One of the best bosses I ever had was a great communicator. He would take the time to sit down with his team and share important organizational news. Looking back, he seemed to understand that we needed to better understand the strategic focus of the company, his expectations and some of the changes we would see in the coming months. To say the least, I pretty much always knew where I stood, whether the information was positive or difficult for him to share.
His approach laid a strong foundation for how to communicate with employees and, in fact, under his leadership I had the opportunity to establish a formal employee communications program for the organization. This included improving the way we used our communications channels such as the intranet and email. Our biggest success was empowering managers to share formal organizational news with their teams.
Our goal was to get employees to start looking at their managers as a source of information and ensure that managers were “in the know” so they could deliver those messages and answer the tough questions. We thought it was important to get people to talk to each other in order to forge stronger personal relationships.
When it came time to transition my career and become a counselor to clients who also sought to help their managers become better communicators—I looked to him for inspiration.
Here are the best practices for building internal communications infrastructures and helping direct managers and supervisors become better, more consistent communicators.
Understand Your Culture
Before you can begin to communicate, it’s important to understand your organization’s culture to comprehend its challenges and opportunities. An internal communications audit is a great way to find out what information matters most to your workforce as well as the best ways to deliver those messages.
When conducting an internal communications audit, I like to use a combination of electronic surveys like Survey Monkey as well as in-person discussions across locations, departments and levels to gain a more realistic understanding of what people want to hear. As I’ve audited organizations across various industries, these are the common themes of what employees want to know:
· The health of the organization (the good and the bad)
· What you are doing to ensure the health of the organization
· The organization’s goals
· How they can help you achieve success
By and large, employees have a strong interest in the success of your organization and are willing partners in helping it succeed. In return, they want honesty and regular updates that guide how they approach their daily activities on the job.
Build the Infrastructure
Today’s complex global organizations create a unique challenge for internal communicators because workforces are spread out across multiple geographies. Having a communications infrastructure in place—or the channels to communicate—is critical to getting the right messages in the hands of employees. Of course, this includes tools like an intranet or employee newsletter, but I’m really talking about something as simple as email lists: A list or lists of manager groups where you send information and materials to be cascaded down to employees. Once you have this in place, you have the foundation for creating opportunities for dialogue.
Provide the Necessary Tools
If you talk to most managers, you will find they would like to become better communicators with their teams but often don’t have the time or know-how. This is a fair argument given that managers already have busy jobs and that certain organizations don’t always have the discipline to develop key messages around each organizational initiative along with the materials to share with managers. This obstacle can be overcome by standardizing how organizational information is shared and by seeking the assistance of an agency partner for implementation if there is no designated internal communications function.
Standardization could include creating the following for each company initiative:
· A key messages template
· Materials such as a Q&A, handouts, flyers, emails and intranet content
· Instructions for managers on how to share the information with employees at existing team meetings
Cascading: Make it Top-of-Mind
Helping managers share information with employees, verbally and at regular team meetings, is one of the most important communications channels you have available within your organization. By and large, managers have a lot on their plates and may view communications as another added pressure. But if you offer them the right information in the right form with instructions on how to share it, their communications efforts can literally add just a few minutes to their existing team meetings.
Another option is to enlist the help of your organization’s human resources function, some of which may already offer training programs. We’ve seen success from giving managers training in employee communications and public speaking for added confidence.
Elizabeth Castro is a senior VP at O’Malley Hansen Communications (OHC) in Chicago (www.omalleyhansen.com).