CEC members ask us questions about improving internal communications on a daily basis. They want to know about communicating new strategy, cascading new company values, reducing e-mail volume, improving employee engagement, implementing a culture shift, etc. etc. etc. What’s interesting is that we don’t hear the question that is perhaps one of the most important of all – “How do we enhance our line manager dialogue?”
Employees need to talkwith someone who grasps both their world and the bigger picture. Senior leaders, communications, or anyone at the corporate center can never have the proximity, credibility, or understanding of employees that managers have. We’ve found that effective line manager communications is not only employees’ preferred source of communications, it’s also the most effective way to create a personal connection between employees’ day-to-day jobs and company goals.
So what’s the problem? Most managers are not natural communicators. They don’t understand dialogue’s importance and they don’t feel comfortable holding dialogue. More often than not, managers will forward on an e-mail or read talking points from a corporate memo and go back to their jobs thinking they have just effectively communicated with their employees. Is that effective? Absolutely not. Here are three ways you can improve internal communications by enhancing line manager dialogue:
It’s no surprise that managers face difficult conversations when changes occur in a company. With difficult conversations come difficult questions. With this uncertainty, managers are reluctant to hold dialogue because they know they won’t have all the answers. Nordea addressed this issue by creating “dialogue prep sessions” where managers work out concerns in a low pressure environment. With any major event, they bring their managers together and have them brainstorm questions that will likely field. More often than not, managers had not thought of all the potential questions that might be asked. They then practice handling these questions and communicating new information with each other making dialogue more approachable. Not only can managers practice answering difficult questions themselves, but they can learn different approaches by listening to their peers practice.
Telling managers, “you need to hold more dialogue sessions with your direct reports” wont’ get you anywhere. That’s too fluffy for the average manager. You need to teach managers the power of effective dialogue and a relatable, repeatable process they can apply to any situation. That’s how Shell approached dialogue training. They created a linear, step-by-step planning process that any manager can use to plan for dialogue and then provide a simple framework for managing discussions. In other words, they placed structure behind a seemingly unstructured activity.
Perhaps the coolest trick in this best practice is what Shell named the workshop. From a manager’s perspective, attending a “dialogue training workshop” might as well be a “Three hour waste of time workshop”. Shell purposely left “communications” or “dialogue” out of the title and named the workshop “Getting the Right Results” instead. That way, the session isn’t about the company, it isn’t about employees, it’s about becoming a more effective manager.
Don’t worry about creating a similar workshop, we have the facilitation guide right here.
This is a no-brainer. The module is less than 30 minutes and it’s by far the easiest way to scale dialogue training in your company.
We cannot stress the importance of dialogue enough. If line manager dialogue isn’t a priority for your company, make it one. If your senior leadership doesn’t agree, we’ll help you make the case. Company strategies often fail because of poor execution and that’s what dialogue is about. It’s not about sitting around a campfire, singing “Kumbya” and making everyone feel good. It’s about increasing employee performance and driving business results.
Here are a few other CEC Manager Dialogue Tools: