Why we must build our managers' communication competence


 — November 24th, 2020

Why we must build our managers' communication competence

The year 2020 has brought about a number of changes, especially in how and where we do our work.

Working from home has increased to a level never seen before, and in truth, we do not know what this means from a long-term perspective.

Organizations are struggling with what the future looks like in this area and whatever they decide, the way we work has most likely changed forever.

That means our most important linchpin in the communication wheel, our managers, need to step up to ensure our teams are engaged, productive, and included.

Manager communication skills is not a new conversation in the communication and human resource industries. We’ve been talking about it for decades.

Here are just a few reasons why.

  • Gallup: Managers account for 70% of the variance in engagement. That means if engagement goes up or down, managers are the reason.
  • Gatehouse/Gallagher: Communicators indicated that only 28% of their managers were good communicators.
  • Payscale: Only 17% of surveyed employees strongly agree that there is frequent, two-way communication, between them and their manager.
  • Interact: Two-thirds of managers are uncomfortable communicating with their teams.

How to help line managers become better communicators

And this is before we went to working remotely. We also know from research that engagement levels are higher in employees who have managers that communicate well with them. This is important because of the multitude of links from engagement to organizational success, including higher productivity, lower attrition, and improved innovation.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here. As communicators, we’ve understood for years that managers weren’t meeting the needs or expectations in terms of how they communicate to their teams. It’s not our perspective that has frozen progress on this front. It’s the perspective of the organization that this is something worthwhile to consistently invest in.

And, it’s the perspective of the managers that it’s a key part of their leadership roles. Perhaps a bit of a catch-22 here.

If the organization made it a priority, the managers would follow. We normally do what we get paid to do.

That being said, there are a number of things we, as the experts in this field, can do to support growth.

First, accept the cruciality of it all and make it a priority yourself. With the increased demand for guiding teams through the crisis to the other side, as well as the complexity of the necessary conversations in our societies today, there is much more at risk.

Remote working has increased the amount of communication required for achieving our new goals and objectives, keeping teams engaged, and continuing critical conversations.

Once you’ve made it a priority, the question remains, with two-thirds of managers uncomfortable communicating, how do we increase their confidence in this critical area for success?

We must first increase their competence. When we increase their competence, confidence will follow. Our member surveys show that competence increases faster than confidence. Confidence follows shortly thereafter, as confidence comes from the actions managers have the courage to take.

Here are some important steps in helping your managers build their competence and confidence.

  1. Encourage and help them believe they can become a more effective communicative leader, and that it is a critical part of their roles. Few people are born good communicators. It takes time and practice and starts with believing that they can indeed communicate effectively.
  2. Give them tools, resources, and support so they can learn and practice. Managers are short on time, so make sure the resources aren’t cumbersome, are short and specific, and immediately applicable to the work they do.
  3. Become their communication expert and coach. Help them apply what they’ve learned and think about what they need to do differently. Encourage them to try again and provide objective feedback and support that will help them incorporate changes into their future communications.

Trudy Lewis, in her Poppulo blog back in September, told us we had challenge and opportunity given to us during these trying times, but we had to become what business needs.

What business needs is leadership at all levels. Here is our challenge. Here is our opportunity.

(and here is Geri’s follow-up blog: Using Video to Encourage Managers to Communicate).

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