A well-written executive communication is a powerful thing. The CEO and executive team play a vital role in a company’s vision and mission — people view them as embodiments of the brand. Their communications naturally command attention.
The trick is making the most of that attention by sharing messages that are memorable and useful. Inspiring and reassuring. In short, caring. Especially when healthcare CEOs must communicate to staff members in the era of novel viruses.
Why should I review my executive communications now?
“The Great Resignation” and employee dissatisfaction are very real in healthcare right now. Journalist Kathryn Hymes writes that as people rethink their relationship with work and its loss of meaning, they “have stepped back from precarious frontline jobs made brutally hard in the pandemic.”
After almost two years of battling both COVID-19 and a miasma of misinformation, most healthcare employees still working have come to believe stress and exhaustion are here to stay. Burnout is now so normal that employees may not be bothering to ask for help anymore.
Faced with the need to engage weary and time-pressed workers, executive communications in healthcare are being put to the test. It’s a good time to review the rules that make them work.
5 attributes of effective executive communications in healthcare
Internal executive communications that engage are more important than ever. Studies show that most employees believe these messages are good for morale and productivity and make them feel valued.
Effective executive communications are:
- Concise. Short-and-sweet messages have the best chance of getting through the noise.
- Written in plain language. Avoid jargon to boost understanding and engagement among your workforce.
- Useful. Include informative advice and updates. And stick to the point.
- Timely. In a chaotic world, messages need to be sent “while the iron is hot.”
- Customized for each audience. Ensure the message is relevant to specific teams, such as employees, managers or new hires.
Beyond these best practices, you’ll need real insight into your workers, so your messages strike a chord rather than skim the surface like last year’s inspirational poster. Here are some ways you can do just that.
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Make sure you understand the people you’re talking to
To connect with employees, they must believe you understand what’s happening in their work environment and how it’s affecting them.
For example, stress is a worthy topic for any executive communication in healthcare. Before you start crafting a message, you’ll need to know how your staff deals (or doesn’t deal) with stress.
You can gauge staff well-being and find sources of burnout by using tools like the American Medical Association’s Mini Z Burnout Survey or the MBI: Human Services Survey for Medical Personnel. If you spot trends, you can dig deeper to discover the source of the problem and address it. Your executive team might even consider asking a simple question: How can I help?
Once you have insights from your survey results, you can acknowledge the problem, encourage constructive solutions, and help recreate a positive work culture. If you find specific obstacles to stress relief, address them. To help reduce stress, you can share good news from your organization or talk about calming therapies that employees can easily do at a desk.
Empathy and integrity: Show you’re compassionate and trustworthy
The best executive communications in healthcare are honest and genuine. Everyone communicating from a position of power should understand how they can lead with empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. To accomplish that, executive communications will need to go a little deeper than, “I know how you feel.” For example:
- Do this: We understand how stressful and exhausting the last two years have been for you. We know you have limited free time between clinic visits. But when you do, please take advantage of our employee assistance programs (EAPs) and mental health resources. These tools can help revive your spirits as we weather this storm together.
- Not that: Remember to make use of our mental health and EAP resources as often as possible.
Make communication from senior leaders about the employees. Connect through things your workforce cares about, such as their role in curing illness. Use caring and open language that makes them feel good about themselves and instills pride in how well they handle challenges. When times are turbulent, increase the frequency of communication, even if you don’t yet have all the answers.
Former Cincinnati Children’s CEO Michael Fisher says that building trust was one of his top priorities during the pandemic crisis. He increased videos to staff to one to two times per week and increased leadership rounds with managers. Views of his videos went from 1,500 to 5,000 as more staff members engaged with the content.
Visual language can also create pleasant pictures that stick in people’s memories. For instance, when writing about how rewarding healthcare can be, instead of describing how it feels, use physical descriptions. Describe the smile of a young patient or the look of awe on a mother’s face when her newborn is placed in her arms. Consider using a bit of humor or lightheartedness to convey optimism.
Use language aligned with your organization’s values — values like compassion, respect for persons, the practice of compassionate, ethical and relationship-centered care. On that same note, be alert to any HR policies or working conditions that might make your executive communications sound tone-deaf and damage their credibility.
For example, if the executive team wants to send a message of appreciation for their staff’s dedication in trying times, but the next day cutbacks are made on training or wages — that positive recognition would backfire. When bad news needs to be delivered, provide talking points to explain the reasons for the changes. Being upfront and consistent about why a decision was necessary can help employees accept and adapt more easily. And it inspires trust.
Strive for a connection: find a strong narrative
Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to get your point across. Yes, you’ve heard this many times, but it holds true. Harvard Business Review has devoted plenty of content to its potency.
Does one of your leaders have a personal story about a loved one saved from COVID-19? Is there a nurse on staff who conquered burnout to rediscover meaning in their work?
Telling stories is a great way to let your essential healthcare workers know why you appreciate them. Don’t just call them heroes while failing to acknowledge their humanity.
Communicate just enough
At the start of the pandemic, people were desperate for answers and updates. Communication teams decided to over-communicate. But it’s easy to cross into information overload only to have your message lost.
In some cases, less might be more. You may not need to be everywhere all the time. Just be easy to find. Find out how your teams want to receive messages so they will be most alert and receptive to them. Send out a simple survey or attend a team meeting in person and ask each of your audiences what will work best for them.
Create an internal communications strategy
Executive communication that people will care about still takes strategy and planning. Having a strategy outlined for each communication effort — such as channels you’ll use, key messages, timing and necessary stakeholder approvals — can help you act quickly and effectively.
You may also want to review the metrics you’re using to measure the effectiveness of your leadership messages. For instance, if you’ve sent an email about stress reduction, review how your recipients engaged with the email. Count the clicks on any links you’ve provided, downloads for videos, or registrations for events.
In addition, executives who speak on camera, in podcasts or in front of crowds may need coaching to come across authentically with a compelling message. That isn’t something that comes naturally to many people. It takes practice.
Effective leadership starts with meaningful communication
Meaningful messages from executives help your team feel connected and understood. They inspire trust and confidence and encourage a corporate culture that attracts great people and allows them to thrive. In turn, this sense of connection can lead to higher levels of employee satisfaction and engagement. During times of calm or crisis, effective leadership begins with meaningful communication.
Find expert support for your executive communications. WriterGirl’s team of healthcare writers, editors and strategists can craft meaningful internal communications that connect with employees. Reach out any time to learn how we can help.