How Internal Communications Can Empower Frontline Managers

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Here’s an excerpt from my interview on IC Unplugged podcast on how to improve relationships with frontline managers.

We’re doing something a little different today.

I was recently invited to speak on the IC Unplugged podcast, hosted by Lee Smith, Director and co-founder of Gatehouse.

Every year, Gatehouse publishes the report, State of the Sector, which features research and findings in internal communications and employee engagement informed by surveys with communicators from around the world. And on this podcast, different communicators spoke about the different sections of the report, and I talked about the relationship between internal communications and frontline managers.

It’s something a lot of communicators struggle with. I thought it would be of interest to Culture, Comms, & Cocktails listeners, so here’s an excerpt from that conversation.

Following that, I’ll give you my cocktail recommendation. Up to this point, we’ve heard from other communicators. We’ve had some great cocktails, and this time you’ll get my favorite.

Also, join me and hundreds of communicators April 24 in New York City at FutureComms 2019. It’s a day-long conference about all things internal communications. Listen to today’s podcast to get your Culture, Comms, & Cocktails discount code and register today! See you in New York.

So settle in, drink in the internal communications knowledge—some shaken, stirred, and maybe even some with a twist— and enjoy the top-shelf wisdom from this excerpt.


“We don’t have to be that gateway or that bottleneck for all communication anymore… We’re all content creators, but yet in a lot of organizations, communicators feel that that’s their domain. I would rather see them open that up and let others be the doers, let others create their own content.”

 – Chuck Gose, strategic advisor at SocialChorus

We feature communications leaders every second and fourth Tuesday of the month. Don’t miss an episode of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails. Subscribe now wherever you listen to podcasts (Apple, Google Play, Stitcher, etc.)


Culture, Comms, & Cocktails Episode #6 Transcript


Lee Smith: Well, let’s move on from digital to I guess, perhaps more old school communication. One of my hobby horses is line manager communication. I think it’s an area that we don’t focus on enough. It’s where, if you look at all the engagement data and research over the years, line managers are so critical to unlocking employee engagement. Yet, as a profession, we’ve seen it time and time again. The number one barrier every year, apart from this year, has been poor line manager communication skills. It’s still the number three blocker globally.

Chuck, I’d welcome your thoughts on … We’ve been quite provocative in saying that as a profession we’ve hoisted up the white flag. We’ve given up on cracking this challenge of line manager communication. Is that unfair?

Chuck Gose: No. In fact I was going to say, I thought you guys used a very polite word when you said we’ve surrendered the effort, when I was going to use the word that we have quit or bailed on the line manager. And it’s something that again, year and year and year, over and over again, communicators recognize this critical position that line managers and let’s even say mid level managers, have inside organizations as communicators. They have amazing visibility. I would love to see where they fall on in the world of trust of where employees, when they trust between their peers, their senior leaders and then line managers. And yet communicators … I don’t want it to say that we are disrespectful of the position that they’re in, but there seems to be a lack of respect or a lack of appreciation for the challenges that line managers face. They are very much in the middle of the organization and in many cases probably asked to do too much and carry too much of a burden.

So when you look at the channels that communicators are creating for line managers, there’s not many that are dedicated to them. So it’s probably these line managers feel like the company may not respect the role that they’re in, the challenges they face. And I’m always curious too … When we look at the word “effective”, I would like to see how companies are defining that. How do we know that line managers are effective or not inside organizations? Because I don’t necessarily see communicate … I’m not saying that’s the communicator’s job, to determine effectiveness, but I don’t see a lot of determining of that. It seems to be more of a bit of a gut check of all line managers are or …

You know, we all feel a lot of organizations still rely on the cascade of content and it’s not necessarily that cascade by nature is bad, but the volume of cascade, again, could be overwhelming, because as we are all communicated, whether by profession or just by nature of who we are, we do filter based on time available, based on our own interests, whether we realize those biases or not. If the team doesn’t know certain information, we might think, “Oh well, that line managers a bad communicator,” when in fact we might just be giving them too much to communicate in the first place.

