Communications Audit: 5 Ways to Get More From Your Leadership Communications

February 1, 2017

Words matter. As communication professionals, we all know this, and spend a lot of skill, creativity and time finding and aligning them each day to inspire, inform and educate a variety of audiences.

I put a significant amount of energy into getting to know the person I write for and the audience I’m trying to reach. It’s fun mental gymnastics for me.

What ad copy would connect with male patients about scrotal varicose veins treatment to address infertility? What metaphor should a general use to motivate wounded warriors competing at the Olympic training facility for the Warrior Games? What email can an undersecretary send to 300,000 employees about yet another new initiative in a 40-part transformation? These are a few of the real-life word puzzles I’ve tried to solve.

Recently, I sent out a milestone email to my team at the conclusion of a contract. As I spent an unusual amount of time on the message — themes I wanted to convey, fun images for those who would skip over the copy and so forth — I realized that I typically spend a lot more time on my clients’ messages than my own. Not good.

As communicators, we need to model “words matter” in our own leadership communications. I doubt any of us ever conducted a communications assessment of our personal content — and we should. Not only will it help demonstrate the power of words, but it will probably also improve team dynamics. Have you ever stopped to think about:

•     What your remarks, emails, texts or posts say about you?

•     What type of interaction your communication fosters with your team?

•     Whether your communication reaches a variety of age groups and accounts for staff preferences?

•     Whether you are communicating equally with on-site vs. remote team members?

I had a manager a few years ago who mostly sent emails consisting of only a few words in the subject line — the bumper-sticker approach of information sharing. It didn’t encourage engagement on my part and created a temporary bad habit for me of responding in an equally brief manner. While it helped hone my ability to simplify a message into six words or less, it also restricted the flow of information to a dangerously risky level. On the flip side, I recently had a team member who worked off-site in London and who started the tradition of using cat memes to flag good news or raise issues. It was a creative and fun way to grab attention and share news, and it became a teamwide standard.

Here is a framework to help you evaluate your personal communications as a leader:

1. Content: What type of information are you sharing? What you put out generates what you get back. Are you talking about your vision for the work, the team or the person? Are you sharing examples that reinforce your vision to make it real? Do you distribute articles of interest to elevate thinking? Do you regularly recognize team members’ products, behaviors and outcomes that support your vision? Or is the information you share just about work assignments?

2. Channel: Are you using a variety of tools to share information, such as email (team-wide and one-on-one), telephone, face-to-face (in person or via Skype), webinar, all-hands meeting, tweets or a collaboration site? Did you pick the channel just for its ease or because it suited the type of information you were sharing? Think about learning styles: Folks need to hear, see and do to understand information, and to talk and work through it. What about just walking through the office to say hello, without any business to share?

3. Timing:
How often do you communicate with your senior leaders, future leaders and new staff? What is your operational rhythm for each group? What time of day do you communicate — are you guilty of the 2 a.m. email or the weekend onslaught to clean out your inbox? Do you overshare in a crisis and then go silent for periods of time?

4. Voice:
Is your information all business or do you also include interpersonal nuggets? How do your words and communication approaches help you and your team bring their full selves to work — their humor, hobbies and family lives? Are you being authentic or just hiding behind corporate jargon?

5. Standards: What standards or rules of engagement have you shared with your team about information sharing? A few that I use:

•     Put the BLUF (bottom line up front) first — problem, recommendation and risks — and then the supporting background. Don’t give me a chronological story.

•     Use consistent email subject-line formatting, such as “Action,” “Review,” “Hot” or “Admin,” that the team can use to quickly triage emails.

•     Recognize your teammates — don’t wait for a titled leader to do it. As a health care team, we currently have a brussels sprout award that anyone can give because “brussels sprouts are good!”

•     Have recurring meetings with each member of the team so face-time is not limited to bad-news discussions.

•     Just because I communicate late or over the weekend, doesn’t mean you need to reply then. If it’s urgent and an answer is needed, call.

But don’t just listen to me: Ask your team what they need, and how they like to get information. They are your No. 1 audience.


Emily Oehler
Emily Oehler is a manager at Grant Thornton who provides communications expertise to commercial and public sector clients. For more than 15 years she has worked in the health care industry, concentrating on veterans’ issues. Reach her at:


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