← IC Matters · Best Practice

The Leadership Disconnect: Why your communications are not trickling down

Ethan McCartyEthan McCarty·

Wait, why are they trickling down anyways? Modern enterprises are decreasingly hierarchically-linear and increasingly digitally-matrixed. Our communications systems and programs must follow.

Sound familiar? In my previous blog post, I shared insight into how you can avoid the “frozen middle” by equipping managers in the middle of your organization with the right skills to be better communicators on behalf of the company.

Companies need sophisticated internal communications to create an experience for not just employees, but for managers to help them model behaviors of coaching, motivating and providing context to their teams.

The idea of cascading information from the top to the bottom is a relic of the past. Well, I like to think so, at least. However, many organizations still follow this model of communicating in a hierarchical fashion even though we have plenty of tools available that make “cascading” no longer relevant.

Take for example employee directories, any employee can log on to the Intranet, go to the directory, search a name, and contact anyone else. And guess what, that doesn’t exclude contacting executives. Directories aren’t the only thing breaking this barrier. Document repositories on the Intranet are another mode in which employees no longer need to go through a line of higher-ups to get access to information.

Thanks to the emergence of new technologies and social applications, employees can take it a step further from employee directories and go straight to Slack, Yammer, and Facebook Workplace…the list goes on. These social channels remove many blockers and allow not only employees to organize, but for the C-Suite to engage at any level. For middle managers, this is the definition of disintermediation.

This access to information and people will, if it hasn’t already, change the role of the middle manager in every organization. The future requirement of managers is not transmitting messages, but rather demonstrating an ability to coach, motivate and provide context for their teams.

Here are three ways you can stop thinking of your managers as messengers and, instead, ensure they model behaviors that positively impact engagement.  

  • Find the servant leaders and make them exemplars.

A servant leader is just that – a servant first. They are a rare find, but are a prime example of managers who embody the qualities of someone who will motivate, coach and provide context to their teams. Finding these leaders within your company, rewarding and recognizing them as superstars will highlight the behaviors you want other managers to implement.

  • Create an environment where managers offer and become examples of the company’s values.

During my time at IBM, we deployed a system to help managers begin their team meetings by sharing a personal story that related to the company’s purpose, values and behaviors, which we called 1-3-9. This allowed employees to see their managers exemplify the company’s values and reinforced the importance of the company’s best, most-valued behaviors. This takes the manager as a messenger role to the next level, by having them truly feel as though they are representatives and one with the company, not just a postal worker for the execs at the top of the firm’s hierarchy.

  • Think beyond sending talking points via email.

Rather than equipping managers with talking points on a business update via email, consider creating different experiences or full day sessions to inform and train them instead. Going out of the way to create a time and space for managers to ask questions and better understand what it is they should communicate to their teams is priceless.

This not only helps them create the context for their teams on how this business update affects them, but it allows them to be a driver of positive change. One of our clients developed an ongoing program of deep-dives for senior managers on business topics, cultural issues, macro-economic trends and technologies affecting their industry. The managers leave feeling empowered and equipped to provide their teams with valuable context for their roles within the company.

Now, you may say, “it’s time for old ideas about managers to be mothballed — why even bother finding new stuff for managers to do?” In a way, I’m with you. In a global marketplace of talent where each individual can build their own brand, grow their skills and deploy their talents independently of big companies, the traditional manager has a very short future. On the other hand, taking these new concepts of management, leadership, activation, and communication seriously will lead to success for all levels within any organization.


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