The #LoveYourLineManager campaign by Alive With Ideas still stays in my mind as an excellent example of how internal communications can make a significant impact on employee engagement and communication.
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In many organisations, line managers are the glue between senior management and employees, often responsible for translating messages to their teams. They are often the most knowledgeable people in the business, having insights into the view of senior management and those of their teams.
As an internal communications practitioner, how much time and effort do you invest in developing relationships with line managers? Do you know what training your line managers receive to help them be communicators? When writing a comms plan do you view managers as a channel or an audience? These are all questions we should ask ourselves about line manager communication.
What the research says
There is a lot of insight available that highlights the important role managers play as communicators within their organisations:
- Successful employee communications by Sue Dewhirst and Liam Fitzpatrick dedicates Chapter 7 to the subject
- Beyond the babble by Bob Matha and Macy Boehm explores the interchanges between various people channels, information flow and message cascades.
- Exploring internal communication by Dr Kevin Ruck examines the role of line managers within a stakeholder approach to internal communication.
For those colleagues based outside the office, the role of the manager is even more critical. In the ‘Remotely interested’ research by Jenni Field and Benjamin Ellis remote workers viewed their manager as the most informative and accurate channel.
Who are the true blockers?
The 2020 State of the sector research by Gatehouse shows that even though we know the importance and value of manager communications, we aren’t stepping up to close the gap. 76% of practitioners rate line managers as poor communicators, yet 64% rated supporting line manager communications as a low priority. How can we therefore expect our managers to step up if we aren’t focusing our time and energy into them?
When talking with peers line manager communication often comes up in conversation as a source of frustration. I’ve frequently heard complaints that email cascades are just forwarded onto teams with no additional context, key messages not shared in team meetings or that content isn’t even read. We all need to be collectively #ChangingTheConvo and supporting our managers.
So what can you do?
There is no single solution. You must continually invest time and effort in the same way you would with any of your channels. In January 2019 the Institute of Internal Communication (IOIC) published ‘Creating a communicator’ that outlined six tips for you to keep in mind when thinking of line manager communications:
- Get to the point
- Give them their due
- Be a help, not a hindrance
- Let them be themselves
- Get leaders on side
To help put these into practice, here are some suggestions for you to consider that don’t require big budgets or expensive technical solutions.
Build a community
Line managers often lack the time to network amongst their peers, spending most of their time with colleagues in the same department and team. Encouraging alternative ways of communicating with other line managers outside of their own team such as a dedicated Slack channel or a WhatsApp group can be useful. These don’t need to be a formal channel for you to cascade information but can help encourage discussion, collaboration and provide line managers with a voice.
Dedicated central intranet hub
Time is precious and managers are busy people and will soon get frustrated if they continually struggle to navigate the intranet to find the information they need. You can work with your HR colleagues to make key information such as process and policies accessible in one place. You can then use this hub to keep copies of the key messages you send out to managers, saving them from having to search back through emails.
Calendar of upcoming asks
Organisations ask a lot from managers, whether it’s completing appraisals, encouraging completion of training or delivering cascade briefings, and all this is on top of the day job! Setting expectations at the start of each year of the tasks that will come up throughout the year will help managers feel informed and know what the business is expecting from them. Making sure that you include these on your annual comms plan will allow you to question anything additional that arises and help avoid overloading managers.
Cascade for a purpose
If you need line managers to deliver key messages to their teams, then set out what you require from them. It’s very easy to send key messages out to managers first, expecting them to cascade to their teams but ask yourself whether they need to know in advance or are you just adding another job onto their to-do list? If you need them to cascade, then suggest the approach that might be more suitable such as adding local context before forwarding on or using the topics as a Q&A session in an existing team meeting. Consolidation of key messages into a regular digest can also be a helpful tool for managers but work with them to make it useful.
Measure and protect
Often your content will come from another department with little opportunity for you to say no or make significant changes to the content. If you have limited means of measurement, then try using bitly links to help understand what information managers are engaging. They might not know it’s you, but the more relevant you can make your communication to managers, the more they’ll be receptive to future messages.
Don’t hide behind emails
We should all be floor walking, digitally or in person, getting to know their stakeholders so we don’t become just a name on an email. A useful way of building your connections and understanding the organisation better is to join departmental meetings. An useful way of understanding further the challenges faced by line managers is by joining HR Business Partners for some of their time when they have catch ups with managers across their business portfolio areas.
Keeping the conversation going
These are just some ideas to help get you on the right track but don’t forget, line managers are a key channel that you should be constantly thinking about and they are also an audience for you to keep engaged. Longer term, work with your HR colleagues to shape communication training in management development programmes and keep speaking with managers to get their feedback.
If you want to read more about line manager communications the following articles are worth reading and I’d love to hear your suggestions and ideas.
Alive With Ideas – Transforming line managers into ethical communicators
AllthingsIC – How to help managers communicate
Comms Rebel – Practical tips to support line managers with remote workers
Gatehouse – 10 tips for effective line manager communication
IOIC – How do you kit out line managers to be effective communicators?
Local Government Association – Communicating with your line managers