Corporate management, shift supervisor to CEO, carries the lion’s share of responsibility to communicate with the front line within an organization. So why do so many of them suck so bad?
Sometimes they don’t know how to communicate. In many companies the best worker gets the management promotion when there is an opening. The best worker is not likely the one with the best employee communication skills. Michael Scott on The Office was once the best salesman in the company. He’s lousy as a manager. I wouldn’t let him water my houseplants, much less manage my staff. He was good at one specific thing and was promoted to something requiring very different skills. A great salesman; a rotten manager.
Often management doesn’t know what to communicate. Large companies have senior leaders, lawyers, human resources, and communication departments wordsmith and sanitize messages before they are deemed safe for public consumption. The resulting message contains no real substance. Leaders remove anything that might be considered frightening or proprietary, lawyers remove anything that could become litigious, HR removes anything humane, and communication departments remove incorrect grammar. The end result is the written equivalent of a Cheeto: colorful, pretty, and totally non-nutritive. How can a manager deliver a key message when he is just as confused about the message as the people he is trying to lead?
Managers don’t see employee communication as their job. Some have the caveman view of the role: define what people need to do, make sure they do it, and hire/fire accordingly. Why don’t they view it as part of their job? Take a look at their goals. See anything in there about morale, communication, or employee perception feedback? Likely, no. When a company is downsizing or going through tough changes, some corporations mistakenly minimize employee contact and communication instead of increase it. Want to know where your manager is spending his time? Look at his goals. His goals aren’t about communicating with you.
And sometimes, the ramification of a message on the manager sends him into MEVILLE, that special place we all go when we are thinking of ourselves and not others. Being in management doesn’t make you immune from fear and distraction. Having been in merger and downsizing environments many times, I can tell you that it’s not just the front line concerned about the unknown. The first human response from management is never “Will my people be okay?” No, management goes behind closed doors to discuss the most important topic to them: “What will happen to me?”
Next up: How Can MGMT Comm Suck Less?
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I think a huge part of this issue is that the role of managers has changed as our workforce has cultivated more “ideas-based” jobs. The role of managers now (for the most part) is no longer to ensure I lay 30 bricks an hour. The new role of management is much more of a support position. This changes the whole communication dynamic because it’s no longer just “cascading messages down.” Managers need to work for their employees, seek answers, be truthful and transparent (always) and know that employees can smell bullsh*t 100 miles away.
The subject of this post is near and dear to my heart since I used to be a manager of communications.Since communication and employee engagement go hand-in-hand,I often worked with leaders who needed help with engaging their employees.Almost without fail, poor communication was at the heart of the issues.
I remember one leader in particular who had some serious employee engagement issues. While consulting with her she actually said to me, “My staff is immature. They just need to grow up. I told them about the changes, that’s all I should have to do.”
Wow. This was an area going through significant changes, including downsizing and there was lots of paralyzing fear. The leader made it worse by her poor attitude and communication.