Effective communication is critical. Especially when it comes from people who helm organizations, teams or even a country, for they articulate the values, principles and standpoints of the organizations they represent. When leaders make careless remarks, the damage done ricochets on the organization and its image. There are those in the public eye who will harp on others’ mistakes even as they play down their own or those of their associates. Gaffes and defensive talk go on ad nauseum.
There have been frequent studies on how effective communication is within and outside organizations in India. “Employee engagement surveys” conducted by Ernst and Young for different organizations over the years, for example, have shown consistently that senior management needs to communicate more effectively.
Explains Anurag Malik, partner, advisory services, Ernst and Young, Mumbai: “We measure the effectiveness of communication within the organization and its impact on employee engagement. The communication scores, especially those pertaining to senior management, are on the lower side in India. Our surveys have shown that CEO and senior management need to play a strong role in driving effective communication and percolate across to all levels in the organization.”
Mind the talk: A leader must always remember that anything said by him on a public platform will reflect company policy, not personal views.
This is the picture both within organizations, and outside them. It is a given that the more measured the leader’s voice, the better it is for both the speaker and the organization.
Malik adds that employees in India typically rate organizations between 25% and 60% on the effective communications parameter. They find senior management lacking most in areas such as sharing strategic priorities and business direction, awareness of employee concerns and seeking staffers’ views on company matters.
While CEOs need to encourage a culture of good communication within the organization, what they and their senior management staff say outside too makes an impact.
Padmaja Alaganandan, executive director, consulting, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Bangalore, says: “In the crowded marketplace, where a quote or a byte is the order of the day, it is desirable if a CEO or leader inculcates three subtle traits. (The first is) sensitivity and respect. When a CEO disagrees with what is being said, he/she should be careful not to run down another or make remarks about race, gender or values. (The second trait is) transparency. For instance, in difficult times, like during a slowdown, when cost-cutting and difficult measures are needed, a CEO who is transparent about the difficulties the organization is facing and requests support is far more likely to get employee commitment and be successful. And (finally,) humility coupled with openness, especially to different views—this is a good trait to cultivate.”
Outlining the minefields to avoid while communicating, Hari Menon, CEO of IndiaSkills, Bangalore, says: “A leader should not talk about himself in any conversation or speech—instead, share the organization’s vision, refrain from criticizing anyone in the public arena as this adversely affects the organization, and don’t be judgmental—while it is important to have an opinion, a leader should always be tolerant and open-minded.” IndiaSkills is a joint venture between Manipal Education, Bangalore, and City and Guild, UK, and offers vocational training.
When a leader talks, it is imperative that he/she focus on the communication that the organization or party he/she is leading wants to speak about. “Do not put the focus on yourself,” says Kumar Parakala, partner and chief operating officer, KPMG Advisory, Bangalore. “Ensure that the information is targeted in the right manner, and is appropriate for the group being addressed.”
We asked CEOs across industries to outline the golden rules they follow as leaders and opinion makers within their organizations and outside them. Here are some rules they swear by:
Managing director, JK Lakshmi Cement, and president, Cement Manufacturers Association, New Delhi
The spokesperson must pay heed to the various components of the communication— keeping a check on the choice of words, the tone of voice and body language.
My golden rules: Communicate the right message at the right time using the right platform to the right target audience; communicate with employees on a regular basis in order to avoid any communication gaps; avoid using long sentences which tend to dilute the message. In a situation of crisis or loss, transparency must be maintained—however, restrict the amount of information to be shared as it might end up aggravating the crisis. It is always better to avoid commenting on controversial issues. While communicating, I make sure that I am able to deliver my key message without being verbose, or too much repetition. My key responsibility is also to spread the word about our endeavours.
Preparing for the big talk: Make key pointers that you want to highlight during the talk; communication should be both measured and planned around what it is you need to see done; and avoid .
Managing director, Su-Kam Power Systems,Gurgaon, Haryana
The opening of any speech or presentation is very important and should be planned in such a way that you attract everybody’s attention. The speaker has to be well versed with the profile of the audience so as to establish a connect while addressing it.
My golden rules: Sometimes I change my speech sitting on the dais itself just to get the audience interested in the subject. Going by my experience, when I deliver a speech in my mother tongue Hindi and the audience understands it, then it’s always appreciated and the connect with the audience is immediate. My experience is that audiences like examples they can relate to in real life and it’s always good to add some humorous angle, if possible, to keep interest alive.
Preparing for the big talk: Graphic presentation is more effective with an audience than just words. The slides should be limited to 10-15, depending on the subject and the audience. I have learnt that whenever I was present at any event an hour earlier, my presentation was much better than when I reached the venue on time, or late.
Managing director and chief executive officer, HDFC Life, Mumbai
A CEO must focus on doing homework on the subject, spend a couple of minutes discussing the key messages to be communicated and also anticipate probable issues in the minds of the people one is interacting with. Crisp and clear communication, backed with real data, always has a deeper impact.
