No strings attached

Why can’t some leaders just say thank you, without any strings attached? As internal communicators draft their organisation’s end of year message from the leadership team, our guiding principle should be unconditional kindness. After the year we have all endured, workforces need to heal, and this time there is no place for a thank you with strings attached.

Have you started helping to draft your organisation’s Christmas or end of year message for employees, from the CEO or leadership team yet? Quite a few of us have, and for some it’s already in the bag!

I’ve helped to draft many of these messages in my time, and I have to say that it is not a task I have always relished undertaking. I think that’s because the final form it takes is so dependent on the leadership style of the organisation, and what ends up creeping into the final draft as it goes through the sign off process.

A truth denied

I remember one I had to draft a few years ago. The organisation I was working in had experienced a traumatic year, with job losses, upheavals and many confrontations between the trade unions, employees and the leadership team. Frankly, it had been a dreadful year for the workforce, but they had ploughed on against a rising tide of collective despair to continue to keep the business afloat and customers happy.

To me it seemed to be a logical and compassionate choice to acknowledge the difficulties in the message, followed by some words of thanks for everyone’s efforts and encouragement that the following year would be better. My draft was duly dispatched for sign off, but to my horror was returned a few days later with any references to what had happened in the organisation expunged from the prose. The truth was being unashamedly denied.

I counselled against taking this line , but was ignored, and the rather curt message, its begrudging ‘thank you’ and a veiled demand for more effort next year ‘or else’, was distributed to the workforce. I think you can imagine how that one went down with the employees.

As I hit send on the email to my colleagues, I felt awful, and after this debacle I have since dreaded the inevitable ask to provide a draft for similar annual missives.

The ‘conditional’ thank you

The thing that often seems to happen with these messages is that some leaders want to make their thanks conditional. In their messages they always insist on having that bit at the end that goes something like this…..

‘So, thank you, and I wish you all a restful and peaceful break. I hope that this will be an opportunity for you to recharge your batteries and return refreshed to face our increased challenges next year and make an even greater contribution to the success of [insert name of organisation.]’

In other words, make sure you get a lot of sleep over the next couple of weeks slacker, and don’t overindulge, because next year we’ll be expecting you to really get your nose to the grindstone and work even harder than you did this year. 

Why is it necessary to add lines like this into a message of good wishes and thanks?

Why can’t some leaders just say thank you with no strings attached?

A wall torn down

I guess that for some leaders, saying thank you without also asserting that they are in control and subtly demanding future compliance and effort would be a threat to their authority. There are some that still like to retain a wall between leadership and employees, lest they betray their humanity and weaknesses. The edict and presidential pronouncement are usually their favoured form of communication with employees.

But this year that wall, if there was one, has been torn down in organisations by the increased use of digital platforms to facilitate leadership communication with workforces in a socially distanced world.

The rapid adoption of digital platforms by internal communicators to enable leaders to host online Town Halls and Ask me Anything style events, has democratised internal communication in 2020 and potentially ushered in a new age of authentic and transparent leadership communication.

In these online interactions with employees it has been impossible for leaders not to be ‘just themselves’, with all the theatrics and stage management of pre-pandemic face to face events stripped out.

They have been unavoidably exposed for what they are – the good or the bad communicative leader.

Unconditional kindness

Now we come to this year. What on earth do we draft into our 2020 annual messages of thanks after the year we have all experienced?

A year which has predominantly been full of strife, grief, sadness, loneliness, fear and desperation for so many of us, even if we have kept our feelings to ourselves while we continued to hold down a job, if we were lucky to keep one.  

I think that there is only one possible guiding principle for internal communicators as we sit at our keyboards drafting this year’s message – unconditional kindness.

Workforces need to heal, and this year there is no place for a thank you with strings attached.

Martin

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

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