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Direct Managers are the Best Way to Reach Employees

Not only are communications sent via direct managers likely to reach a lot of the workforce, employees say they find this an effective method of getting a message across

Employees have to speak to more people and deal with more information from more sources than they ever have in the past. This is one of the handful of shifts that are fundamentally changing big business (digitization being another), and which certainly makes it more difficult for communications teams to get important messages across to employees, and to encourage the right action and decisions.

The answer is to prioritize. As this series of posts shows (see the list to the right), comms teams are far better off concentrating their time and money on a few channels than blasting information at employees from all angles and hoping the message sticks.

The most important of these channels is to brief employees’ direct managers. Out of 12 major channels available to comms teams – including email, leadership briefings, internal social media, and digital signage – direct managers are the most effective way to reach employees, according to CEB data from a survey of over 1000 employees.

The “reach” of the channel – the proportion of employees that will absorb the message from a given channel – is unsurprisingly above average (everyone has a manager), but what might be a little more surprising is that employees rate their direct manager as an above-average method of communication.

Many employees clearly think their managers are better communicators than professional comms teams do, which is probably explained by what comms teams understand as “good” communication, and a more informed view of the things that comms can achieve when done right.

Help Managers Help the Company

Another finding in the data that explains why employees rate their managers more than professional communicators might is that employee ratings of their managers’ communication effectiveness decline with lower level managers. The further you go down in a company, the more managers there are – and these managers are more likely to rely on general instructions or self-help tools from Communications, since the function can’t provide them with the same amount of coaching they can to more senior managers.

This means that one of the most effective things Comms can do is to give managers useful tools. One useful approach comes from a global agribusiness in CEB’s network of comms teams.

The comms team at this company designed a process to help managers run a team dialogue with the purpose of creating a team commitment to behavior change. The key is that it helps managers break down high-level ideas (such as a corporate strategic goal) into concrete descriptions of what the desired behaviors for hitting that goal do and do not look like, and then helps managers facilitate a discussion around what their team will start, stop, and keep doing.

This is incredibly helpful for running a variety of engaging and productive group discussions, whether a team is embarking on a new strategy or product, to embed values into the organization, or to make any kind of process improvement.


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