Best Practices for Helping Managers Become More Consistent Communicators
By Elizabeth C. Castro
One of the best bosses I ever had was a great communicator. He would take the time to sit down with his team and share important organizational news. Looking back, he seemed to understand that we needed to better understand the strategic focus of the company, his expectations and some of the changes we would see in the coming months. To say the least, I pretty much always knew where I stood, whether the information was positive or difficult for him to share.
His approach to leadership laid a strong foundation for me on how to communicate to employees, and in fact, under his leadership I had the opportunity to establish a formal employee communications program for the organization. This included better using our communications channels such as the intranet and email, but our biggest success came with empowering managers to share formal organizational news with their teams.
Our goal was to get employees to starting looking at their managers as a source of information and ensure that managers were “in the know” so they could deliver those messages and answer the tough questions. We thought it was important to get people to talk to each other in order to forge stronger personal relationships.
When it came time to transition my career and become a counselor to clients who also sought to help their managers become better communicators – I looked to him for some inspiration. Here are the best practices for building internal communications infrastructures and helping direct managers and supervisors become better, more consistent communicators.
Understand Your Culture
Before you can begin to communicate, it’s important to understand your organization’s culture so you know the challenges and opportunities. An internal communications audit is a great way to find out what information matters most to your workforce and the best ways to deliver those messages.
When conducting an internal communications audit, I like to use a combination of electronic surveys like Survey Monkey as well as in-person discussions across locations, departments and levels to gain a more realistic understanding of what people want to hear. As I’ve audited organizations across various industries, there are some common themes of what employees want to know:
- The health of the organization (the good and the bad)
- What you are doing to ensure the health of the organization
- The organization’s goals
- How they can help you achieve success
By and large, employees have a strong interest in the success of your organization and are willing partners to help you. In return, they want honesty and regular updates that guide how they approach their daily activities on the job.
Build the Infrastructure
Today’s complex global organizations create a unique challenge for internal communicators because their workforces are spread out across multiple geographies. Having a communications infrastructure in place – or the channels to communicate – is critically important for getting the right messages in the hands of employees. Of course this includes tools like an intranet or employee newsletter, but I’m really talking about something as simple as email lists. This is a list or lists of manager groups where you send information and materials to be cascaded down to employees. Once you have this in place, you have the foundation for creating opportunities for dialogue.
Provide the Necessary Tools
If you talk to most managers, you will find they would like to become better communicators with their teams but often don’t have the time or know-how. This is a fair argument given that managers already have busy jobs and that certain organizations don’t always have the discipline to develop key messages around each organizational initiative along with the materials to share with managers. But this can be achieved by standardizing how organizational information is shared and seeking the assistance of an agency partner for implementation if there is no designated internal communications function.
Standardization could include creating the following for each company initiative:
- A key messages template
- Materials such as a Q&A, handouts, flyers, emails and intranet content
- Instructions for managers on how to share the information with employees at existing team meetings
Cascading: Make it Top-of-Mind
Helping managers share information down to employees, verbally and at regular team meetings is one of the most important communications channels you have available within your organization. By and large, managers have a lot on their plates and may view communications as another added pressure. But if you offer them the right information in the right form with instructions on how to share it, their communications efforts can literally add just a few minutes to their existing team meetings.
Another opportunity available is to enlist the help of your organization’s Human Resources function, some of which may already offer manager training programs. We’ve seen success by giving managers training in employee communications and public speaking for added confidence.
Elizabeth Castro is a senior vice president at O’Malley Hansen Communications (OHC) in Chicago (www.omalleyhansen.com). OHC implements internal and external corporate communications plans and social media campaigns for big brands. You can follower her on Twitter at @Eliz_Castro and @thecommsblog.