My golden rules: People may not like the message but they always appreciate integrity and this builds a level of trust, which is extremely crucial. Be it any platform, it is always important to maintain transparency and honesty in your communications. With the media, one has to be a bit cautious (keep reminding yourself the headline and key messages you would like them to take away).
Preparing for the big talk: Read all the background material, think through the key messages that have to be communicated. Do it often so most of the messages, issues are mostly known.
Chief executive officer, Usha Breco Realty, Mumbai
Take time to listen and not jump to conclusions—this helps in avoiding misunderstandings. Also do not criticize people; choose your words carefully.
My golden rules:Communicate the strategy well, so as to not allow for confusion, and ensure what you are saying is easily understood.
Preparing for the big talk: It is very essential to keep the person/s concerned engaged in the conversation so that the key message gets across and is not lost sans any impact. Ask for suggestions and feedback.
Dr Pervez Ahmed
Managing director and chief executive officer, Max Healthcare, New Delhi
A two-way communication process needs to be exercised for effective communication. The message is the crux of any communication process; therefore it must be crisp and clear so that the audience is able to interpret the message in the right manner. Striking a chord with the audience is an important aspect that must be employed at all times. The message should be prepared keeping in mind the nature of the target audience, and the tools of humour and quotations, which add to the efficacy of the communication.
My golden rules: It is very important to know the audience you are addressing. Engage the audience—it is the basis of effective communication. The clarity of the message is very important. I believe in exercising transparency in all situations.
Preparing for the big talk: I personally review the available data or literature way before the talk. To maintain the flow of the talk, it needs to be planned and executed well. Take ample rest before any talk, as a fresh mind paves the way for fresh ideas and brings clarity in thought.
GV Nageswara Rao
Managing director and chief executive officer,IDBI Federal Life Insurance, Mumbai
A CEO should have full control over the information, with all facts on hand. He or she should be polite while speaking to employees or addressing any meet or conference. A leader must keep the organization’s goals in mind while speaking to anyone and must never highlight personal goals. Be diplomatic when speaking on competition, regulatory issues and government policies that affect the company. Where the media is concerned, a CEO should always try to give as much information as possible to demonstrate transparency.
My golden rules: I always follow the NTK— need to know—formula and share information that is necessary for the other person/s. This may sound elementary, but many a time overenthusiastic CEOs tend to say more than necessary and then land in trouble. A CEO must be careful in what he/she is saying, be honest while speaking about the organization and say less about competition.
Preparing for the big talk: Study the subject well and do your homework. Follow the dress code. Be ready with possible questions and counter-questions (and answers, of course). Never try to hog the limelight—if you are in a panel discussion, give others a chance to speak.
Managing director, Sapient, Bangalore
While communicating with internal stakeholders, a CEO should listen to their praise and grievances, while sharing the company’s points of view and goals. His communication strategies within the organization should highlight a “clear plan” as to where the business is headed. Humour is always a good tool that can be used to break the ice and initiate a discussion. As a communicator to an external audience, a CEO should be sensitive to social, political and environmental factors.
My golden rules: Effective communication is honest, inclusive, relevant and energetic. There should be common ground between the CEO and target audience. Keep it short and simple. The main point of communication is to influence rather than control. Also, try to influence action rather than enforce it.
Preparing for the big talk: Setting an “agenda” prior to the talk is important. Be clear about the goals and purpose of the talk. Also, plan how to manage time while talking. Think strategically on how to reiterate the purpose and objective of the talk. Think of engaging in activities beforehand. Take rest, sleep well the night before, and stay calm and relaxed.
Chief executive officer, Aditi Technologies, Bangalore
The ability to empathize and prioritize, be honest, transparent, approachable, result-oriented and passionate—this comes from one’s conviction and by connecting to people.
My golden rules: Focus on crisp messages, and keep it simple and precise. I prioritize, and keep the line of reasoning and questioning ability with me when I speak at industry-related meets. When communicating bad news or poor results, I try to be as subtle as possible. Here, relationship-building with everyone comes into place and I ensure that everyone understands the importance of the decision in the context of the long-term benefits of the organization.
Preparing for the big talk: I think in bullet points and then think about how to add colour with stories. Also, I try to balance connection and conviction—these are the two important basic aspects needed to be able to connect with people.
Managing director and chief executive officer, Bharti AXA General Insurance
Whatever a leader says should reflect the organization’s core values. In our case, it would be innovation, integrity, teamwork, pragmatism and professionalism.
My golden rules: Do what you say and say what you do. Listen and get the pulse of the audience. We should try to keep it as honest as possible at all times and never try to paint a wrong picture. If there is confidential information that can jeopardize the company’s or employees’ interests, it is better to steer away from the topic rather than give false answers that could create speculation.
Preparing for the big talk: Get the content, know your audience and get the context in place to deliver the relevant message in a concise and lucid manner. Discuss with relevant team members before going public.
Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org