The 5 Fs of Improving Manager Communication
— January 2nd, 2020
In a large company, figuring out how to reach every single individual in a way that they’ll respond to is a considerable challenge. But it’s part of doing internal communications effectively.
While the IC department can’t get to know every employee of a company personally, you have a secret weapon that can help you bridge the distance between you and the people you need to communicate with: managers.
In a Poppulo webinar on why line manager communication matters, Ethan McCarty, the CEO of Integral Communications Group explains why improving communication with your managers is so important, and provided his list of the 5 Fs internal communications should use to get there.
McCarty shares five areas where you can work to improve your manager communication, thus improving your overall internal communications at the company.
As any professional communicator knows, communication isn’t a one-time thing. You need ongoing contact with your line managers to stay on top of what they (and their teams) are thinking. There’s no one right answer to how frequently you should be in touch with your line managers, but figuring out what’s right for your company is crucial to managing your relationships with managers and assuring better communication with them.
McCarty shared one experience he had with finding the right frequency. At IBM, when the team switched to a fast-moving agile process, “we changed the rituals of work away from what was the norm at IBM, which was the monthly check-in call, or the weekly cadence call which were usually fairly protracted and quite formal.”
Instead, to match the changing culture, “we replaced those with daily meetings that were only 15 minutes, where rather than focusing on reporting our progress, the managers...would listen for where the blockers were, and try to remove those blockers.”
Daily calls wouldn’t make sense for every business, but it pays to examine how often you’re in touch with your managers now and determine if your organization would be better served by changing up the frequency.
How formal are you in your communications with managers? “Generally speaking, formality serves some really good purposes,” says McCarty. “When you have confidence in your ability to convey something, it can be really helpful to have a lot of formality.”
But as with frequency, how formal you should be depends on the context and what works best with your managers. And sometimes, he warns, it can become a crutch to make yourself seem more confident and in control.
“One of the things that I learned while I was managing managers, was...the more confident the managers on my team felt about their team’s mission and their role in guiding that mission, the less formal they became with their interactions with the people on the team.” — Ethan McCarty
Sometimes dropping the formality can lead to being more comfortable with your managers and developing a better relationship. He described a leader he knows at IBM who developed a more informal relationship with her team. “The low formality didn't denigrate her leadership or her authority. In fact, it did the opposite, it made her feel much more approachable as a leader of this team and trusted as well.”
Most of the time, if your communications focus on anyone in particular at the company, it will be your executives, or maybe your managers. McCarty recommends considering a shift—by focusing on an employee, you can highlight the value of the people in non-leadership roles at the company and strengthen the leadership role of your managers at the same time.
He describes an experience at Bloomberg, where “we gave a sales executive a little tripod and a Lavalier mic, and we asked him to interview one of his star employees.” He said the decision was a hit for two main reasons. First, by putting the emphasis on an employee, “people [could] really see themselves in this story.” It’s a powerful way of reaching your other employees on a relatable level.
But also, says McCarty “what was really amazing to me, was just how much leadership that sales executive was able to demonstrate by turning the camera around and being the listener, as opposed to the talker.”
Being able to listen and show humility are important leadership traits. Working with managers to find ways to put more focus onto employees and their work is one way for managers to strengthen their relationships with employees, and IC to strengthen theirs with managers.
The next F forces you to consider how you communicate with your employees. The format of your communication can have a lot to do with the response you get. And again, it’s about figuring out what’s right for your business and your managers specifically.
While Format is our main F in this section, McCarty’s main recommendation when it comes to format is another relevant F: be willing to be fluid. Sometimes you may need a meeting or a memo. But “sometimes, a word or two is all that a team needs, but managers may not feel confident in these new formats.”
Be willing to adapt to what format of communication works best with your managers. Modern IC tech makes it possible to track the success of different digital formats for communication. You now have a way to learn if managers are actually reading your emails or showing up for your conference calls, so you can track what works and change things up as needed.
The last F may require re-thinking how you view your relationship with your managers. McCarty asks, “how much are you equipping your line managers to be facilitators, as opposed to the delivery mechanism of information?”
Instead of seeing them as a way to pass along information to employees, how can you provide them the tools to be better communicators themselves?
One way McCarty has worked on changing the dynamic is, “going from many years of providing talking points or scripts to creating facilitation guides.” By doing so, you treat managers more as partners and collaborators in internal communication, a role they’re more likely to own and care about.
Why manager communication is so important
Your managers are on the front lines of your business. They work with your employees every day. They know their habits, their preferences, and their day-to-day concerns. That’s the information you need to be able to more effectively communicate with them. Use the 5 Fs as a framework to reconsider what your manager communication looks like now and how you can take steps to make it better. When you have a strong relationship with your managers, it enhances your ability to communicate with the rest of the organization as well.