How to Support Your Line Managers: 3 Tips to Improve Manager Communication

I’m an advocate for direct communication and ensuring organizations have the ability to target content. But there is still a place and time for cascading information to leaders and managers first. Perhaps the clearest example is in crisis situations. You want leaders and managers to be able to support the communication and answer employee questions. Many organizations take for granted that managers know how to communicate effectively. But then they are frustrated when manager communication is unsuccessful.

According to Gatehouse’s 2020 State of the Sector report, lack of line manager communication skills is one of the top challenges facing communicators. Often managers are promoted because they are the best at performing a specific task—not because they have great people or communication skills. This inability to communicate can have very serious repercussions for your organization. IC acknowledging this skills gap is not enough. We need to contribute to a solution.

Here are three tips for identifying the gaps and building skills to support line managers in communicating with employees.

Review Current Programs

Review line manager training and onboarding programs with HR and ops to see what (if any) communications curriculum you currently have. It is possible that training already exists but isn’t being reinforced. It’s also possible that the training hasn’t been updated to account for different situations (such as crisis) or the changing expectations of new generations entering the workforce. Either way, it’s best not to assume things are completely broken, but to review what is available today and have the teams responsible for curriculum contribute to the solution.

Ask for Feedback

Ask line managers for their feedback on what you’re asking them to communicate. Do this in the form of surveys, focus groups, and observations. Part of the challenge managers have in conveying important information may be in how we present the messages to them. Have we provided appropriate talking points? Did we clearly state expectations for when and how messages should shared with employees? Maybe the skills are there but the resources are not. Observations can be particularly powerful in understanding what managers need from communicators to be successful. Sit in on an all-team meeting or area leadership meeting to see how information is dispersed. What are managers referencing when sharing information? What’s the tone? Are they able to answer employee questions with confidence?

Follow the Data

Look at the data and follow the KPIs. Which managers and/or areas of the business are high performing? What are they doing better or differently from teams that struggle to achieve KPIs? We know that business outcomes often have a direct correlation to effective communication. Chances are you’ll find great communication skills when you find managers who are achieving goals consistently. Learn from them and have them help create new tools and resources that will allow others to achieve the same success. An added benefit of following this tip: peer-to-peer learning is very successful with line managers who are sometimes skeptical of things coming from “corporate.” 

Improve Manager Communication

We can’t just wait for others to solve this problem. We need managers to be great receivers and providers of communications. Since we are experts in communication, we need to work with other business owners to ensure training and support is provided. We also need to advocate that communication skills should be taken into consideration as part of the hiring and promotion process. If we work cross-functionally, we can finally take the lack of line manager communication skills off our challenge list.

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