Is line manager communication as scary as it’s been made out to be?

In September, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) sub-group, Inside published their research findings on effective line manager communication.

Becky Paul is an Inside committee member and last week, co-hosted an event to share more details about the research. We invited Becky to share her reflections from the event for the All Things IC blog.

Thanks Becky and over to you.

Photo of Becky Paul with the blog title 'Is line manager communication as scary as it’s been made out to be?'

Is line manager communication as scary as it’s been made out to be?

This is one of the questions I’ve been pondering since a discussion between 70 internal communication (IC), HR and change professionals about the recent CIPR Inside research report Effective line manager communications.

If you’ve not read it yet, the headlines from the report are:

  1. Senior leaders need to set the tone from the top, to enable effective line manager communications.
  2. Communications and HR professionals have high expectations of line managers, yet they do not provide adequate support.
  3. We need to listen to managers when they explain what they need – more streamlined communication and support to avoid overwhelm.

It was clear from some of the questions and comments in the first half of the event that people had the same assumptions or theories when the CIPR Inside team and I first embarked on the research. I’ll admit I had a (somewhat cynical) expectation that the survey and interviews might tell us that line managers think they’re already doing a great job at communicating.

People in IC roles think line managers need to pull their socks up. The research shows that there’s more to it than that.

There are some barriers currently making it difficult for line managers and IC people to ensure effective communication at a manager level in organisations. This was validated when people on the call shared their observations and learnings, which I’ll summarise in two categories.

Line managers need:

  • Access to information about the current organisational context, so they can be what I’ve been calling ‘translators, not cascaders’
  • Skills-based training in areas like emotional intelligence and communicating change.
  • Formal and social reinforcement that communication is an essential part of their jobs.
  • Support that is responsive to different needs, because managers have different levels of experience and responsibility.

Internal communicators need:

  • Leaders to set ‘improve line manager communication’ as an actual priority. This means deprioritising some other work so communications and HR people have the time and resource to make changes. This starts with leaders understanding that line manager communication is key to aligning teams to purpose and strategy, and to engaging employees. The time is now, while many leaders are still concerned about purpose and the concept of ‘quiet quitting’ (a phrase I really dislike, but that’s one for another time).
  • HR and leaders to understand what strategic communication looks like and that line manager communication is in IC teams’ gift to positively influence.

Encouragingly, the collective view on the call seemed to be that line manager communication needn’t be talked about like it’s an enormous, scary and unfixable problem.

It was also acknowledged that this is not a new conversation. Indeed, the research tells us most HR and IC teams are already working closely together to support line managers (four in five respondents to our survey reported this).

With this optimistic outlook in mind, the report and the recent discussion event present us with two opportunities:

  1. Share the report with colleagues / clients, to inform and back-up efforts to get the work prioritised.
  2. Share what is working (and what isn’t!) when it comes to improving line manager communication on Twitter, tagging @CIPRInside so we can share with our network.

Thank you Becky for sharing your reflections with us.  If you missed the event, it’s available on the CIPR YouTube channel for you to watch.

Post author: Dan Holden

First published on the All Things IC blog 28 October 2022.

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Post author: Dan Holden

First published on the All Things IC blog 28 October 2022.

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