Make Managers Better Communicators
Anyone who has been a manager knows it’s a tough job. Managers are constantly stuck between the demands of upper management and the often conflicting needs of employees. With everyone pulling in different directions, effective communication isn’t the manager’s most pressing issue.
Consistently, studies on employee engagement over the last 20 years report that employees prefer to receive work-related information from their immediate managers, whom they often trust more than senior management. Given that this middle layer of the organization has the potential to really drive company communication, how do you help your managers fulfill this critical function?
The first step is to understand their challenges.
Communicating From The Middle
Most managers received their first supervisory positions because of their technical expertise, not their communication skills. As a result, many simply do not know how to communicate effectively. Unfortunately, when managers do get communication training, it typically focuses on topics such as conflict resolution, dealing with problem employees and conducting performance appraisals. Rarely does standard management training provide guidance for day-to-day communication that causes needed business outcomes.
In some cases, the information managers are asked to pass along can make their employee communication jobs more difficult. Mixed in and around the news they are charged with communicating may be sensitive information the manager has been instructed to “hold close.” When the distinction between what information can be shared and what shouldn’t be shared isn’t crystal clear, most managers err on the side of caution and withhold information rather than risk sharing something they shouldn’t.
Finally, managers must retain the respect, trust and credibility of their employees to remain effective at their jobs. When bad news or performance-enhancing conversations are needed, some managers may be reluctant to have them to protect their congenial employee relationships and keep the work humming along, despite the issues they know need to be addressed.
Tips For Improvement
So how do you overcome these hurdles and help your managers communicate better? Try these suggestions first.
- Provide managers with tools to help them communicate. Develop talking points or a presentation summarizing the information to be relayed, making it easy for them to communicate and get it right.
- Provide managers with time to prepare to communicate effectively. Also provide an avenue for them to get their own questions answered before they have to respond to employees.
- Clearly define expectations and accountabilities. Managers have to juggle dozens of priorities each and every day. By articulating expectations and reinforcing accountability, you reinforce that communication is a priority and their responsibility.
- Close the loop by confirming the required communication occurred. Have a means to determine not only what was said, but what was heard by the employees (often quite different than intended), and be ready to follow-up with “air attack” communication to reinforce, clarify or correct what occurred in this communication channel.
Are your managers succeeding at this unique mid-level accountability in your company? If you’d like to marshal these forces more effectively, contact Ward. Our internal communications team can assess your unique issues and create a game plan that will cause your managers to cascade information throughout the organization, as well as provide the feedback tools to make your company communications meaningful to the business.