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Six ways to help line managers support internal communication


Lynn Fraser of The Wayland Partnership is the contributor of the following guest article which follows last week’s article Managers as Communicators

Organisations – senior managers, and Communication and HR departments – need to take positive action to maximise the effectiveness of managers as communicators. Below are six suggested ways of doing this.

1. Give managers power

Be wary of bypassing middle managers and supervisors by sending all messages direct from the top. If you create a direct link with ground level staff you will destroy their relationship with their managers. This will undermine managers’ ability to support communication. If you want people to turn to managers for information and believe what they say, you need to build respect for them. Give them authority and the information they need at the right time to deliver true and timely messages to their teams. Involve them in a communication process as early as possible, allowing them to shape plans to suit their needs. Find ways to build them up, not knock them down. Even if they are the source of a communication problem, don’t be tempted simply to exclude them.

2. Provide support and leadership

Your managers will need both practical support and encouragement if they are to be effective communicators. Training may be part of the solution. Not only will it improve skills, but it will give you the opportunity to discuss wider issues – the objectives and benefits of communication, for example – and underline your organisation’s commitment to internal communication. However, one-off training may prove to be something of a ‘sticking plaster’ solution. You need ways to change attitudes and encourage development of approaches that will work in a day-to-day working environment. To this end, you might want to consider, for example, on the job support from experts. Senior managers and communication professionals will also need to lead by example.

3. Provide practical tools

Give your managers practical tools to help them communicate with staff – worksheets, presentation materials, workbooks etc. Make these materials flexible to suit the structure and working practices in different parts of the organisation and to allow managers to adapt them for their teams. If you have, or want to set up, a cascade system, make sure that you have a clear and sensible map of the channels down which your messages will travel (and make sure that people know about it). Try to lay a firm a foundation for your managers and do as much of the hard communication work for them as possible: clarify and highlight key messages, use appropriate language, provide templates etc.

4. Deal with the things that get in the way

Obstacles to communication will be both reasons and excuses not to do the job properly. Identify them and then remove or deal with them. Listen to your managers: they’ll be able to help you do this. Can you, for example, integrate initiatives so that they take up less time? Can you time communication so that it does not clash with other activities? Do managers need more resources – more computer terminals to make electronic communication possible, for example? Help managers find solutions – this will not only overcome specific problems, but also show that you mean business.

5. Don’t expect the impossible

Don’t expect managers – or communication from managers – to do the impossible. They are unlikely to be able to improve morale single-handed. They can’t keep good staff if the total employment package offered by your organisation isn’t competitive. They can’t improve standards if recruitment procedures and training are inadequate. Communication professionals need to work with other departments in the organisation to achieve wide-ranging objectives. You can’t expect managers to communicate what they don’t know or understand. You can’t expect managers to be simply a mouthpiece for the Board if they don’t believe the message. Expecting information to trickle down through managers – without it being changed on the way – if you don’t take any action to support this, is naïve.

6. Make it clear that you expect results

There are many reasons why it may be difficult for managers to be good communicators. However, communication is a vital business tool and one that managers must be able and willing to use effectively. You should expect managers to communicate with their teams, both on day-to-day issues and in support of wider business initiatives. Communication should be recognised as an integral part of their job, one that is measured and rewarded. Measurement could be part of an upward appraisal or a check on whether people have understood specific messages. There is a wide perception that information is power and that hoarding information gives you more power. You need to create a culture where those who share information and achieve results through the process achieve greater rewards and status.

Lynn Fraser is a senior partner with The Wayland Partnership, a communication and training consultancy based in Kingston upon Thames in Surrey.

see Lynn’s previous article Raise the profile of your T&D function with an ‘internal identity’

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