We were surprised at how many large, global companies we’ve spoken to recently have onboarded new CEOs since March - specifically IBM and KONE Americas. Since their onboarding coincided with the onset of COVID-19, the two heads of communication had to switch up their planned employee communication strategies.

You would think that with remote working, glitchy Zoom meetings and a crisis of global proportion would make this hard. Actually, both Carolina Mata, VP, IBMer Communications and Patrick O’Connell, Head of Marketing and Communications at KONE Americas, have reported that their employees are responding extremely well to their new leaders. Find out what they did to make their employees fall in love with the CEOs.

A Little Background

In April, Arvind Krishna became the CEO of IBM. His head of IBMer communications, Carolina Mata, spoke to us in a recent webinar about how his virtual meetings, complete with home-office glitches, has become a favorite weekly event amongst the 350,000 employees. The authenticity of his messaging has really resonated with IBMers.

In March, KONE Americas also changed their leadership team, appointing Ken Schmid as the Executive VP of KONE Americas division. They had 60,000 employees at the end of 2019. Patrick O’Connell, the Head of Communications at KONE, talked about the way that communications with leadership has improved.

The response to the leadership didn't come out of the blue. Here are the 10 employee communication strategies these two heads of communications put into place.

The 10 Employee Communication Strategies That Worked

  1. Hold regular meetings between your employees and the CEO. Whether these are large company-wide speeches, or small, intimate settings, it’s important that the CEO be talking to employees regularly.
  2. Carolina is making sure that, as popular as Mr. Krishna’s meetings are, that they don’t become just another meeting to attend on a busy day. As screen fatigue has set in, she has encouraged him to take a step back and only address the company when it’s needed, rather than every week.
  3. Small meetings are good for one-on-one feedback. Patrick opted to create a series of meetings between 10-15 randomly chosen employees and his CEO in the Zoom “room”. The conversation is intimate and allows the CEO to hear individual concerns and answer questions.
  4. Turn your cameras on. Especially when there are stories to be told and heard, it’s important that the emotion and the response to that emotion is able to be seen on camera. This has been especially important in recent discussions of racial inequality.
  5. Make sure that there is an HR or Comms facilitator present, not for oversight, but to record and observe and learn from each meeting.
  6. Let it flow. Patrick attends all of the CEO’s meetings. He likes to empower his leader to be the host of the meeting and not keep a set agenda. As a result, each session is unique and bring different observations to the forefront.
  7. Listen closely to what is being said. Also listen to what is NOT being said. Sometimes the comments and questions that are not asked are just as powerful.
  8. Keep it authentic. In these settings, there is an opportunity to really make a connection between the CEO and employees. We’ve noted in the past that COVID-19 has increased the informality of communications. Make the most of that informality.
  9. If you need to go back and admit to a mistake, do it. Ideally, a small, unscripted gathering should be spontaneous. If the CEO says something that they’d like to clarify later, encourage them to do so.
  10. Turn the lessons and stories learned into teaching moments, or opportunity to recognition for the rest of the company. Both IBM and KONE Americas share the insights of their meetings with the whole company.

If you implement these strategies, whether your company is back in the office or continuing to work remotely, your employees will form a bond with their CEO. Let us know if you found any tip to be particularly helpful!

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Our leader's compassion, empathy and true understand of the difficulty of the [employees] situation has come to light....

- Patrick O'Connell, KONE Americas


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