted advisor.

A sweet - that when consumed, saves time, makes money and keeps employees happy. 

A magic wand – because we’re often expected to turn wishes into reality.

Is your relationship with your Senior Execs dead or alive?

Thank you to all those who attended and offered their thoughts, ideas and experiences.

According to one of the key findings from the research: 

‘CEOs are open to dialogue with us and we need to act on this opportunity, and continue to create ways to encourage regular, direct conversations.’

Clearly, the closer the connections with our Senior Execs, the better our relationships will be and when we have a fuller, deeper understanding of how they think and feel, that is when we will truly be able to demonstrate our value to our leaders. 

Thursday, November 02, 2017

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