How to Empower your Middle Managers to be Effective Internal Communicators
Middle managers, despite being the butt of many a Dilbert-style joke, are organisational linchpins. Their role comes with its own unique set of challenges, requiring a specific mix of leadership skills, knowledge and of course being effective communicators.
Hardwired into the various hierarchies of an organisation, middle managers have a responsibility to motivate and support their teams, whilst simultaneously reporting into senior leaders in the organisation to ensure performance and productivity levels are achieved.
Given their unique position within organisations, middle managers are arguably one of the most squeezed, yet crucial stakeholders when it comes to influencing and delivering an effective Internal Communication strategy.
So how exactly do you empower your middle managers to be effective internal communicators?
Internal Communications responsibilities
Establish clear lines of communication and set expectations. This matters because if there is even a shadow of ambiguity around internal company messages then they risk being misinterpreted and misunderstood. What is intended as a positive message can be interpreted as a negative message depending on how it impacts the situation of the recipient.
Middle managers have the responsibility of delivering good, bad and ugly company messages - as well as gathering feedback on how those messages are received.
This is hard enough in organisations that have simple internal structures, but it gets harder and harder as the internal organisational structure becomes more departmental and spread over different working locations.
Employees spread over multiple sites or working shifts may not regularly (if at all) come into contact with the intranet, newsletters and other official channels of Internal Communications - instead they get their updates from ‘the corporate grapevine’.
The key to tackling this challenge is to understand how the information is cascaded to middle managers and discover whether, once received, they know what to do with that information?
One core way to understand what information needs to be cascaded, and to whom can be established is by creating a Internal Communications framework - an internally oriented, visual sketch of activities that make up the overall strategy of an organisation, or department. It serves as the basis for internal messages, where all priorities and initiatives are organised in strategic pillars that climb towards a goal or high-level goal.
This helps middle managers to determine their role for various types of communications within organisations, helping to remove the ambiguity.
Four top tips for delivering a successful Internal Communication strategy
1. Give middle management ownership of how messages are delivered
Providing middle management with the freedom to decide how company news is delivered to their teams will empower them to choose the correct channels that resonate with their teams.
As long as the message remains consistent, middle management are knowledgeable enough to clearly explain what needs to be done, why and how it will impact upon the objectives.
2. Provide middle management the right tools to communicate effectively
Communication toolkits, if constructed and delivered in the right way, contain exactly what the middle manager needs to help them deliver consistent messages, in-line with the organisation's objectives and values, in a way which will resonate with their staff. After all, middle managers know their team the best.
If you’re going to create a tool kit to support your middle management, make sure it consists of these core elements:
- A planning guide: this should provide the manager with tips to formulate their message in a clear and concise way, by asking those ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘who’, ‘how’ and ‘when’ questions.
- A writing guide: this should help the manager to write their message in the house style, as well as sharing best practice examples of how to write for an internal audience.
- A channel selection matrix: this should provide the manager with all the available channels for communications to their employees, including the pros and cons of each channel, as well as how to measure their success, to aid selection.
- A list of organisational key messages: toolkits which contain organisational key messages helps to ensure that essential messaging is delivered to employees, and it encourages managers to include them within their localised communications.
3. Provide training and professional development
Middle managers are experts in their chosen field, which doesn’t make them an excellent communicator by default. Consider running regular communications workshops, or perhaps opportunities to shadow others who communicate well.
Practical training will keep Internal Communications front of mind and help middle management understand how effective Internal Communications can make their jobs easier.
4. Help middle managers to demonstrate impact
Middle managers will be used to dealing with deliverables and outputs, so making sure that they can see the impact of Internal Communications is crucial in empowering them to engage in delivering it.
Depending on how you are measuring Internal Communications, this can range from snap polls or pulse surveys which measure specific themes, absenteeism, staff engagement with corporate news (using metrics pulled from platforms such as the intranet), or questions asked in staff forums. Middle managers have daily interactions with their teams and should be able to see first hand the difference in the morale of their teams.
Middle management hold the keys to success
The importance middle management plays as internal communicators should be a top priority for business leaders, regardless of their size or complexity. They need the support, resources, training and most importantly, the autonomy to deliver their messages in their own way.
Senior leadership teams who fail to recognise this, do so at their peril.