The Insiders’ Guide to Employee Communications

By Poppulo

Table of Contents

How to make your line manager better communicators

Line managers are critical to the success of any company but are consistently seen as a barrier to successful internal communications. There is no easy answer or silver bullet to solve this universal problem, but these measures will equip your team leaders to communicate better.

1. Ask yourself some hard questions

This is great advice from internal communications expert Liam Fitzpatrick: Instead of complaining that middle managers are resisting being treated as animated noticeboards let’s see things from their point of view:

  1. Have I explained what their job is in relation to company communications – in general, and on specific occasions?
  2. How have I communicated with them and have I given them enough context to translate high-level stuff into terms that matter to their teams?
  3. What training have I organized?
  4. What tools or materials am I providing?
  5. How have I shown that they are being listened to?

2. Get the backing and support of the senior leadership

Line managers are generally very busy task-focused people, frequently promoted to the position without much consideration taken of their communication skills, or lack thereof. Yet they are the crucial link in the two-way communication chain between senior management and employees.

As Jenny Allen, Business Change Lead at Royal Mail UK stresses:

Employees look to their line manager and trust them to give the real version of what’s going on.

So it’s imperative that senior managers realize and accept this, and give the appropriate backing and support for line managers to become the effective communicators that the business needs them to be. If that support isn’t there from the top, the finger of blame for any failings cannot legitimately be pointed at the line manager. That support doesn’t always involve budget. Sometimes being shoulder to shoulder with them and showing evidence of real leadership are just as important. Jenny Allen again:

If all the senior leadership team demonstrate their commitment to attending line management communication training to share consistency across the organization, it’s very hard for someone to say they don’t need it or are too busy.

If the message from senior management is that they really believe communications is an important element of every line managers job, then it needs to be reflected in job descriptions and advertisements, and included in the interview/assessment process. Of course, if senior leaders don’t believe that line manager communication skills are important, then your challenge isn’t going to be focused on the middle management tier!

3. Training is essential, but it doesn’t have to cost the earth

A common refrain from organizations is that they don’t have the resources or budget for line manager communications training, but while specific communications training is always welcome, it’s not always necessary. Because communications is a very wide area, it can be incorporated into overall managerial training and development.

But even more important than the training itself is, from the get-go, to burn into the consciousness of every manager that communication is a crucial part of their job if they and the company are to be successful, and is not something they can choose not to do.

This is not about expecting or demanding Pulitzer-winning writing or spell-binding oratory, it’s about managers knowing, accepting and embracing the fact that keeping employees well informed of company news and developments, as well as reflecting employees’ feedback to the senior leadership, is central to their job. It should not be negotiable.

It’s senior management’s role to ensure they have the support and resources to do this, and together with Internal Communications, HR and Talent & Development, give them the information they need to carry out their role as manager/ communicator. There are ways to ensure that different elements of communication are addressed in different training offerings: writing can be trained online; the skill of giving feedback can be taught in general skills for line managers, so can soft skills.

It’s important to ensure that the breadth of skills are covered in different parts of the general training program, rather than to push for separate and specific Communications Training and fail because of budget constraints.

Other training options include:

  • Identify great communicators in the organization and ask them if its OK to establish job shadowing opportunities for other managers
  • Consider setting up a mentoring program, where the organization’s best communicators help other colleagues. This can be very collaborative and give a great sense of job satisfaction to those involved.
  • Personal communications coaching. This can be expensive, but if your organization can afford it for key managers who need it, then it’s a worthwhile investment.

4. Ensure managers have the info they need – and that they understand it!

Be cognizant of all the demands already on a busy line manager’s time. Don’t give them information to disseminate to employees unless it’s relevant to them. Always ask yourself, is this information either relevant or of interest to the people this person is managing.

Relevance is the most important aspect of any form of employee communication because if it’s not relevant it’s not going to resonate and if it doesn’t resonate it’s a waste of everybody’s time.

Thankfully, super-sophisticated software like Poppulo gives amazing insights into content performance and preference – and then enables the targeting of specific audiences by geography, business unit, department or similar segmentation.

When the manager gets the information from you, do they understand it? Do they know what the company is trying to achieve? What’s the objective? Do they know what kind of questions it might prompt from their people, and do they have the knowledge to provide the appropriate answers?

These are all questions you need to answer yourself to better support your managerial colleagues. Provide them with a narrative explaining the purpose of the information and what it’s designed to achieve.

Also, for more contentious or complicated communications, be sure to have a comprehensive Q&A sheet prepared, covering all likely questions and appropriate answers, so that when they face their teams they are prepared.

5. Listen

Managers often feel they are being pulled in several different directions at once, expected to manage people they frequently were never adequately trained to manage, and expected to communicate to them without ever getting proper communication training. And all the while expected to know everything that’s happening in the company.

Their teams expect them to know this, and their senior leaders expect them to know everything that their teams are thinking. But life doesn’t always work quite like that. So apart from ensuring managers have the information, the tools, and the skills to be effective communicators, one of the best ways to support them is to listen to them. To really listen, and for them to know that they are being listened to.

This section is based on the Poppulo guide by internal communication consultant Olga Klimanovich: How to help line managers become better communicators.

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