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Supporting line managers: cascade confidence, not communications

Here’s something we could all probably admit to: from time to time we like to fit in. Whether it’s professionally, socially or with that must-have outfit, finding something to be a good fit can be a vital component of getting on and getting ahead. 

So what happens when something you thought was a good fit, frankly, isn’t? An uneasy flashback to that hour of sports at school comes back to haunt you… Scattered snapshots of remembering you’d left your PE kit in the hallway join that sinking feeling of knowing you’ll be at the spare kit cupboard, rummaging through oversized shorts, sweaty shirts and, heaven forbid, stinky shoes in a bid to join your classmates on a chilly, cross-country run.

You stand out like a sore thumb or at least that’s how you feel which can be more than a little off-putting.

And there’s nowhere to hide. 

Feeling self-conscious isn’t nice; you might be a million miles away from that spares cupboard by now, but it’s not a sensation you ever forget. 

The same thing applies to line managers in organisations who have the responsibility of cascading messages. Comms are often created in a cascadable form to make life ‘easier’, but in reality they become regurgitated words that lack any form of sentiment or spirit.

The ability to relay messages is a skill 

Like that PE lesson, nobody is born to run - except maybe Bruce Springsteen - and nobody is born equipped with the skills of a first-rate communicator either. Ideally, line managers should be the organisation’s chief communicators. 

But are they? 

Their position dictates that not only should they be comfortable with this part of their role, they should be motivated and passionate to boot.

According to the recent State of the Sector report from Gatehouse, 52% of respondents felt that lack of line manager communication skills is the single most pressing challenge facing IC pros today. Clearly a fact that needs to be addressed.

Imagine going for a coffee, only to discover at the till that it’s a pound more than yesterday, with no price changes visible. The result? Frustration and disappointment. A poor internal comms experience in an organisation can be both of these things; it’s happened to us and no doubt it’s happened to you too.

With a lack of understanding, an already heavy workload and an expectation to share ready-made messages that don’t necessarily ‘fit’, it’s no surprise that line managers may be left feeling like an awkward kid in someone else’s running shoes.

So how can we make those messages a more comfortable fit? 

Fortunately, there are some things that we as communicators can do. 

Upgrade skills

Strengthening manager's communication skills helps to create confident, bright and inspiring communicators.
Everything is a learning curve, and achieving the skills to share communications effectively takes time and commitment as well as some incentive, of course. Learning new skills that work towards developing great communicators is priceless in terms of ensuring a positive experience for employees, as well as making managers much more comfortable in their own role and enhancing their personal and professional development. 

There’s a raft of resources out there, including blogs, courses, online tutorials, conferences, books, white papers, etc, it’s never been easier to develop and strengthen our skills. So encourage managers to explore the options available.

Call on your coaching abilities

Surely if we’re asking others to develop the skills required to share messages then we also need to support them along the way. It’s therefore vital that we continue to hone our own coaching skills and continually and gently use those skills to develop others. After all, we’re professional communicators and we’ve a lot of knowledge and experience to offer. 

With support and understanding along with the gathering and sharing of feedback, a line manager’s confidence and comfort will strengthen ten-fold.

Promote storytelling

Inspire confidence by encouraging line managers to put their own stamp on each communication. Sharing personal stories, be they based on significant change, personal development or overcoming particularly arduous challenges can be a powerful and emotive way to bring messages to life. 

They’ve a lifetime of interesting experiences – inspire them to share. If they need a little guidance, suggest a storytelling structure to get them started. 

Encourage ownership

Encourage line managers to take ownership of the communications you’re asking them to cascade. Recognise that this will take time to establish; it isn’t something that happens overnight so, where possible, encourage them to take the time to become familiar with the messages they’re sharing, ask questions, discuss and consider, putting them in control.

Ease up on perfection, welcome the wonky

Encourage senior leaders to embrace wonky comms.
Don’t demand perfection, it’s overrated anyway. Instead, strive for personality and embrace the wonder of wonky comms. In this article by Rachel Miller of All Things IC, we need to ‘…actively encourage our workforce to create content, shoot their own videos, share photographs, join discussions, have their say… the list is endless. It also requires senior leaders to embrace ‘wonkiness’ too. 

No longer should they rely on the comms team to craft their thoughts, but we need to ensure there are opportunities for them to be, well, human.’ 

Take the weight off them

There are many ways to spread ‘the word’ across an organisation – videos from senior leaders, social tools and much more. Let your managers know that these things are there to help and what their role is in having direct conversations with their teams.  

Taking on the challenge of learning new skills, being confident with what is required in a role and comfortable in doing it are big asks of anyone, no matter if they’re a line manager or not. As an IC professional, your ability to share your skills and empower  line managers are two of the most important things you can do, both for them and for the organisation as a whole. Becoming and being a great communicator is something you had to learn; now it’s time to pass the skills baton on.

The goal should be to share skills and instill confidence not recite readymade comms. 

Let’s create organisations that are full of great communicators, not message regurgitators

Get in touch if you’d like a little guidance. Sharing skills and best practice are just two things that we love to help with, after all, we don’t like spare kit cupboards any more than you do.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

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