5 ways to improve managers’ communication with employees

Internal communication can break down at its most crucial point—just as your rank-and-file employees are receiving the ‘big idea’ from on high. Here’s how to avoid that pitfall.

If you’re an internal communications manager, a crucial part of your role is to ensure that your line managers communicate well.

You must ensure they are adequately coached and sufficiently prepared to communicate in the most potent and meaningful way. To help them help you, we’ve put together five ways that you can support your line managers’ development as skilled communicators.

Communication is not simply passing along need-to-know information. Good communication imparts timely information in an engaging way while encouraging employees to respond.

We understand the often tricky journey a message can take through an organization and how each person in the chain can be affected. Every organization is different, but typically a bit of communication in a corporate structure often starts with the CEOs and other top-tier execs before weaving its way to senior management via HR, internal communications, marketing or other routes.

At this point it appears on the desks or in the inboxes of front-line managers—the joints linking the bones of the organization and helping it flex and move, the connectors whose names are up in lights when it comes to delivering communications.

Whether it’s formal or informal communications, they are employees’ trusted and preferred source of information.

It might seem to the untrained ear that their words are a watered-down version of that convoluted message from the top that people have heard vague rumblings about, but it should be so much more than that.

Concentrate on those on the receiving end of said communication.

Line managers hold the power of delivering the communication and managing its impact. They represent the message and can make the difference between engaged or disenfranchised employees.

So, how do they effectively communicate?

Without formal training or the necessary communications skills, this can be a challenging task, especially when some communications frequently require more delicate handling than others.

In its recent State of the Sector report, Gatehouse revealed that nearly 60 percent of respondents cited line manager communication skills as a significant barrier to success. That’s hampering organizations in reaching their goals and slowing crucial communications to a destructive standstill.

This recent post from Newsweaver describes how Richard Donovan, head of internal communications at Experian UK&I, has created dedicated monthly communications packs to engage line managers. These packs help Experian’s line managers to feel informed and know what to speak about.

The following five suggestions are crucial elements in supporting such material and helping to develop line managers’ people skills, communication planning and execution of such information. By gently imparting this knowledge, you’ll help them deliver all future communications successfully.

1. Focus on the three C’s.

That’s clarity, consistency and continuity.

  • Clarity keeps the narrative on point and relevant. Using a clear agenda or a planning toolkit may be helpful, as these keep the messaging on track.
  • Consistency helps drive mutual engagement between you and your team, as being accurate, informed and the “go-to” person for any possible concerns will be highly reassuring.
  • Continuity is also crucial. Communication channels must remain open and unbroken between you and your team; if you say you’ll provide more information when you have it, make the time to do so. Keep everyone in the loop.

2. Make it a two-way street.

Dialogue is what internal communications is all about. The flow of communications is a relationship—not a dictatorship—between you and your team. When you’re planning a communication delivery, factor in time; you don’t know the frequency or type of questions you may be asked, and answering them is not a rush job or box-ticking exercise.

Solicit discussion on the subject matter. Encouraging your team to bring their thoughts to the table will increase their allegiance and help build their confidence in you. Genuinely listen to people.

3. I (not necessarily) before E.

I is for integrity. If you have it, people will see and hear it. Faking it until you make it isn’t an option. If you’re honest and believe in what you’re communicating, it will be absolutely apparent.

E is for engagement. It links back to being part of the loop—your integrity and the trust people have in you. By establishing and encouraging involvement, your team may still question the communication, but they won’t be questioning you.

4. Don’t cut the TAPE.

TAPE stands for treat all people equally. Everyone has an opinion, and internal communications can drive or divide these—and that’s a positive thing. If your people are confident in speaking up, they are confident in you and your ability to listen to them.

Fairness is crucial in open forums; issues may not be solved, but having an ear that hears can be just as important.

5. Be a good translator.

Messages don’t always come in neatly packaged boxes ready for you to simply pick up and pass on, so translate information into something relevant for your team. Communication isn’t about repeating ready-made facts or company propaganda that lacks relevance or local context.

You might have to interpret the language and key points into something your team can understand and digest. Ultimately, make crystal clear what they are expected to know, feel and do.

As we said, these are just a few of the supporting nuggets for you to impart.

Communication can be complex, and messages might not be shared properly if line managers are insufficiently trained and coached. As internal communications manager, it’s your responsibility to give line managers the tools and materials they need in order to communicate effectively. They must be properly briefed, know what is expected of them, use their local knowledge and know that you’re listening to their feedback.

In building a supportive and encouraging relationship with your line managers—and developing their communications skills and capabilities—you can harness their ever-increasing power and see them elevate their messaging.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Alive with Ideas blog.

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