You’ve been working around the clock to communicate essential information to every important constituent: shareholders, customers, suppliers and especially employees.
But there’s one segment of your employee population that needs much more attention: managers. Every manager who leads a team is struggling right now. Some or all of managers’ reports are working remotely. Others are still coming to work but anxious about doing so. Almost everyone is fearful—so it’s nearly impossible to get employees to focus and be productive.
What can you do to help managers through these perilous times? Take these six steps:
1. Re-articulate communication roles. This is an appropriate time to define the role of both leaders and managers:
- Leaders share the big picture view: where the organization is heading, priorities overall and progress and accomplishments.
- Managers interpret what team members need to do, while answering questions and addressing concerns.
2. Hold managers accountable for engaging their team members.
If possible, build accountability into performance management and other methods to evaluate managers. If that’s not possible, find other ways to create a sense of accountability, For example:
- Conduct spot surveys to determine whether employees feel managers are visible and available—and share those overall results with managers
- Ask leaders to recognize managers who are effectively communicating—and encourage others to model that behavior
3. Invest time in making sure managers understand content. Especially now, 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.
- 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.
4. Create tools to help managers share information about critical issues. 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 all essential information: what is happening, 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 that managers need. The key is to include the toughest questions so managers are ready any time team members approach them with a question.
5. Provide advice on how managers can connect with team members, even when employees are working remotely. It’s harder to maintain a close relationship and promote teamwork when each team member is remote. So provide managers advice like this:
- Schedule even more frequent check-in meetings. Some teams may require daily meetings, while for others weekly is the right frequency.
- Establish an “open door” policy. Encourage employees to schedule a call or virtual meeting whenever they have something to say.
- Practice attentive listening. As Inc. columnist Marcel Schwantes writes, “Effective communication isn't just about talking; it is also the ability to listen and understand what's happening on the other side of the fence. You listen for meaning and understanding with the other person's needs in mind.”
6. Develop an online hub to build a community for managers. A microsite or a group on a social platform is 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.
Of course, once you start supporting managers, you need to keep refining your efforts. Every so often, ask for feedback to determine which methods have the greatest impact. Then concentrate on methods that provide managers with what they need to help employees cope during tough times.