I've been reading the very helpful (but cranky) book, 30 Reasons Employees Hate Their Managers, by Bruce L. Katcher with Adam Snyder. And I'm struck by how many reasons are related to poor communication. For example, employees hate it when:

  • They are afraid to speak up.
  • Managers don't listen to them.
  • They don't trust the information they receive from managers
  • Managers don't tell employees what they need to know to do their work.
  • There are too many darn meetings.

As your company grows, you rely on managers to share information. But most managers need help to be successful.

While it's true that managers are employees' most trusted source of information, it's also true that many managers are not natural communicators. But before you invest in extensive skills training, consider these three reasons why managers don't fulfill their role:

  • Expectations. Don't know that communication is a key part of their job.
  • Knowledge. Don't understand the topic well enough to present it, interpret it or answer questions about it.
  • Accountability. Aren't held responsible (through performance management or other metrics) for communicating.

What can you do to address these issues? Here are 5 things to do:

1. Make sure you clearly articulate communication roles. Be specific about what and how you (as senior leader) communicate--and what you expect managers to share. Ask your HR manager to include communication into managers' job descriptions so the expectation is baked into their role.

2. Build accountability into performance management and other methods to evaluate managers. You know the problem: Unless communication is part of the formula to give managers raises or bonuses, it won't be a priority. Put managers' money where their mouth is.

3. Invest time in making sure managers understand content. Especially if the topic is complex, a 20-minute presentation is not enough to make managers comfortable. Design sessions to give managers the confidence they need to present:

When planning to brief managers, allocate at least 90 minutes for the meeting.

If possible, get everyone together face to face. If your office is too distracting, consider taking managers off site. Of course you'll present content, but presentations should be the shortest part of the meeting. Allow at least 50% of the time for questions and dialogue.

4.  Create tools to help managers share information. You might consider:

  • A very short PowerPoint presentation.Managers won't give a detailed presentation, but they will use a short (5-8 slides) PPT to share highlights at staff meetings and during one-on-one discussions.
  • A one-page guide that makes it easy for managers to have everything they need. This guide that contains all essential information: what is changing, when, why and how. 
  • FAQs. Compile Frequently Asked Questions in a document that provides the questions employees are likely to ask, along with the answers managers need. The key is to include the toughest questions so managers are ready any time team members approach them with a question.

5. Develop a microsite 
It's the perfect place to house resources and build skills. Make it social by including discussion threads, so colleagues can share challenges and solutions. Provide access to on-demand learning that can be accessed quickly when faced with a challenge.

Once you start providing managers with support, ask for feedback to determine which methods have the greatest impact.