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“It’s an honoured to be named Walking Eagle… isn’t it?”

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger

A politician visited an indigenous community. During the visit the politician is given the name Walking Eagle by an elder. After he leaves a journalist asks the elder what the name means. The response is, “ It’s a bird so full of s*** it can’t fly.”

You just know that the politician left this meeting thinking it had been a success and that his new honorary title reflected this. It reminded me of so many times I had sat on the same stage with a senior manager whilst they addressed a large group of employees and marvelled at how they could mis read their audience so badly.  Afterwards they would say , “I think that went ok, what do you think ?” My reply would be , “ probably the best we could expect in the circumstances” , “ I don’t think they got the message” or “ there seems to be a lot of mistrust of senior managers” depending on my relationship with the speaker.
Some senior managers felt that they had said what they came to say so task accomplished and the fact they allowed a few questions demonstrate a two way communication. Often there was little attempt to tailor the message to the audience.
Promises to review the salary structure or look at introducing a reward system for long serving employees are too vague. For their part questions from the floor were often too specific , like “ when will I get a new desk?” , “ What are you going to do about the parking at this office?” or “ why do some people get to go on courses and others don’t?” Why is a man allowed to use the women’s toilets?” The last question represents the unexpected curved ball that the senior manager can get thrown at them. In this case it was a reference to a transgender employee. – HR to the rescue.
Is the issue out of touch senior management, a failure to engage with employees or a lack of trust. In other words is this an issue for management development, Communication or HR. It’s all these and more. Despite every JD for a senior management post stating that excellent communication skills are an essential requirement this doesn’t mean individual managers are good at tailoring  their speeches to audiences, getting a clear message across or dealing with questions from the floor.
Politicians use script writers, senior managers don’t but they should seek advice from the communication team, HR and local managers to ensure they get the tone right and make references to local issues and circumstances. A senior management road show may be part of an employee engagement strategy but it’s not a substitute for one. Senior managers are often genuinely surprised and disappointed to discover the level of mistrust within the organisation. One speech won’t change that but it is important to get the balance right between saying something positive and not making promises you can’t keep.

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