I’m excited to kick off my new blog with these best practices about communication that will hopefully be useful to anyone, but especially to middle managers. By “middle” manager, I mean a manager who has employees reporting to them, and who also reports up to a more senior leader in the organization. Since I know we’re all very busy, I’ll start with five, even though I could list about 100 (you’re welcome!). This particular topic – communication – can make or break a team, and it’s costing companies millions of dollars when done poorly (source). If you’re wondering how we can do a better job, here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Communicate proactively and often.
As a middle manager, it is your job to “translate” information from the company leadership to your direct reports, and to “translate” information from your direct reports back up to leadership. Some examples include: actively thinking about what information from a leadership meeting is relevant to share with your team (and making sure to do so), proactively sharing information about upcoming changes to the organization, and relaying any relevant concerns from your team to leadership.
2. Be as open as you can.
Obviously, there are some things that you can’t tell your employees, and they usually know and respect that (assuming that you have a trusting relationship). In those cases, they tend to know something is going on, so just reassure them that you will communicate when you can and that you have their best interest in mind. That said, sharing as much information as you are allowed to will help your employees trust you, feel empowered, and perform their job better by virtue of having access to more information.
3. Drive clarity for your team, always.
Whether you are a visionary type of manager or not, your team needs to know the “why.” Communicating the purpose behind tasks – and how those tasks and your employees’ roles fit into the bigger mission of the company – is not just something millennials want. Make sure to set clear expectations even when you think something is obvious, because others don’t think or communicate the way that we do. One way to drive clarity is with positive feedback. While it’s much harder to think about giving positive feedback than to give corrections, doing so helps reinforce that your employees are on the right path.
4. Give thought to where, when, and via what medium you communicate.
A good leader can flex his or her style to meet that of each direct report when possible to do so. Some employees may need more explanation, more in-person interaction, or more flexibility. Not all tasks can be flexible, but when you empower your employees by meeting them where they are, they will perform at their best.
5. Ensure each employee gets the same information.
Whether you have employees who work remotely or at a different office location from you, it’s critical to make sure they all have access to the same information. This involves counteracting the idea of “out of sight, out of mind.” Though it may be easier to yell across the cubicle wall, you will avoid a lot of unnecessary extra work to deflate rumors, catch people up, fix errors, and so on if you make sure all of your employees have the same information.
As a good friend and mentor of mine, Brandon Smith, often says: “In the absence of communication, people always assume the worst.” If you don’t want people to fill in the blanks between what you have and have not said with their own assumptions, make sure to use the principles outlined above.
I’m here to learn from you, too! Please comment with your thoughts and questions below.