Published: 19 Jun 2015

Comms from the top: tips to get leaders and managers on board

The way in which your senior management team communicates with staff can have a significant impact on the organisation as a whole. Get it right and people will be more inclined to provide support in difficult times. Get it wrong, moral can dip and hard won trust can be lost.

A recent meeting of CharityComms' Internal Communications Group, supported by Agenda Consulting, was an opportunity for internal comms leaders from a wide range of not-for-profit organisations to talk about how to encourage and build comms capacity in leaders and managers.

For an internal comms team, establishing a relationship of trust with the chief exec and senior management is critical. In order to ensure key areas are communicated well, the comms team needs to be fully aware of the organisation's agenda. This relationship can take time to build and develop: personal styles and skills can often affect how easy it is to get leaders fully on board.

An interesting way in which to move comms further up the priority list and convince senior leaders of its importance is to introduce a regular staff survey. The resulting stats and feedback can go a long way towards making the comms point very clearly.

Agenda Consulting recently carried out research into the main factors that employees consider go into making their organisation a 'good place to work'. The data was sourced from 50 surveys (run by 50 separate organisations): a total of 9,100 UK employees. They found that 47% of those surveyed cited a trust in leadership, clear values and ethics, and open and honest communications as strong influencers in how they felt about their organisation.

Another survey, undertaken by a charity, discovered that staff didn't feel managers communicated well with them or understood what they did within the organisation. Management took this on board and subsequently organised a programme of team visits, which were documented and shared with the organisation via internal comms. Within two years, positive views of senior management increased by 18%.

Other examples of bridging gaps between levels of staff include breakfast clubs hosted by senior managers, road shows and working in the field alongside staff for a day every few months. Small things such as managers mingling informally and sharing work with staff makes a difference to the perception of leadership.

Listening to staff is very important, as is knowing how to pre-empt a communication being poorly received. A good solution is to set up and nurture a network of champions, each one in a different part of the organisation, to test out how messages might land before they are issued.

Ideas such as these can sometimes be held back by a particular company culture or, an intimidating CEO. Staff feel as though they just can’t approach, or make any changes. Some leaders can feel unconfident about their comms skills. Help with training, personal comms style and perhaps a ‘tone of voice’ document can all contribute to making them feel more at ease.

The Internal Communications Group came up with some helpful techniques:

  • Give each individual leader a choice as to preferred communication methods. They can then choose which they're most comfortable with and what suits their personality
  • Provide them with honest feedback as to their comms approach and provide media training or coaching to help hone their skills
  • Set up blogs and a CEO internal blog – prepare leaders to respond authentically and appropriately to questions
  • Hold breakfast meetings with the CEO – without an agenda
  • Encourage the CEO to hold monthly staff briefings – explore options such as webinars so that those in other locations can attend and contribute
  • Hold drop-in sessions and surgeries, ask leaders to attend existing team meetings
  • Host WebEx phone-ins with the CEO – groups of 20-25 people are optimum
  • Hold Q&A sessions with directors on specific topics (or leave the topic open): very effective when the organisation is going through a period of change
  • Introduce Yammer – great as an internal ‘watercooler’ area
  • Include a section on comms training within management training programmes
  • Create and share toolkits – how to plan communications, how to use your organisations’ channels, how to manage particular issues, and so on
  • Management cascade – send a fortnightly reminder to managers about the main messages they should be aware of, provide a route to the rest of the detail and ask them to share it with their team/s
  • Put interesting pictures and information on the company intranet to connect with the whole organisation.

When organisations give priority to effective communications, it is likely that their people will feel more engaged and therefore happier to stay with the organisation, as well as recommend it to others. If internal comms can persuade the senior team of its positive impact, and work with managers to build confidence and ongoing skills, the outcomes will benefit all.

This helpful checklist will help you build key communications pathways for your senior managers. 


Clare Harris, head of business development, Agenda Consulting

Clare Harris has been Agenda Consulting's head of business since 2013. She worked in a number of senior management positions in academic publishing for more than 10 years and also as a consultant advising organisations on how to improve their service offerings through their people. Her work includes employee research and benchmarking.