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Management Talk


Discussions Gone are the days when managers managed and internal communications dealt with getting their message across. Now managers are expected to be as expert in the art of communicating as they are at managing a budget - no easy task given the proliferation of communication technologies. Mark Shanahan looks at the issues.

In the next few weeks I’ll be standing up twice in front of paying audiences to instruct them in the black arts of organisational communication. Over the course of a day they’ll be looking at how to engage audiences by using communication to drive business performance. I’ve no doubt both days will be very interactive and that the groups I’m working with will ensure I learn a lot and have great fun.......and I hope the same can be said for them.

The problem is that my training groups will be made up of communication practitioners. While there’s always new stuff to learn and new areas to explore, to a large degree I’ll be preaching to the converted. In these days of greater communication democratization and shrinking in-house comms teams, surely the people who should be working with me are line managers. Why? Because they’re the people being asked more and more to take on the front-line communication role – especially when the communication concerned is inside organisations.

There are many great communication courses out there - both in-house and provided externally - covering both the strategic side of communication and the nuts and bolts of making it happen, yet places are invariably filled by professional communicators.

Leaders may get courses in PowerPoint and presentation skills, yet remain ill-equipped to take on the challenges, particularly in internal communication, that our new organisational communication frameworks and social media opportunities offer.

The world of internal communication is changing. Gone are the days when the IC team was the voice of the organisation and filter of all that was said to employees. First with the advent of email and intranets, and latterly with Web 2.0 with its podcasts, wikis, blogs vlogs RSS and the rest, the tools IC practitioners use have been opened up to a far wider user group as line managers across organisations grab the opportunity to cut out the corporate filter and communicate directly.

Equally, audiences have changed. The average Jo employee is also now likely to be a consumer, shareholder, and even commentator on their organisation.

To meet the changing landscape, IC practitioners are changing. Many will now work on issues-based communication where audiences may well be beyond as well as inside their organisations. The role has evolved too, moving from the traditional ‘packager of the message’ to facilitator, consultant and counsel helping the organisation to use communication to drive business success. Internal teams are leaner, so there’s less hands-on doing and more management of agencies and support for internal management to ‘do the do’ themselves.

Tough on managers
It all sounds great, but the expectation on line managers to deliver great communication has never been higher, while their ability to do so really hasn’t moved on much over the past decade. I still fairly regularly meet managers who spin the line: ‘I’m here to manage, not to communicate’.

It’s fine having a small number of communication professionals on hand to help – but too often the expectation from the line is that they’re in place to do everything short of voicing the words in whatever the communication needs to be.

Invariably that leads to bottlenecks and communication that isn’t as good as it should be. And if it’s not as good as it should be, the opportunity for engagement is lost.

The right training
So, as well as training our organisational communicators, we need to train their internal clients too. And train them in what’s important rather than simply how to deliver on-message.

My menu for manager communication training moves the assumption of importance from output – merely focusing on how to draw lovely PowerPoint diagrams – to outcome. Outcome means understanding the needs of your audience, and communicating with them in a way that helps them to understand what they can do in any given situation to move the organisation forward.

To be effective in the communication process, any manager with a responsibility to communicate around issues with an internal audience needs to understand:

  • The internal communication process

  • The objective of any communication

  • What success will look like

  • How it will be measured

  • How to capture learnings and use them in future communication activity

  • The engagement drivers in his/her organisation

  • How to create a compelling story

  • How to distil key messages

  • Channels and mechanisms that support business drivers – including when it’s right to use electronic and Web 2.0 tools and when it should all be about a great conversation

  • How to get the most out of communication channels

  • How the IC team can support the process.How it will help move the business strategy forward

Only then should managers be looking to develop their ‘craft’ skills in written and face to face communication.

We wouldn’t send managers into the business battle without training and development in financial, operational and people skills – yet too often ‘communication’ is still seen as a nice to have.

Yet in these days where everyone thinks they’re a communicator because they have access to e-mail and their own corporate blog, it has never been more important to back the tools with the necessary skills.

Mark Shanahan is an organisational communication consultant based in Buckinghamshire, England. He offers ‘open’ training through Communicators in Business –, and bespoke training for organisations via his own company, Leapfrog Corporate Communications Ltd. – he also blogs regularly about internal communication issues at


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