Motivating the frozen middle
London based Internal Communications consultants the Gatehouse Group released the results of their 2016 state of the sector survey. The survey involved internal communicators in more than 300 organizations, in 30 industries around the world and spanning multiple employee bands.
The survey examined how internal communications practitioners are experiencing their roles and how they use their time, money and energy.
One of the stand out pieces of research for me lay in the barriers to success. Particularly the evidence that showed that the lack of successful line manager communication was having a significant and measurable impact in the delivery and understanding of core organizational goals to employees and motivating ‘the frozen middle’. Close to 60% of respondents quoted line manager communication skills as being a significant barrier to success.
So who are the frozen middle?
The ‘frozen middle’ or the ‘marzipan layer’ as Lee Smith from Gatehouse Group also describes them, refers to middle managers or line managers that find it difficult to prioritize or communicate initiatives created by senior leaders. These initiatives can be slowed to a standstill by the inability of the carry them out.
This clever infographic from David Grossman explains the phenomenon in more detail – http://www.yourthoughtpartner.com/frozen-middle-infographic
So why is this a problem for internal communicators?
A recent Towers Watson report found that an employee’s most trusted source of information is their line manager and according to the CIPD improving line managers’ people skills is one of the top 3 ways to retain employees.
Face to face communication continues to be an effective communication channel particularly for those hard to reach remote and offline workers.With internal communicators striving to find new ways to digitize and increase the use of this means of connecting with employees.
“[Communicating with hard to reach workers] very much relies on the line managers bringing content to life, aligning people, making sure people see how they fit and relate to the organization strategy.” says Lee Smith, Gatehouse Group “It’s beyond just message sharing, the line manager role is absolutely at the heart of engagement.”
Research shows that employees want to hear from an expert, they want to hear from a person who really knows what’s going on.
How can internal communicators best utilize and motivate line managers?
According to Liam FitzPatrick, writing, event management, message planning, design and advising leaders have to supplement an understanding of line supervisors and coping with the darker corners of HR.
Richard Donovan, Head of Internal Communications at Experian UK&I has developed a strategy for engaging line managers (you can listen to it here) creating dedicated communications packs for line managers. The pack is compiled and distributed to line managers every month with information relevant to their business units including company updates, newsletter articles, posters and infographics so that line managers feel informed and know what to speak about. These packs are delivered by email, on average 8 out of 10 managers are opening and using the information pack each month.
How internal communicators can help to remove the barrier?
Turning the line managers into evangelists is not going to happen overnight, however providing the line managers with the information needed as Richard and his team has done is a great start. When local leaders care about communication, can explain how events and plans affect their team it engages staff. You’ll nearly always get great results from your communications when you ask, “What do I need managers to discuss with their teams?” Internal communicators can reap the rewards of engaging remote and hard to reach workers by leveraging the line managers access to these employees. By putting these managers through the same system of coaching and communications best practice usually reserved for senior leaders, further gains can be made and we might just be able to move the needle on that 60%.
If you want to find out more about how to reach remote workers, download this free guide.