Your org has gotten big. Really big. In the past you led hundreds of people, but now you’ve got thousands. How can you stay connected with so many people? How can you be accessible without burning out? And maybe hardest of all, how can you make sure they consistently get the right messages from you?
Communication becomes more challenging–and more important–the higher you go in an organization. Leaders are often surprised when big meaning is attributed to small comments or subtle cues (see Five Habits for Senior Executives). You almost cannot overcommunicate. People need to hear key messages repeatedly. It’s likely you need to listen, over and over, to really understand your people.
The good news is, there are a lot of strategies that work. Here are a few:
Fireside chats. Gather a smaller group of people, say 25-50, for a more informal, intimate discussion. Rotate through groups for informal fireside chats, where you can share important messages and answer questions. Do these weekly and in a few quarters you can reach everyone in your org directly.
All-hands meetings. Weekly, monthly or quarterly–a great way to stay connected. Balance sharing information with Q&A. For the latter, let people submit questions ahead, vote up the most popular ones. Delegate answers to key leaders. Give them time to prepare.
Water cooler time. Schedule weekly “water cooler” time when you will be in an open setting (cafeteria?), open to anyone in your org to come chat. Other senior leaders in your org can attend. It also provides you access to your people. “I learn a lot,” says one VP I know who does this.
“Leads” meetings. Most senior leaders need regular meetings with just their direct reports, as a team. The culture within your leadership team drives the culture through your org. Invest in developing them as a team.
Office hours. Recently I talked with a leader whose favorite way to keep in touch was to have regular office hours. While it could take weeks to schedule a formal 1-1 meeting with him, he was always available at particular office hours. This helped his popularity soar among the 2,000 people he led.
“Invite me to meetings”. Let people know they can invite you to meetings when a team wants you there. If you don’t, they may not realize that’s an option. Just knowing they can include you makes it more likely you’ll be in the loop and available when needed.
Skip-levels. Keep a list of people two layers below you who you want to stay connected with. When you have a few minutes, reach out for a very informal short check-ins with them and say, “Just tell me what you’re doing.” You can give the list to your assistant to help with scheduling.
One-on-ones. I’m a big fan of regular one-on-ones with each of your direct reports. Managers who say they don’t need these are often fooling themselves–people need regular direct access to their boss. They need it to do their jobs and to get crucial coaching and mentoring to make the difference in your relationship and their performance.
Small group lunches. If you have just had a new group of people added to your org, a great way to connect is through small lunches with 4-5 people at a time.
Regular written comms. Do you have a comms person? Work with them to define an overall, regular strategy for communication with your org. Why not invest internally to create a stellar employee-facing brand?
Reduce the number of your direct reports. Do you have 15-20 directs? That’s too many. Reorganize so you have fewer. This is not a quick or easy thing to do, and it requires a lot of thought about talent. But it will make you less crazy and your directs will benefit.
Communication is a huge part of senior leadership. But most leaders underestimate how important it is and how much work it requires. Using even a couple of these techniques will help you drive your message and understand the real needs of the people you lead.
For more tips on managing a growing organization, read:
- Growing Pains: Overseeing a Firm During Times of Expansion
- Preparing Your Organization for Growth by the CEO of investment bank PJ SOLOMON
- Harvard Business Review’s As Your Team Gets Bigger, Your Leadership Style Has to Adapt