Why you need to improve line manager communication

Lack of line manager communication skills (52%) is the single most pressing challenge facing IC pros today.

Communicators’ lack of planning threatens to keep IC as a tactical rather than strategic partner.

It strikes me these go hand-in-hand.

According to the ninth annual State of the Sector report, which was released by Gatehouse today, lack of line manager comms skills is the biggest barrier to internal communication success.

Sound familiar?

This is highly unsurprising. I see this frequently, particularly when auditing companies and determining how information flow happens.

I mentioned them in an article only the other day – I think one of the biggest reasons for this barrier is organisations expect line managers to communicate effectively, but don’t take time to outline what that means or offer training.

I’m currently developing a bespoke Masterclass for a client to help them change this situation in their organisation.

I’ll blog separately on this topic soon if you’d like to read more. I could also highlight some of the evidence and theory around the importance of line manager comms – do let me know if that would be helpful.

The State of the Sector survey results are not all doom and gloom, but there’s clearly work to be done. There’s a lot of great content and it’s useful if you’re looking to benchmark.

It was created by Gatehouse Group in partnership with the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC), Danish agency Open and the Ignite Alliance.

You can see an overview via the infographic below:

How companies communicate with senior leaders

Considering the strategic role that senior leaders and line managers play in connecting employees to organisational purpose, internal communicators need a distinct engagement plan for them.

Do you do this?

The survey showed the more visible they are, the less proficient they are as communicators! That’s a whole other blog post…

Barriers to success

Professional communicators cited many barriers to internal comms success:

The next two barriers listed by respondents were the lack of involvement in strategic decision making (44%) and lack of resource within the IC team (43%) – a surprising result considering that developing a business case for more IC resources was listed as a priority for just 11% of respondents in the next question.

More than a third (39%) also named hard-to-reach employees as a specific barrier to achieving their goals. Encouragingly, some barriers seem to have decreased over the past few years, thankfully: lack of support from senior leaders, lack of quality IC channels, lack of organisation within the IC function and lack of skills within the IC team have all received fewer responses this year.

Does that match with your experience?

What IC pros will be working on in 2017

Over two thirds of respondents (69%) said that their top priority would be to communicate organisational strategy, values and purpose.

At the other end of the scale, even fewer communicators – just 4% – list improving print channels as a priority for the next 12 months.

I find this information useful to help me plan the content of my blog posts. I write based on what people are searching for, plus conversations with clients and Masterclass attendees, and will make sure I include these topics throughout the year.

Talking of planning…

Lee Smith, Director at Gatehouse, said: “When asked how they planned and documented their approach to internal communication, respondents’ answers were remarkably consistent with last year’s results, suggesting that little progress has been made with these aspects of IC good practice. Indeed, a staggering one fifth of respondents admitted they don’t conduct any form of formal planning whatsoever!

Half of all respondents continue to have no overarching, written annual communication plan – suggesting that tactical planning remains a key challenge in our profession.

Lee adds: “More positively, 44% said they have a formal channel framework, and 38% publish regular activity reports:

“Only a third of respondents said they have a written value proposition for IC (35%) or a written strategy document covering a period beyond one year (33%). Fewer than 15% claimed to have developed audience personas or use another audience profiling tool – a slight decrease compared to last year!”

All in all, this paints a picture of a profession that prefers reactive to proactive, tactical to strategic and piecemeal to planned.

“On the downside, a disappointing 66% of practitioners believe that their organisation has a clear narrative that explains its vision and strategy – a somewhat worrying result considering that this is not only a top priority for most, but something we are uniquely well placed to facilitate.

“In line with last year, only around half (52%) said that there is a long-term strategy for internal communication – suggesting that although the IC function is evolving into a more proactive and value-adding function, there is still a long way to go to become a genuine strategic enabler.”

What about digital?

I found the digital answers interesting. They revealed comms digital channels are not found to be “quite as effective as face-to-face” and are the most frequently used channels inside organisations.

Lee adds: “Despite all the talk about Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) and mobile tools like apps, the four most frequently used digital channels remain central emails (96%), intranet (93%), e-newsletters (84%) and videos (81%).

Interestingly, they also ranked among the top 5 most effective channels, suggesting that the shift from ‘push communications’ to ‘pull communications’ has yet to happen for many!

Here’s what the stats say..

What’s your take on the results?

You can download them all online. There’s also a webinar taking place on 21 February that you’re welcome to join. Sign up via the Gatehouse Group website.

Well done Lee, Simon, all at Gatehouse and IoIC, this is useful information I know I’ll return to.

Join the conversation online by finding Gatehouse on Twitter @Gatehousegroup.

Thank you for stopping by,


Post author: Rachel Miller.

First published on the All Things IC blog 8 February 2017.

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  1. Jo Hooper says:

    Thanks Rachel, really interesting and I’ll be downloading the full report. I would definitely be interested to read more of your thoughts on engagement plans with managers to build their communications capacity.

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