Lee Smith: I think that’s a really great point. It certainly is born out in the audit work that we do as an agency. It’s a tough place being a line manager. They’re squeezed from every side. They’re asked to do more and more every year, so maybe the starting point for us as internal communicators is to ask ourselves how we can not add to that problem but actually make life easier for them. Perhaps that’s where we’re going wrong.

Chuck Gose: Oh, I think without a doubt, even looking at … One of the things, which actually was an improvement from 2018, was one to one coaching sessions. Maybe it’s not one to one, maybe it’s a one to few. And maybe that’s an opportunity for communicators.

We always talk about wanting a seat at this proverbial table. Well, what if communicators built a table for line managers and used that as a platform to begin helping them become better communicators? Because the way I think about it is that we help line managers become better communicators, then the organization as a whole becomes better at communicating. People get on the same page more. They know what’s going on. They understand the initiatives. The more that line managers are left in the dark, then probably their teams are also left in the dark.

So I liked seeing that there was that little bit of a bump from 11% to 17% so at least that’s a 50-ish percent increase. But I think that’s still too low. We see the value of face to face all the time. But I think we think about face to face from a leadership standpoint down, where I think there’s an awesome opportunity for communicators to initiate some face to face communication and conversation with line managers, whether they’re using the coaching sessions or more of that focus group or a diagonal slice type meeting. I think there’s more that communicators can do to be seen as a true leader of communications and really help those line managers out investing that time there should make the communicators life easier down the road.

Lee Smith: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things we do a huge amount of training, the skills piece, training managers and leaders to be more engaging managers and leaders. But if again, you look at State of the Sector research, we ask how involved ECI in the following activities, providing communication training and/or coaching. It’s still absolutely at the bottom of the pile, just under 40%, I think, say they are very or usually involved in that. A huge number actually say they’re never involved in that. So this is something we can crack and how do we do that?

Do you see evidence of communicators partnering with their colleagues in learning and development? Are we beginning to make that happen or no?

Chuck Gose: Well I think it’s a bit of a shift and probably some of the thinking that some communicators have where they see themselves as the doers. Like, we are the ones pushing the buttons. We are sending the email. We are posting the message, instead of being the ones that are facilitating communication and organization. We don’t have to be that gateway or that bottleneck for all communication anymore. And I think what we do is we undervalue our own employees as content creators. We see that in our personal lives where people are comfortable sharing things on Instagram or Facebook or Linkedin. We’re all content creators, but yet in a lot of organizations, communicators feel that that’s their domain. I would rather see them open that up and let others be the doers, let others create their own content.

And as communicators you provide the channels. You provide the navigation. You provide the leadership in that area. So become less of a doer and more of a thinker, an advisor, a counselor to those teams. It is possible, I think, to work a bit more with, whether it be training and development or learning, whatever it’s called inside the organizations, to help those line managers and other leaders become better communicators. In that process we should be able to learn what are their pain points? What are their difficulties? How could we package content information better for them, and show the respect that we have for their pivotal position inside a company?

Lee Smith: That’s really interesting to say. It’s shift from seeing ourselves as kind of gatekeepers at best, or crafters and drafted stuff people, to actually being enablers. We’re there to empower managers, empower the organization to be able to communicate for itself.


If you’re interested in learning more about Gatehouse or the State of the Sector, you can download it for free. It’s a must read for internal communications. And listen to the rest of this episode of IC Unplugged.

Listen to the Culture, Comms, & Cocktails podcast to get your discount code for Future Comms and register today!

If you missed any episode, check out all of them on our new landing page.


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Chuck Gose

I’ve always said the best part of my day is when I spend time talking and creating with internal communicators. And now that’s what I do for Firstup as the Head of Community & Industry Insights. In my nearly 25 years of communication experience, I’ve found internal communicators to be the most passionate. . . present company included.

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