NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Electric cooperative CEOs and managers who want to communicate effectively with their staffs should be honest and direct to inspire trust, experts told co-op leaders at PowerXchange.

“When you're transparent and honest, you're going to get that back," said Maura Giles, NRECA's senior leadership communications manager, at a breakout session on “Leadership Communications in a Changing Workplace."

On the flip side, leaders who keep their staffs in the dark about what's going on at their co-ops will soon discover that employees fill in the blanks for themselves, she said.

The keys to effective communication, she advised, are:

  • Keep it simple.
  • Be consistent and deliberate with clear expectations.
  • Make it a team effort by including employees in decisions from the start.
  • Modify your communication style based on differences among your employees.

For example, lineworkers and other employees whose duties regularly take them outside the office often don't read emails during the day, so it may be better to text them. Ask employees what their preferences are for receiving information, Giles said.

“As a leader, be focused on your audience, not your agenda," she said.

Co-op leaders should also expect to work with an increasingly diverse group of employees, said Kelly McDonald, founder of McDonald Marketing and an adviser to businesses on diversity, equity and inclusion.

In 1980, the chance that any two random people you encountered on the street would be of a different race or ethnicity than you were 34 in 100, she said. In 2020, that had risen to 61 in 100.

However, diversity goes beyond race and ethnicity to encompass a broader definition of “anyone who is different from me," McDonald said. That could include employees who have children, like to work alone, dye their hair blue, have disabilities, are introverts or extroverts or are morning people or night owls.

“Differences can be uncomfortable," she said. “We don't necessarily get each other."

But studies have consistently shown that diversity of backgrounds and perspectives ultimately improve a company's creativity and productivity, McDonald said.

“It feels harder, but it produces a better outcome," she said.

Instead of trying to fit everyone into the same box, work with their differences, McDonald said.

“If you have a team of night owls, why would you schedule a meeting at 8 a.m. when they won't be at their best?" she said. “Be flexible. Move it to the afternoon."