How to get your communications ‘unstuck’ at management level

I think that in every business I have worked with one of the biggest challenges identified in internal communications is ‘management treacle’. The suggestion that communications filters beautifully through the organisation until getting mired at first line/ mid-management level and never again seeing the light of day (never mind reaching the coal face) is probably an over-used excuse to make up for poor quality communications at times. Never-the-less there is often truth in the cliché. So how do we tackle the treacle?

1. Think of your managers as internal communications’ customers first
It amazes me how often important communications about key business decisions, which sometimes have far-reaching personal circumstances are shared with employees and managers at the same time. Along with (if they are lucky) a manager’s briefing. Q & A or the like. Managers are expected to digest the information at the same time as employees and yet also be front and centre in delivering and supporting the key messages, answering employee questions and presenting a positive front. How tough is that? Communicating to managers first will help managers feel more valued and supported. Even better consult with managers on the proposed changes and communications approach and listen to their suggestions and ideas. Having a pro-active approach to communications with managers as a key customer (ie: not just when you need them to deliver bad news) will help you no end. Not to mention building goodwill in the management community for your work.

2. Help managers to help each other
Managers in your business will have different skill sets and experiences in developing and managing people to be their very best. You can maximise this experience by using simple tools which can enable knowledge sharing and discussion across your management community. Modern intranets/ digital toolsets will enable discussion forums or online teams to be created where managers can share and interact with each other in a ‘safe’ place.

3. Comms and engagement mentoring
Another way to help managers to skill up is to partner less experienced managers with more experienced ones (who display your desired values/ behaviours) and have high people engagement scores within their area of the business. This can be an informal programme but be clear with mentors what you are looking for from them in terms of best practice and when to refer people to internal comms/ HR/ People engagement for extra advice.

4. Practical listening skills
Often the biggest criticism laid by front-line employees at managers is a perceived inability to listen. Whether it be to ideas, to constructive criticism to new ways or working or suggestions to save money, many employees feel their voice is not heard at the manager level. Some respond by going up the hierarchy, others by developing apathy. Managers under pressure may not spend the time involving staff in decisions that affect them, encouraging and exploring ideas or enabling staff to prioritise and act on their own ideas. Straightforward simple processes which managers can have in the back pocket to engage their people in ideas or changes that affect them can go a huge way to improving engagement. We have a kit that we like to use. Ask us for a copy! Emma.alcock@ralc.co.uk

5. Time and permission!
So often leaders make decisions, bring IC on board to help shape and communicate those decisions and then consider the work done, expecting the whole organisation to realign in a matter of days. Sometimes managers are not even sure what they are ‘allowed’ to share. Getting managers involved, being clear on their communications role, giving them time with senior leadership, debating the issues together, seeking feedback and seeing managers as a tool to unlock strategic intent, rather than a necessary evil means giving your management community a lot of your time. It also means role modelling the behaviours you expect them to deliver with front-line employees and being the change not just saying it. Internal comms people have a role, alongside HR to push senior leadership here to recognise their role in generating management treacle and being the means to unblock it.

A final word
One thing I haven’t mentioned here that you might have expected me to discuss is Internal communication tools like weekly bulletins/huddles and the like. Of course, great communication tools can help and give structure and commitment to internal communication activities in your business. But a briefing template, no matter how pretty, can’t fix culture.

Emma Alcock is a Senior Consultant for RALC Consulting and specialises in Internal Communications, Employee Engagement and Intranet delivery. 

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