employees talking

Managers are the frontline leaders in any organization. And like all leaders, they play a significant role:

  • Communicating where the organization is heading
  • Clarifying what employees need to do to help the organization succeed
  • Sharing progress and recognizing accomplishments 
  • Answering questions 
  • Fostering relationships to build community 

When managers are empowered to fulfill this vital communication role, employees are engaged and trust builds. So, it’s not unusual to see organizations invest in training to help them develop the skills needed to communicate effectively.

While training ticks a few boxes, managers need more. To maximize the impact of manager communication, they need a steady stream of information, resources and reminders that help them fulfill their communication responsibilities and understand what to share.

Follow these five tips to ensure managers have the content—and confidence—to communicate with employees:

1. Make it easy for managers to play their communication role.

Managers have a lot on their plates, so while you probably covered the importance of their communication role during training, it’s easy for them to forget what they learned six months or a year ago. Remind them of their importance to employee communication and share detailed expectations on how they should communicate. 

For instance, when providing key messages to managers, set clear expectations: "Share these key messages in a team meeting by the end of the month, and collect questions and feedback from employees.” Then, set a follow-up meeting with managers where they share the questions and feedback. As a bonus, use those questions to update FAQs and provide the document to managers.

2. Create personalized communication calendars.

Encourage managers to communicate with employees regularly by creating a monthly communication calendar. Be sure to include:

  • Key topics or content to share
  • An overview of key tactics
  • A detailed calendar of communication activities by month

By providing this tactical communication road map, you’ll ensure managers are aligned and sharing a unified message consistently across the organization.

Here’s an example of a communication calendar designed to help managers keep communication top of mind. 

3. Develop toolkits for large initiatives.

One of the main reasons managers struggle with communication—even after training—is a lack of knowledge about key initiatives. After all, you can’t explain something or answer questions if you don’t understand it.

Help managers gather and comprehend the details they need to communicate complex topics—such as new salary frameworks or business processes—by creating toolkits that are designed to: 

  • Build knowledge of the issue
  • Provide key points to share
  • Prepare them to answer questions

Toolkits can be large or small—just like initiatives. The most basic toolkits typically include key messages and talking points. Larger toolkits add to those resources with core presentation decks, best practice guidelines, glossaries, suggested tactics and timelines. 

As you build your toolkits, put yourself in the shoes of employees who managers will be communicating with. When you have employees’ communication needs and preferences in mind, you’ll build tools and resources that managers will find helpful.

With toolkits in hand, consider creating a dedicated page for managers on your intranet or even a Teams channel—a one-stop shop where managers can find the latest information and resources for communicating with employees. 

One word of caution: While toolkits can be invaluable communication resources, they can’t always stand alone. If the topic or change you need managers to communicate is complex, you will be best served by partnering your toolkit with interaction, such as a workshop.

4. Encourage informal communication.

Informal communication between managers and employees nurtures trust, strengthens relationships and builds a cohesive, motivated team. It also helps managers weave communication into their daily routine through: 

  • Hallway conversations
  • Quick phone calls/voicemails/texts
  • Social channels (e.g., Teams, Slack, Viva Engage)

Whether it’s a handwritten note to say, “Good job!” at the close of a project or an impromptu listening session, these quick, unscripted moments can have an outsized impact on employees.

Prepare managers to seize informal communication opportunities by sharing tips and tools. Here are a few examples:

  • A tip sheet or infographic that lists the top five best practices for informal communication
  • Conversation cards with icebreaker questions for pop-up meetings
  • “You’re Valued” cards (either hard copy or digital) for personal notes

When managers leverage informal communication, not only are they engaging their employees, they are also strengthening their relationships. And that helps build a more resilient team.

5. Prepare managers for difficult conversations.

Sometimes, the information you need managers to communicate can cause anxiety for employees, especially when it’s about big organizational change. Often, there’s more ambiguity than answers. 

Managers are the first people employees turn to when navigating uncertain times. And that can cause stress for managers who are also dealing with their own worries. You can prepare managers by developing a robust set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that will help them answer employees’ concerns (and maybe some of their own). 

Good FAQs include tough questions and use plain language—they sound like a real person.

To develop FAQs quickly: Invite key stakeholders to a one-hour brainstorming session. Ask participants to think like employees—brainstorming questions employees may ask. Then ask the group to consider how these questions impact employees’ roles and how to create answers that address one of employees’ top questions, “What does this mean to me?”

Remember to be as specific as possible. The more precise your questions
are and the more details you uncover, the easier it will be for managers to leverage this tool. Even if there isn’t a definitive answer to a question, include it. Just be transparent, and don’t be afraid to say an answer is still being worked out.

Keep in mind managers are pressed for time. To help them find useful details, categorize your questions so they’re easy to scan with bold keywords and bullet points.

While communication training is an essential part of any manager curriculum, managers may be hesitant to put their new skills into practice due to a lack of confidence, time, information or understanding. Use the five tips I shared to help managers keep their skills sharp so they’re empowered to play their communication role: answering questions and engaging employees every day.

Originally published on Medium
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