When employees seek answers about critical issues such as pay, performance management and how initiatives affect them, who do they turn to? Their managers, of course.

Although managers are employees' most trusted source of information, not every manager is a natural communicator. That doesn't mean that training is the answer, however. Consider these three reasons managers don't fulfill their roles:

  • 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 three immediate steps:

  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 roles.
  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. So make communication essential to managers' success.
  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. To design sessions that give managers the confidence they need to present, try the following:
  • 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 percent of the time for questions and dialogue.
  • If the topic is important enough, consider creating tools to help managers share information. Managers aren't big fans of PowerPoint presentations, but they do like receiving a one-page summary of key messages. And they love FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions), documents that provide the questions employees are likely to ask, along with the answers managers need.

Set managers up for successful communication by being clear about what they need to do, providing knowledge, and holding them accountable.