Managers have a tough job. They’re expected to produce by performing tasks and meeting deadlines, not necessarily spend dedicated time ensuring their team is working optimally. If something happens where a team member doesn’t meet a deadline, other employees may go to the manager expecting their help. Sometimes managers don’t have full access to a budget to make decisions that better serve their teams, including pay. They’re also struggling to find time to do everything in their job description.
In other words, managers are often in frustrating positions. The last thing on their mind many times is improving communications or cascading information.
After surveying Internal Communicators, Gatehouse listed that the biggest barriers to success are managers. It’s an age-old problem, and it has implications on engagement and productivity, too.
Employees list lack of communication with their managers as the top reason they quit. But employees trust and understand communication from their managers more often than reading it in company news or even hearing it from the CEO. That dialog between manager and employee continues to build trust and set expectations. It enables employees to understand what’s happening at the company and their role in it. Through regular discussion, employees gain insight into organizational goals and how they help meet those objectives. These conversations also ensure employees get the feedback they need to continue meeting expectations and goals.
And that’s the issue – managers aren’t always the best communicators, but they’re critical to communications, engagement and productivity.
Managers are the keystone.
There are a few ways to break through and get managers to communicate better.
1. Get managers buy-in and thoughts as part of your strategic planning
HP’s CEO, Meg Whitman, famously said, “ you won’t make progress unless you win the hearts and minds of your people. It’s critical that people connect to the plan and are empowered to drive change ”
Communicators know this to be true.
That’s why managers should get involved in communications planning — to understand what should be communicated and why. That doesn’t mean writing a manager’s toolkit and disseminating the information on a monthly or quarterly basis, although it’s tempting to do so. Instead, communicators should sit down with managers and talk through major items that require communication, the time frame and why they need to happen — how they impact the organization’s success.
Brainstorm. Managers can help you come up with tactics, including how they want to be involved. They can also resolve issues and challenges. By having them determine how they’d like to be involved and knowing how you’re supporting them, they’re more likely to be empowered and support your communications efforts.
Once a communications schedule is agreed on, share plans on other ways you’re communicating. Check back with them regularly, such as at all-manager meetings and through surveys, to determine how they need support as well as progress you’re making on communications.
2. Coach managers
Let’s face it, when communications aren’t going well, you’ll hear about it. (Boy, will you hear about it!) You can set up formal ways to collect that information from employees — such as in employee surveys that go out yearly or quarterly — as well as get qualitative information to identify the people who need more help.
Not everyone is good at communicating. Some managers will need assistance refining that skill.
Mentoring can help, especially identifying managers and leaders who are great communicators. If you don’t have a mentorship program to build successful leaders, consider setting one up.
Whether you have a mentor program or not, don’t shy away from coaching managers who are poor communicators yourself. You don’t even have to be a manager. Best of all, you may learn something in the exchange of information, seeking skills yourself. For example, if you’re hopeless at explaining financial statements every quarter, find an accounting manager who struggles to communicate effectively. Mentorship and coaching are often rewarding for both parties, both the mentor and mentee — or coach and coachee.
3. Have all-manager meetings and an intranet section devoted to managers
Managers need a space and time to be better managers and communicators – both on the intranet and in person. They need to hear and read their peers’ ideas to understand and overcome obstacles. For example, no doubt the biggest barrier to being a good communicator is time. Hearing from managers who agree, but make time and talk about ways they manage to get everything done may help.
Having a corner of the intranet with discussion threads built in will help uncover these ideas. Less experienced managers can read and comment while more experienced managers can blog and provide guidance.
Consider using great exchanges online at your all-employee meetings either using them to help seed breakout sessions with managers or as stories that resonate. For example, if a less experienced manager has a win through information they learned on your intranet, ask him or her to share that information at the all-employee meeting.
Don’t forget to call attention to great conservations in your manager emails and news segments, too.
4. Reward good communication
Reward managers who are cascading information. Find ways to recognize these employees, including covering them in your intranet news and at all-employees, manager or team meetings. Get executives involved; they can even weave those tales at all-employee meetings, demonstrating superior communication themselves. Spread the word at the water cooler. Create a video you can add to your intranet to use for brand and culture purposes. Give these managers an actual certificate or trophy. Use budget or coordinate with HR to find ways to give them additional perks.
The more ways you can reward people and the more coveted the prize, the better the results.
Don’t just spotlight those who excel at communications; highlight managers who are making headway by indicating what that manager did right and how that matters to the organization and its employees. By showing people making strides, you’ll encourage them — and others like them — to keep working on their communication skills. Because you know, communication is never perfect. Even the best communicators continue to hone their skill.
5. Train managers
At ElevatePoint, we strongly believe in training managers. Not only will it help communications, but a host of other issues such as decreasing turnover, increasing corporate compliance, meeting organizational goals and improving engagement and productivity.
Part of manager training needs to include communications with ideas about frequency for teams and individual employees. It should also indicate why you ask them to cascade information — because employees trust them. They may need tools to help them communicate. This training should also include how you support them as managers — how often they can expect to receive emails, manager meetings, and more. Although you may be encouraged to hand off training to someone else, it’s a good idea for you to handle that training. Not only does it give you a chance to establish rapport, but it lets managers know who to contact when they need help.
This training should also include how you, as communicators, are supporting managers — how often they can expect to receive emails, manager meetings, and more. Although you may be encouraged to hand off training to someone else, such as someone in the training department, it’s a good idea for you to handle that training. Not only does it give you a chance to establish rapport, but it lets managers know who to contact when they need help.
Managers cascading information is critical to an effective communication plan. And the better managers are equipped to cascade that information — they have bought in, know why they need to discuss it and have regular support in communicating it — the more effective managers and that communications strategy will be. And of course, better manager communication will also lead to engaged, productive and happier employees around your organization.Cascading information from executives to middle managers to front-line managers to employees isn’t easy. It’s why it’s a top concern for communicators. Our intranet platform and news make that easier. We even have services to help.