Everything communicates. Everything. Even the things you don’t do and don’t say send powerful signals to everybody in the organization observing you.
Because we live in the midst of a communication revolution, the guidelines for communicating are changing dramatically. As much as you would like to treat communication as a logical, sequential, ongoing communication campaign, in many cases, you must manage it as an iterative set of concurrent conversations.
Jayme Check, one of the co-authors of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan puts it this way:
"The prescription for communication during the early days in a new job is counter-intuitive and mistakes can have lasting impact. The key is to start with a well-informed going in perspective that continually evolves and is communicated across multiple channels as you learn."
Converge and Evolve
The fundamental approach is to converge and evolve. Your early days in a new job are all about converging. This means you can’t launch your full-blown communication efforts yet. You can’t stand up and tell people your new ideas. If you do, they are your ideas, not invented here and not the team’s ideas.
So this period early on is marked by a lot of listening and learning. Your learning will be directed by your message. You’ll be living your message, but you’re most definitely not launching a communication campaign of any sort. (This is one of those things that you don’t do that will communicate volumes to all your observers.)
As you think this through, know that you can’t get people to do anything different unless they believe that there is a reason for them to do it (platform for change), they can picture themselves in a better place (vision) and they know what their part is (call to action). Your communication points flow from your message, the platform for change, the vision, and the call to action.
Platform for change (Why): The things that will make your audience realize they need to do something different than what they have been doing. (Note people react better to an external platform for change outside their control than to being told that something they are doing is not good enough.)
Vision (What): Picture of a brighter future – that your audience can picture themselves in. Not your vision. Theirs.
Call to action (How): Actions the audience can take to get there so they can be part of the solution.
Once you have thought these foundational points through, distill them down to one driving message and your main communication points. Don’t ever forget that your audience is always asking “What does this mean for me?”
Think in terms of a network of communication: Discover your core message. Then use that to guide key communication points in an iterative set of concurrent conversations across a network of multiple stakeholders and a wide variety of media all built on a foundation of trustworthy authenticity. Effective communication is hard work. But it will be one of the most important and most enduring things you do.
Phasing matters. In your early days, go slow. You’re still converging, still listening and learning.
Stakeholders. Take into account the network of multiple stakeholders as you specifically identify your target audiences. Relook at your up, down and across stakeholders and contributors, detractors and watchers to gauge their level of engagement.
Message. Gear you communication approach differently to those with different levels of engagement. Re-look at and leverage your overarching message as the foundation for guiding iterative concurrent conversations by seeding and reinforcing communication points through a wide variety of media with no compromises on trustworthiness and authenticity. At the most senior leadership levels, you should think about yourself as the narrator-in-chief, setting the direction for others’ stories.
Flex. Modify for your various audiences while maintaining your core message.
Adjust. Monitor and adjust as appropriate on an ongoing basis.
Old School. Don’t hesitate to deploy an old school logical, sequential communication campaign when appropriate—though expect that to be the case less and less over time.
Read about the next step in a new leader’s 100-Day Action Plan: Get Alignment Around a Burning Imperative in Your First Month in a New Job
What do you feel could help First-Time Leaders in transition?