Dear CEO:nameplate

It’s that time of year again – time for you to write a year-end, holiday letter to your employees. It’s great that you’re sending it, but I’m obligated to share some trepidation.

It’s not that you shouldn’t write or send it; you absolutely should. A recent study emphatically finds employees who perceive their senior leaders as highly trustworthy have a greater level of engagement, dedication and loyalty to their companies. Trusting you makes them like you – and regular, meaningful communications from you to your employees is one of many ways to increase your trustworthiness.

So, stepping out boldly on behalf of internal communicators everywhere, I offer the following advice …

1. Make it short(er). Yes, I realize I haven’t read your letter yet. But my guess is, even without seeing it, it’s too long. You can’t hold the attention of anyone for three pages, single-spaced. Or even two. Delete, delete, delete until you have only the critical items that can be scanned in minutes.

2. Be authentic. This letter has your name on it, and it should come from you. Employees will know if someone else wrote it, and you’ll miss a chance to build a relationship with them. If possible, take a crack at the first draft. Then lean on your communicators for edits and advice. But make it yours. Talk about the business, but share your humanity.

3. Be transparent. If you’re having a tough year, say so. Employees already sense this, so be straight with them. Let them know where you stand. Employees depend on you for their jobs, and they want to help. Tell them how they can.

4. Try something new. A little shock and awe goes a long way toward getting your employees attention from the mass of emails hitting their in-boxes. Do or say something unexpected. Remove every generic statistic from your letter and tell stories of individual employees with impact. Or lose the letter for a video, and then lose the script. Your employees will take notice.

5. Ask for feedback. Post your letter on the intranet, where employees can respond and give you feedback or answer a question. Then participate in the comments. Or, better yet, sack the traditional communications protocol and send something like: “Dear employees: I was going to write you an end-of-year letter. Instead, I want to take this moment to listen. Tell me how each of you are living our values and what you believe I should be doing to support you and our company for a successful 2015.” Let them share their pride. Or vent. And then listen to the unedited culture you are leading.

Importantly, do it now and do it again – at least by the next quarter. Too many CEO letters attempt to thank employees for their service, recognize accomplishments, set priorities for the next year, and – oh yes – wish everyone a happy holiday. Phew. You simply can’t do it all in one communication, nor should you.

I look forward to reading your letters in the coming weeks, and I welcome your thoughts – and those of your communicators – on my humble POV. I wish you and your families a wonderful holiday season and a successful 2015. Back next quarter – if not sooner.