Bridging the Leadership Communication Gap

Updated: Aug 2, 2019

(Originally published on Bloomberg Government, January 2017)

By Dr. Victoria Grady, Dr. Patrick McCreesh, Toni Jackman, and Jasper Saunders


Leadership and communications are both part of a successful change management strategy. Supportive Leadership and inclusive communication during change/transition are individually very difficult tasks and the combination can be daunting. The challenge is two-way and requires a merging in the styles of leaders and their employees. This is especially true during a time of transition that will impact roughly 2 million federal employees.


While new leaders may come into the federal government with renewed energy, many employees may feel disconnected from these new leaders. This disconnect can restrict overall productivity and unintentionally limit awareness of the higher level mission, vision, or goals of the organization. The McKinsey Global Institute discovered that productivity increased by up to 25% when there is a connection with the employees. When communication is absent, there is no rapport with the employees—engagement will suffer, management will risk achieving buy-in and organizational change/transition success will be comprised.


Leaders should consider when to communicate, what to communicate and most importantly, how to communicate, to insure the organization’s communication strategy becomes the catalyst for increased engagement and increased change success, best practice communication change strategy should include:


Create a Listening Tour

Listening is the foundational element of good communication, but is often overlooked, as most leaders tend to engage in one-way, communication with subordinates. This skill is vitally important, especially during counseling, collaboration or diffusing volatile situations. Listening allows staff to feel acknowledged, appreciated, and respected. Leaders who don’t employ active listening ultimately create separation, distance and negative work relationships—the result an environment not receptive to change.


Consider Flexibility

Organizations often embrace strategic change goals in terms of business outcomes that can be written in Congressional Testimony or in compliance with OMB standards. However, these written goals likely lack the personal appeal that many employees are seeking to understand “what’s in it for them.” Moreover, there is variety of communication styles that represent the individual employees who are collectively the organization. Face-to-face dialogue works best with some, email communication will work with others, instant messaging or texting work well with others…when considering work communication methodologies, there is no longer a gold standard. No one method will work for everyone. Change and transition require communication flexibility and adaptability that will balance multiple strategies including verbal, video, social, and sensory expressions (yes, music, smell, and taste) that communicate the change goals to the organization.


Recognize the Job Well-Done

Examples of some of our most successful leaders create and nurture environments where employees want to perform well. Those leaders have learned to communicate value, encouragement and recognition to those employees who quietly exceed the standard. Empowered employees are confident and feel valued recognition. Recognition comes in all forms. Leadership during transition can define the standards for communication within the agency that will highlight and reinforce the recognition for the employees that subtly encourage and optimize performance to maximize the success potential for change.


When leadership insert these strategies into their communication plan, they will reap the benefits of increased productivity, along with the potential for increased organizational morale and more engaged performance.


Effective and strategic communication is often an afterthought that must be appropriately positioned as a critical forethought to proactively define listening, flexibility and recognition to yield effective change.


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