Insight article

How do you solve the problem of… middle manager comms?

Visions of an Alpine mountaintop with happy and care-free managers flinging their arms into the air as they twirl around with members of their teams are dispelled as reality hits….

It’s that thorny old issue of making middle managers better communicators. Or communicators at all.

Well, we’d all be very wealthy if we could solve that particular conundrum in one fell swoop wouldn’t we? But it is without doubt one of the most common question asked these days and one of the biggest headaches for those responsible for employee communications.

It’s not that there are some excellent communicators out there….confident, bright people who genuinely care about their team’s performance, understand the messages they need to get through to them and spend the time and effort ensuring that those messages get through.

But equally there are many, many managers who just can’t, don’t or won’t do it. Quite often it’s because those very people find it hard to understand the strategy of the organisation themselves, and even if they do, how it relates to their particular function or team. They’re too busy to spend yet more time conjuring up another eighty PowerPoint slides to add their perspective to a strategic message which is already burgeoning with complexity. Or they’re cynical about the strategy in the first place with no sense of alignment. Or their personal agenda has got in the way. Or they don’t see it as their responsibility. Or their leader hasn’t got the message through effectively him or herself. Or they aren’t confident about standing up in front of a group and presenting. Reason after reason…. but the effect of NOT communicating effectively at the coalface can be disastrous in terms of performance.

New research shows that one in three people at ground level are not consulted or asked for advice by their manager, as if asking for advice amongst lower ranking employees is just not the done thing. Well consulting is one thing, but even the most basic strategic communication has to be a top priority.

The truth is that there’s no silver bullet. We are acutely aware of this issue as we help leaders drive strategic messages through the organisation, and have come up with a raft of approaches to make it as easy as possible as the messages hit the strata between leaders and employees at ground level, from including a cross-section of would-be ambassadors in leadership meetings, to ‘discovering’ the messages collectively (and so avoid a situation where a manager has to ‘present’ the strategy), to presentation coaching and on-line tutorials….the list goes on. But the key to all of this is to keep it simple. Simplify the top line Story so that managers aren’t afraid of presenting it, and give them simple but clear and useful tools to help them do it. Get them to add their personal stories as part of that cascade so they can take ownership of it, and allow flexibility and fluidity to enable them to interpret the Story and build an action plan in a way that’s relevant to their teams.

So back to that mountaintop. The good news is that the mountain can be climbed, streams forded and rainbows followed. And solving the middle management comms issue story is one that we tell quite well here at Percy St…

Nailia Tasseel