New Role Materializing: Communicator-in-Chief

By David Coburn

Over the span of a few days last March, COVID-19 created an urgent need for organizations of all kinds to communicate critical information to their employees. Suddenly, the economic and operational challenges presented by the virus had workers fretting about everything from new sanitizing and social distancing protocols for offices, distribution centers and factory floors to the logistics of working from home, their own job security and in some cases the existential threat to their employer’s business.

In the process, the pandemic forced leaders of organizations large and small to focus—many of them for the first time, perhaps—on internal communications, a function often relegated to a minor role compared to brand marketing and external-facing corporate communications.

Many learned what smart brands figured out long ago: Your employees are your most important audience. Communicating effectively with them—with openness, honesty, transparency, authenticity and respect—can create a strategic advantage that is key to building your business and your brand, not just in times of crisis but every day.

MHI member Gorbel Inc. is one brand that already understood that. Still, last year was a wake-up call as the pandemic required CEO Brian Reh and his team to get more creative in how to push out the right information and more of it to Gorbel’s 400-plus employees using channels like Microsoft Teams that they had never tried before.

“I think 2020 took what was very good internal communications (at Gorbel)—that was always at the top of the list in terms of priority and importance—and really just put a big exclamation point next to it,” said Reh. “It’s been quite a journey.”

The big takeaway for CEOs: Ignore internal communications at your peril. Do it right and you’ll reap the rewards of loyal, productive, engaged and happy workers—and likely the best brand ambassadors a company could have.

Not only do top leaders need to be involved in this critical business function, in most cases the best outcomes are possible only when the CEO puts on another hat: Communicator-in-Chief.

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