Updated: Apr 5
Valerie Danna is a rock star when it comes to navigating the nuances of coaching executives on how to improve their communication effectiveness. Her background as a senior leader in public relations, employee communications and human resources gives her a unique perspective on navigating the information needs of employees and stakeholders while helping a leader stay true to their authentic self.
I like to think of her as a leadership messaging guru (she has been for me) and you will most definitely learn a thing or two from her in this week's In My Network interview!
How and when did we first meet?
My earliest memory is with our kids in Mermaids Lagoon, the on-site daycare for Starbucks employees at Starbucks Headquarters. At the time, I was in Communications and you were in an HR role.
You started in PR and transitioned into Human Resources as an executive. That seems like an unusual move. Tell me how that happened.
My career began in Communications/PR as I really enjoyed the storytelling aspects of the work and connecting companies and their products with the consumers. I began to focus more on internal communications and found joy in the power of connecting employees through a common purpose which increased their engagement and satisfaction within the workplace. This synchronicity drives company results and creates thriving cultures.
Fortunately, Starbucks had an opportunity in this area and I worked with leadership to create a role that had a focus on communications and employee engagement combined with working with various leaders to help them with their people strategies. This experience broadened my skill set and perspective immensely.
Why is having a communications and messaging strategy as a leader so important?
Your communication style and messaging strategy as a leader is directly related to your impact. Being clear about the vision of what your team can create together combined with the expectations for role and the identified strengths they bring to the work, can create achievements far beyond what was originally conceived by the leader.
When you work with leaders on their messaging and communications strategy, what are some of the most common topics/focus areas of your coaching?
I coach leaders most often on the timing, method and follow up of communications. Many leaders make the mistake of not following up with their team members to check for understanding to ensure their intended message is landing. Leaders believe that because they have told their team once – or twice – that the team is clear as to what to do. This is not true. I’ve seen many instances where leaders are successful when they connect their team in different ways – drive bys, email, meetings on projects. The more in sync you will become with your team and therefore the easier the work becomes.
Where do leaders fall down with their messaging? Do you have an example story you can share with us about what not to do?
Leaders most often fall in two areas: clarity and methodology. Leaders who are so close to the information they are sharing sometimes assume their audience (their team) has the same perspective as they do. So, they either overcomplicate messages with details or they don’t share enough context. Understanding where you audience falls on that spectrum, and meeting them where they are at any given time, is key.
The second is the method in which they communicate it. That can mean both the form (or channel) such as email versus in person and the body language and word choice they chose to convey their message.
For example, a leader I worked with would send lengthy emails and complex diagrams, sharing way too much information for the reader to absorb, process and then understand how to put into action. In that situation, I encouraged the leader to break down the concepts into bite size chunks that people could easily understand and do something with it. Next, I suggested the leader discuss this during their 1:1s and team meetings to ensure they are all on the same page.
We have so many messages that are coming at us daily – from the news, to our social media feeds to our friends and family – that we don’t often have the luxury of time to process and think through something to really grasp the concepts. Especially when you’re speaking to newer employees or leaders who have to understand and translate that information to their teams.
Of the really effective communicators you've worked with, what made them so strong?
The most effective communicators absolutely believe – to their core – in the message and subsequent action they want taken and then pair that message with emotion that matches that situation.
Then they practice their message and delivery; check for understanding; and then see if the intended action takes place. If not, they seek to understand why, change their message/method of delivery and try again. And they repeat until the desired result occurs.
What advice do you have for leaders wanting to get better here? Where should they start?
Just start. Write down what you want to get across, test it with a couple people on your team and see if it’s clear. And keep honing and engaging with people.
Too often, leaders are afraid to be wrong and don’t want to test things with their team. Or they get frustrated because they want the team to learn and understand quickly. Be vulnerable and make the time – you’ll get farther faster in the end.
Awesome! Thanks for sharing Valerie! Now it's your turn for our rapid fire round:
Book you are currently reading: BlueZone Solution
Favorite vacation place: Anywhere with warm blue water and a sandy beach
How many kids do you have: I am a Mom to five kids + one fur baby
Most recent accomplishment/thing you celebrated: Immersing in a new industry and getting my Washington State Real Estate License. I just completed 30 hot yoga classes in 30 days!!