Monthly Archives: March 2010

Dethroning the Cult–Liberating the Manager–Turbocharging Internal Communication

Mike Klein – CommScrum Brussels

One of the most pernicious myths that are taken as articles of faith in the internal communications game is “employees prefer face-to-face communication with their line managers.”   Aside from the fact that credible research, such as recent work by Angela Sinickas (one of the smartest people in the industry), indicates that this maxim is just plain wrong, with employees showing preference for online or print communications, particularly when the content is informational and lacks much ambiguity.

According to Sinickas, 85 percent of studied employees preferred publications or electronic sources as primary communication channels, and they preferred publications or electronic sources on 9 of 17 topic areas.

To be sure–there are areas where line managers can add value to internal communication–such as providing context (and employees often hope) reassurance about issues where the core messages are ambiguous, and in supporting communication where team members lack ongoing access to electronic channels.  At the same time, reliance on managers as primary communication channels–and on the cascades they often employ–often acts as a brake rather than an enabler of effective organisational communication.

Nevertheless, and despite the research, the cult of the manager as primary communicator is alive and well.  Its persistence represents an obstacle to further exploitation of online delivery–and particularly to the spread of social media and the embrace of informal and lateral networks as drivers of more rapid, powerful and interactive communication.  It also represents a misuse of the real value of the manager–as a mutually trusted if time-pressurised resource capable of handling big issues while leaving basic information-sharing to more efficient channels.

The time has come to dethrone the cult of line-manager as an all-purpose broadcast channel, liberating managers to manage, and setting the stage for a turbocharging of internal communication.

Kevin Keohane – CommScrum Stockholm (via London)

We live in a world where sound bytes and the “voice of the pragmatist” combines with our seemingly inherent attraction to the “debunking Maverick” who bravely faces off against conventional wisdom to get attention (I see him shaving in the mirror some mornings).

As such, of course there is a new trend debunking the “manager-led communication” brigade.  So now we have some “Hey it isn’t all about the manager” momentum building.

Well, no shit, Sherlock.

Sometimes the channel and nature of the question determines the nature of the response (but let’s save that debate for my upcoming frontal assault on the cousins of the “Manager Cult” …  the “Measurement Mad”).

To me, the answer is: “It depends”.  Manager-led communication is one of the tools in the arsenal.  It is used in certain circumstances with certain organisations to solve certain problems at certain times.  While we should never abdicate communication to “non-professional” communicators and simply hand the keys over, in my experience sometimes getting the “professional communicators” the hell out of the way is the best thing you can possibly do to inspire authentic, credible, meaningful dialogue about important issues such as engaging people in vision, values, sustainability efforts or branding from the inside out.

Dan Gray – Commscrum London

Is the exalted status of the line manager as the sine qua non of the comms mix overstated? Almost certainly.

But I wonder whether you’re being a smidgen heavy-handed – in tone, if not in content – by relegating them to mere ‘contextualisers’ of information.

Since, “It depends,” is the favourite stock answer of all MBAs, it won’t surprise you to learn that I’m in total agreement with Kevin on this one. He’s far too modest to plug his excellent book, The Talent Journey, but I think he’s spot on when he writes:

Don’t select a channel or an approach because you can, or because it exists. Select it because it is the approach that your audience trusts, uses and resonates with.

Just as it’s overstating the case to say that face-to-face communications via line management is always the best way to communicate with employees, it would be wrong to suggest that it never is as well.

There are certain situations – particularly those requiring significant behavioural change – where the line manager’s role would seem to be critical as the person most likely to be able to connect organisational and individual goals and address the all-important WIIFM? factor.

To my mind, the issue lies less with whether or not line management deserves to be regarded as a/the critical channel in employee communications than it does with how we equip them to communicate when we do use them – avoiding the terrible ‘cascades’ that you rightly criticise and making much more effective use of their audience insight.

Believers and non-believers in the cult of the line manager run the risk of making the same mistake, by viewing them as a homogenous group for disseminating to the masses what has already been decided by the few. Instead, we should be evaluating on a case-by-case basis how some of the good ones might add value to the process of strategy formulation.

Lindsay Uittenbogaard- Commscrum The Hague

Are they or aren’t they?  It depends / maybe?   The angle in this blog on the relevance of Line Managers to communication has the wrong starting point in my mind. 

Line Managers are in one way or another,  ‘leaders’ of people with whom we are communicating – as well as being participants themselves.   Keeping the Line Manager out of the loop is like sending out a book without a cover.  

1) If your Line Managers don’t at least know what’s coming – your whole leadership team looks disconnected, which undermines the credibility of your leadership communications. 

2) If your Line Managers don’t get the chance to input in advance – where possible – your messages may be off track / and they themselves will be less involved. 

3) They are people, they have mouths and ears, they do talk and listen.      They have deeper relationships in the business than leaders or communicators do.

4) 60 percent of workers who are kept in the dark by their bosses plan to leave within the next two years (source: CHAPR research report linked via

Line Managers will inevitably do what they are motivated to do with the messages and feedback they are in the middle of.  Let’s not think of them as channels but as precipitators.  If they are any good at their jobs, they will add value to the business communication process and the meaningfulness of the content within it.  Yes, it is a myth that “employees prefer face-to-face communication with their line managers” – but we don’t need to liberate them so that we can turbo charge our communication, we need to turbocharge them in the communication process.