5 Ways to Help Managers Become Better Communicators

  • Author: Greg Stewart

Senior leaders, HR, and internal communications teams all play a role in communicating critical messages to employees. Managers are especially critical because they provide the daily guidance employees need to perform. By helping managers become effective communicators, you can ensure employees are well-informed and motivated to do their best work.

Why Effective Manager Communication is Important

Of course, effective communication is critical for everyone in the workplace. It ensures employees understand their role and what they should do to reach their goals and career aspirations. Research has found that when managers communicate well, the organization can achieve:

  • A connected workplace: Our research revealed manager communication is one of the most critical drivers of employee connections. Employees ranked team meetings and manager one-on-ones highly among factors helping them feel more connected at work. Managers said communication was the number one skill that helped them facilitate employee connections on their team.
  • A positive culture: A Novak Leadership Institute study found that strong leadership communication fosters a respectful culture where employees experience higher engagement and well-being.
  • More secure employees: A Penn State study revealed that managers who regularly practice active listening reduce employee job insecurity and layoff anxiety. 

Five Ways to Improve Manager Communication Effectiveness

Despite the importance of manager communication at work, only 13% of employees surveyed by Gallup said their organization’s leaders communicated effectively. However, with the help of senior leaders, HR, and internal communications teams, you can position your organization’s managers to provide the frequent, transparent communication employees need. 

Here’s how to get started: 

1. Clarify communication expectations

Not all managers recognize their role in cultivating effective communication with their direct reports and between team members. They may also be unsure of what defines “effective communication” in your organization and culture. Therefore, it’s essential to clarify expectations around the frequency and type of employee communications. For example, you can encourage all managers to hold regular one-on-ones with employees and foster community through weekly team meetings and quarterly teambuilding activities.

2. Provide coaching and mentorship

An excellent way to help managers become effective communicators is by showing them how it looks day-to-day. Senior leaders can help by modeling positive communication behaviors, coaching, and mentoring managers. We worked with one of our clients to promote a series of talks where a senior leader discussed manager experiences and offered team leadership tips. Additionally, leaders can become more “hands-on” by periodically participating in their managers’ team meetings and holding skip-level discussions with employees. 

3. Offer formal training 

Learning to communicate well requires understanding what to say and how to say it according to the situation. Experiential training (learning by doing) is a great way to teach managers how to communicate with their manager, peers, and direct reports, as it provides opportunities to practice and master communication skills. Ongoing vs. one-off training sessions will help managers sharpen skills such as:

  • Active listening
  • Demonstrating empathy
  • Understanding different employee communication needs
  • Having tough conversations 
  • Creating an environment where employees feel comfortable speaking honestly

4. Deliver tools that support better communication

Managers don’t typically complete a training or coaching session with total communication mastery. They need ongoing support to reinforce what they’ve learned, such as detailed guidance for performance discussions, one-on-ones, and stay interviews

You can also supplement manager communications with a robust company intranet and internal communications campaigns aimed at helping managers build communication and other leadership competencies. After helping roll out a new initiative or company-wide announcement, we develop one-sheet summaries for clients with manager talking points, discussion questions, and follow-up ideas.

5. Follow up and recognize improvements

Surveys and other feedback mechanisms provide insight into employee experiences and manager interactions. For example, in employee engagement surveys, you can ask employees if they are receiving key messages and if manager discussions meet their communication needs. Managers should also ask for feedback in one-on-one and team meetings. Lastly, you can reinforce and encourage managers’ efforts by recognizing those who make significant improvements.

Turn Your Managers Into Master Communicators

Though effective communication may be a relatively simple concept, it’s not always easy to achieve. But when your organization helps managers understand their role and gives them the tools to succeed, they can grow in competency and meet the needs of the people they manage.

For additional ideas about supporting managers, check out our latest Research Spotlight, Employee Connections from the Manager’s Perspective. And follow us on LinkedIn for the latest updates.

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