If there is one issue that is constantly raised by clients and workshop attendees about employee communication it is what to do about senior managers that continue to block your attempts to communicate with employees in your organization.
There are many steps you can take to ensure that management understand the value of your employee communication strategies and why they should be supported. One of the biggest mistakes communicators make is assuming that senior management should surely know how to communicate face to face with their teams, after all that’s why they are in a management role. Wrong. Very few managers have formal training in communicating with their employees and running team meetings, maybe somewhere along the way they were taught how to communicate one on one, but to a large team, particularly communicating complex messages about change it is unlikely. So just handing them a power point presentation or a script is not going to work. And human nature being what it is, they will avoid delivering the message you have so carefully crafted or just mumble some general information about the team and the business without focussing on the real issue. When implementing a change communication strategy it is vital that all employees have face to face communication with some level of management. And this may be team members with team leaders, state managers with divisional heads, executive teams with their Company President or Chief Executive Officer. Regardless, all levels of management have to be part of the face to face change communication strategy for it to be effective.
Here are a few tips to consider when faced with this dilemma.
1. How can you make it easier for managers to communicate? Provide a sheet of key messages, meeting outline and allow them to talk to the key points using their own natural style.
2. Provide support – you can always volunteer someone from the communications team to be present at the meeting or have a communication champion to attend. Their role is to take notes on any questions that are raised that can’t be answered then and there and to “fill in the gaps” should the manager fail to stay on message.
3. Make sure that what you are asking them to communicate is clear, concise and not too long. A 15 minute meeting is much easier to get agreement to than a 1 hour meeting.
4. Provide each presenter with some tips on how to manage communicating and presenting to large groups – 5 key points – again don’t overwhelm them.
5. Finally you may wish to brief the management team at their regular meeting about what is required. It is highly unlikely that they will raise questions at the meeting so follow up with an email or phone call afterwards to ensure that they know what is required.
Most importantly, one of the key reasons management don’t communicate is because they don’t think that they are responsible for the change message, they think the communications team is. Clarifying the difference between everyone’s role and responsibility in communicating change is essential at the outset so there is clarity about what is involved. Face to face communication is uncomfortable for many people, just because someone is in a leadership position does not mean that they know what to do, they need coaching, they need simple clear messages, they need support and they need to understand how what they are requested to do fits into part of an overall change strategy.
I’m very keen to hear about the challenges you face with managers blocking the communication process and to share your solutions to this issue so I look forward to your comments.