Make your message accessible by delivering it in video, text, and audio formats. You should also consider translation and timing. Your audience is diverse and your communications need to be timely, available, and accessible to everyone. Our weekly company newsletter is translated and targeted according to our employees’ preferences, locations, and functions so that everyone receives an impactful and engaging update.

We are all competing in an attention economy. From pings and dings to blinks and rings, companies and content constantly compete for our limited time and attention. How do great leaders turn down the noise and tune in to the messages that matter most? What does it take to be heard above the noise? And how do we create communication that cultivates community and connectedness in a distributed, distracted world? To address these questions, we started an interview series called “Can You Hear Me Now?: Top Five Strategies Leaders Use to Diminish Distractions & Win in the Attention Economy.”

Samantha Bufton is the President and Chief Operating Officer of Poppulo. She has successfully driven transformational growth for organizations of all sizes for almost 20 years. Prior to joining Poppulo in 2022, Samantha served as EVP/ General Manager of Momentive‐AI’s (formerly known as SurveyMonkey) survey business. She joined Momentive as a product leader in 2013 to architect its Enterprise offering. Previously, she spent 15 years in product management roles at Facebook, Intuit, FanSnap, and Yahoo, where she built and led teams that created innovative consumer and enterprise products. She also worked on the Corporate Development team at Autodesk, driving M&A integration and strategy initiatives. She has a B.Sc. Computer Science from the University of Hertfordshire and an M.B.A. from the University of Oxford.

Thank you for making time to visit with us. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is one of your most memorable moments, and what made it memorable?

I was very fortunate to join SurveyMonkey leadership for our IPO at the Nasdaq. We were there representing all the people at SurveyMonkey who worked so hard to make that moment possible. The moment represented the innovation of the founders Chris and Ryan Finley, Dave Goldberg’s incredible leadership, the hard work achieved by the team leading the IPO roadshow, as well as the amazing work done by hundreds of people who built our products, took them to market, and operated the company. It was the culmination of nearly two decades of contribution by people I loved working with. It was a privilege I will never forget.

What is the most unexpected twist in your career story, and what did you discover from your detour?

After completing my MBA, I was eager to explore different roles beyond software engineering before settling on the next chapter of my career. As part of that exploration, I joined Autodesk’s corporate development team to support acquisition and integration. The role truly put my MBA learning into action as I had to work across all aspects of the business, driving large, cross functional teams to meet financial targets while delivering operational outcomes and business transformation. I thrived on the ability to gain insight into every function. Those teachings have also been powerful in helping me engage people across all disciplines in later roles.

According to a recent Harvard Business School study, the most essential communication skill for leaders is the ability to adapt their communication style. How do you adapt your communication style?

​​Gosh, that’s a question worthy of filling a book! Leaders need to be able to flex between being provocative, inspiring, coaching, empathetic…the list goes on. The key is to know your objective, know your audience, and to put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Understand what you need to communicate and how your audience will best respond to that communication. Finally, be authentic and always ask for feedback because every communication is part of a conversation and a learning opportunity.

Clarity is critical as well. What lessons have you learned about communicating with clarity in our distributed world of work?

It is easy for communication to go awry in a distributed world. When delivering key messages to a distributed team, it’s important to craft your communication visually, verbally, and in writing so that every channel reinforces the same messages. This also enables your audience to engage in the form that works best for them. Surround your team with consistent messaging via email, digital signs, mobile apps, on your intranet, and in collaboration tools. Finally, always check for understanding: Ask your audience to share what they learned from your communication so that you can address any gaps.

We often discover what works by experiencing what doesn’t. Tell us about a time when your communication didn’t lead to the desired results and what you learned from the experience.

Early in my product management career, I invested time developing product strategies that were not selected for investment. My pitches were either too abstract or too detailed and I struggled to engage decision makers. After gathering feedback and advice, I really learned the value of understanding your audience, the incredible power of storytelling, and the value of repeating your message. It made all the difference.

What advice would you offer to other leaders struggling to have their messages heard and actioned?

Always start by understanding. Ask people what they heard and what action they are taking in response to your communications. Once you understand the gap, you can adjust your messaging accordingly.

Leading a distributed team requires a different communication cadence and style from leading a team in person. What five strategies can leaders deploy to improve communication and clarity when leading a distributed workforce?

1. For large, company-wide communications, it’s important to communicate on a predictable cadence in order to drive engagement. For example, at Poppulo we use quarterly all-hands meetings to deliver strategic impactful messages, monthly and weekly emails to share more detailed comms, and we implement workplace signage or mobile and collaboration apps to deliver tactical or short-form updates that are needed in the moment.

2. Make your message accessible by delivering it in video, text, and audio formats. You should also consider translation and timing. Your audience is diverse and your communications need to be timely, available, and accessible to everyone. Our weekly company newsletter is translated and targeted according to our employees’ preferences, locations, and functions so that everyone receives an impactful and engaging update.

3. Keep your messages focused, concise, and consistent across all channels. Consistency and repetition will help reinforce understanding. Poppulo’s company OKRs are consistently shared via email, signage, and mobile app so they’re always at hand if anyone needs to reference them.

4. Understand how your audience engages with your communication and use those insights to improve your next communication. Analysis of who opened your email, who read your intranet post, or who interacted with a digital signage message means you are able to hone your communications to reach and engage everyone.

5. Make it interactive and fun! In our Denver HQ, we have a wall showcasing digital signage. We rotate content to reinforce our strategy, showcase our solutions, share operational updates, and celebrate our team. It’s my favorite part of the office!

What are the three most effective strategies to diminish distractions when so much is competing for attention?

I try to minimize distraction by being clear on my priorities, scheduling time to complete them, building an accountability group to help keep me on track, and setting expectations so others understand when I’m going to deliver. It’s a challenge and a work in progress!

What is one skill you would advise every leader to invest in to become a better communicator?

Listening. If you listen, you will come to understand your audience, their context, needs, aspirations, and concerns. You’ll understand how they like to receive and process information, what else is competing for their attention, and you’ll likely have an understanding of any objections they may have to your message. If you listen, you will be able to better engage, inspire, and motivate your audience.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I’d encourage everyone to start the practice of mentoring others. Whether you’re trying to break down silos in a remote workforce, support new hires or those returning to the workforce, or empower your team members to acquire new skills, sharing your knowledge is a powerful tool in enabling others. It helps keep your knowledge fresh while also developing your communication skills. It’s fun, rewarding, and you can get started by sharing one basic skill with one person. Who can you mentor this month?

How can our readers stay connected with you?

You can reach me on LinkedIn and you can connect with Poppulo to learn a lot more about effective communications on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.