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Supporting line manager: 5 Pearls of Wisdom to Inspire Better Comms

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Supporting line manager: 5 Pearls of Wisdom to Inspire Better Comms

As an Internal Communications Manager, a crucial part of your role is to ensure that your line managers are adequately coached and sufficiently developed in the fine art of communication delivery.

You need to ensure they are fully prepared to deliver comms in the most impactful and meaningful way. So to help them help you, we’ve put together five ways that you can support your line managers’ development as skilled communicators.

Before we get to our advisory points, consider this question first:

WHAT DOES COMMUNICATION LOOK LIKE TO YOU?

Is it: A)  The passing on of need-to-know information to those who need to know it?

Or: B)  A blend of clearly imparting relevant information in an engaging and timely way, whilst enabling those on the receiving end to communicate back?

For those who answered ‘yes’ to option B, please stand up.

We understand the often-tricky journey a communication can take through an organisation and how each person in its chain can be impacted. Every organisation is different, but to keep it simple, a communication in a typical corporate structure often starts with the CEOs and MDs before weaving its way to senior management, possibly via HR, Comms, Marketing or other routes. It’s at this point that it appears on the desks or in the inboxes of the front-line management: The Line Managers. These guys are the joints between the bones of the organisation that help it flex and move; the connectors and the ones whose names are up in lights when it comes to delivering comms effectively.

The importance of the line manager should always be remembered in line with this: whether it’s formal or informal communications, they are both the trusted and preferred source of the information being shared. 

It might just appear to the untrained ear that their words are a watered-down version of that overly complicated message from the top that people have heard vague rumblings about. But it should be so much more than that.While the message itself is important on an operational level, the people that are ultimately on the receiving end of said communication are where the most thought and planning of delivery needs to be concentrated.

The role of Line Manager has been identified as mission critical. They hold the power of effectively executing the comms delivery and managing its impact. They can make the difference between truly engaged or disenfranchised employees. They are the representative of whatever the communication is. In short, they are a lot of things in this process.

So how do they effectively communicate?

Without formal training or the necessary comms skills, this can be a challenging task, especially when some communications frequently require more delicate handling than others. In their recent State of the Sector report, Gatehouse revealed that nearly 60% of respondents quoted line manager communication skills as being a significant barrier to success – that’s a concerning statistic. It’s having a significant impact on organisations reaching their goals and is slowing crucial comms to a destructive standstill. This recent post from Newsweaver describes how Richard Donovan, Head of Internal Communications at Experian UK&I has developed a strategy to address this issue – by creating dedicated monthly comms packs to engage line managers. These packs are helping Experian’s line managers to feel informed and know what to speak about.

We think the following 5 suggestions are some of the most crucial elements in supporting such material and helping to develop a line managers’ people skills, communication planning and execution of such information. By gently imparting this knowledge, you’ll be assisting them with all future, successful comms deliveries.

1. Be the Three Cs

That’s Clear, Consistent and Continuous.

There’s a story to be told, but no one wants a complex plot line so keep the narrative on point and relevant. Using a clear agenda or a planning toolkit may be helpful as these are a great way of keeping the messaging on track.

Consistency will help drive mutual engagement between you and your team, as being accurate, informed and the ‘go-to’ person for any possible concerns will be highly reassuring.

Continuity will also be crucial. It’s vital that channels of communication remain open and unbroken between you and your team; if you say you’ll provide more information if / when you have it, ensure you make the time to do it. Everyone likes being kept in the loop.

2. Be a two-way street

‘Two-way communications’ isn’t just an on-trend buzz phrase; it’s what internal communications is all about. The flow of communications is a relationship – not a dictatorship – between you and your team. When you’re planning a communication delivery, make sure time is factored in; you don’t know the frequency or type of questions you may be asked and answering them is not a rush job or box-ticking exercise. Also encourage discussion on the subject matter. Being a ‘people person’ isn’t a job specification buzz phrase either; your team trusts and respects you. Encouraging them to bring their thoughts to the table will help build their confidence in you and increase their allegiance too. Genuinely listen to people.

3. I (not necessarily) before E

I is for Integrity. It’s tricky to put into words, but if you have it, people will see and hear it. As far as integrity goes, faking it until you make it isn’t an option – if you’re honest and believe in what you’re communicating it will be absolutely apparent.

E is for Engagement. It links back to being part of the loop; your integrity and the trust people have in you. By establishing and encouraging involvement, your team may still question the communication, but they won’t be questioning you.

4. Don’t cut the TAPE

As in Treat All People Equally. It’s a basic human right to have an opinion and internal communications can drive and divide these. And that’s a positive thing. If your people are confident in speaking up, they are confident in you and your ability to listen to what they are saying. Fairness is key in open forums; issues may not be solved, but having an ear that hears can sometimes be just as important.

5. Be a good translator

Messages don’t always come prepared in neatly packaged boxes, ready to simply pick up and pass on, so translate information into something relevant for your team. Remember that communication isn’t about repeating ready-made facts or company propaganda that may be lacking in relevance or local context. You should acknowledge the need to interpret the language and the key points into something you know your team will be able to understand and digest. Ultimately, leave them crystal clear about what they are expected to know, feel and do.

As we said, these are just a few of the supporting nuggets for you to impart.

Communication activities can be somewhat complex and messages will struggle to be shared properly if line managers are insufficiently trained and coached. As the IC Manager, you’ll need to ensure time and effort is spent in this area as it’s your responsibility to give line managers the tools and materials they need to communicate effectively. They need to be properly briefed, know what is expected of them, remember to utilise their local knowledge and know that you’re listening to their feedback.

In building a supportive and encouraging relationship with your line managers – and assisting with developing their comms skills and capabilities – you’ll be able to harness their ever increasing power and see them becoming the best they can be at comms deliveries.

If you think you could use a friendly, guiding hand, you can always speak to us here at Alive. We’re available to help you navigate your communications journey from start to finish so get in touch if you need us – we’re more than happy to chat about the support we can offer.

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