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50 global internal comms experts share effective strategies for leadership and line-manager communication

We invited 50 internal comms experts to share their best practice advice, guidance and ideas for developing effective leadership communication strategies in the workplace.

Here’s what some of them had to say…

Download the report here to see the contributions from the full 50.
We bet it comes as no surprise when we say that one of the biggest challenges for internal comms professionals in recent years – has been the lack of line manager and leadership communication skills.
Whether it’s advising and guiding senior leaders on how to inspire the bottom line with a compelling vision, purpose, and mission; plugging line manager communication skills gaps to help them hold better conversations with their teams; or simply trying to justify their own existence in the workplace to those at the top, improving communication for leadership success is a challenge that IC folk can’t seem to crack.
The evidence is plain to see. An unbelievable 87% of employees don’t feel their senior leaders communicate effectively with the organisation, and ‘poor line manager communication’ has been rated as the number-one challenge impeding internal comms success every year – for the last 10 years!
Clearly, we need some new and effective leadership communication strategies quick-sharp if we’re to stand any chance in turning these statistics around. And who better to light the way – than those on the frontlines making it a reality?
So we put a question to our fellow internal communicators in workplaces everywhere:

What effective leadership communication strategies can internal comms professionals put into action, to give senior leaders and line managers the skills and knowledge to engage and connect more effectively?

Owl Image
It’s safe to say we had responses by the bucket load! Internal comms experts from all over the world (including Sweden, Argentina, Canada, America and Spain) have shared their unique insights, tactics, and best practice advice to help you create effective leadership communication strategies to facilitate successful comms between leaders, line managers and employees.
So you really will be learning from the best!
To make it easier for you to digest the wealth of  insights and ideas included in this article, we’ve grouped the responses by theme – and crafted the themes into a helpful narrative of key effective leadership communication strategies to give you a clear sense of the direction you should take when supporting your senior leaders and managers to become outstanding communicators.
You can click on each strategy to jump to the relevant section:
Many of the effective leadership communication strategies touch on more than one theme, but we’ve taken care to distinguish them by their main area of focus so you can navigate this internal comms strategy goldmine with ease.

*In the interests of fairness and respect for our wonderful global community, we’ve opted to keep local spelling variants throughout this article.

Good to go? Then let’s dive right in…

Strategy 1

Highlighting the importance of internal communications and employee engagement to organisational success

Ellie Buckingham

Communications Consultant
Lily Rose Writes

Internal communicators must show, and prove, to senior leaders that internal comms can actively help the business achieve its strategic goals.

A great way to do this is to give them the organisation’s story, and coach them to share it effectively. A leader should be able to simply and engagingly explain to their team where the business has been, where it’s going, how it’s getting there, and how they play a part in it.

Once you’ve given leaders and managers these tools and skills, they can use them to reinforce messages and explain the “why” to the “what” to engage employees in other aspects of the organisation’s journey – from the tough stuff like change, to the business-as-usual like financial returns.

Hamida Bhatia: Digital Marketing & Communications Consultant, Google

Hamida Bhatia

Digital Marketing & Communications Consultant

Build a trusted relationship with your leaders and managers. This will give you the bedrock from which to coach, develop and inspire your leaders to communicate effectively. Great communicators are not born; it’s a skill that can be learnt and perfected, and you can help them do this.

Get your managers and leaders as excited and passionate about communications as you are by sharing what good communications looks like. Give feedback to increase their confidence.

Provide them with the structures and frameworks to package and personalise messages into relatable stories that they can communicate themselves. Be supportive with their communications planning, when they need help.

And finally, be comfortable with some imperfections – it’s what makes us human, and gives us an approachable personality when engaging with others.

Helen Bissett: Managing Director, H&H Comms

Helen Bissett

Managing Director

When communication capability is part of a leader’s targeted outcomes and a tangible measure of their success… then the desire to learn will start positively burning.”

You can’t give skills and knowledge to someone who doesn’t want them. There has to be desire before the motivation to learn is triggered. So as Simon Sinek says, it needs to start with ‘why’, rather than ‘how’ or ‘what’.

Build intrinsic motivation by painting the bigger picture for leaders. Spell out what’s in it for them, their people and the organisation as a whole if they invest in communication excellence.

Furthermore, people naturally focus on what’s being measured. So lobby to have communication and engagement capability elevated as a primary KPI. When communication capability is part of leaders’ targeted outcomes and a tangible measure of their success… then the desire to learn will start positively burning.

Alejandro Formanchuk: Director Formanchuk & Asociados (President - The Argentinian Internal Communication Association / Director - Ibero- American Internal Communication Federation)

Alejandro Formanchuk

Formanchuk & Asociados
(President of The Argentinian Internal Communication Association and Director of Ibero-American Internal Communication Federation)

To help senior leaders, I think that it might be convenient for us to first change our job roles, and stop being seen as ‘IC Managers’, instead becoming ‘IC Articulators’. I have always thought that the best thing that could ever happen to internal communication would be for it to cease being the self-contained function of the IC team, and start being owned by the entire organisation.

In order to make all senior leaders understand that they are the principal internal communicators and must improve their communication skills, I begin with this fact: nobody quits their job because they did not like an article in the company newsletter, or because the internal social network takes too long to load, or because the pictures used in notice boards are of poor quality. What makes you choose to stay at a company is not what you read in a message, but what you see in your leader.

The best thing that could ever happen to internal communication would be for it to cease being the self-contained function of the IC team, and start being owned by the entire organisation.”

Download the full report for more effective leadership communication strategies

Including further insights on the importance of IC and employee engagement to organisational success, from leading industry experts:

Brad Whitworth, Senior Internal Communications Manager, Hitachi Vantara
Marc do Amaral, Corporate & Change Communication Specialist, SPUP
Rich Baker, Communications Manager, Jaguar Land Rover
Hannah Thoresby, Creative Director, H&H
Catherine Milward-Bridges, Director, The Air Quotes Project

Strategy 2

Encouraging leaders and managers to listen to and act on employee needs

Martin Flegg: Internal Communications Manager, University of Bradford

Martin Flegg

Internal Communications Manager
University of Bradford

Internal communicators are well-connected and have a cross-cutting view of what is happening across organisational silos.”

In internal comms, we often talk about coaching leaders and managers to communicate in an authentic way. This implies a focus on the delivery of messages, but we should also be helping them to continuously understand employee attitudes so those messages will resonate.

Internal communicators are well-connected and have a cross-cutting view of what is happening across organisational silos, with constant exposure to what employees are thinking and more importantly, doing.

We need to find ways to share our understanding of the employee voice with leaders and managers in a structured, actionable way.

When leaders and managers have a better understanding of employee sentiment, the messages they deliver will be heard, resound more strongly and will be more likely to create positive impact.

Ann Pilkington: Owner & Director, PR Academy

Ann Pilkington

Owner & Director
PR Academy

What employees want from senior leaders and line managers is different. With senior leaders, it is about setting out plans and explaining where the organisation is heading.

But employees also want to have a say in those plans, and to help set the direction. Internal comms professionals can share research and data on employee voice with the leadership team to make the business case for listening.

Employees expect their line managers to translate the strategic stuff into actions for their team, whereas they want the big-picture stuff to come from the top of the organisation.

Craig Major: Senior Internal Communications Advisor, Auckland University of Technology

Craig Major

Senior Internal Communications Advisor
Auckland University of Technology

Senior leaders should first listen, and actively seek employee input about the decisions they have to make. If they can listen well, they can then use these points to explain or justify their decisions with clarity and honesty.

Effective leadership comms are also transparent – leaders shouldn’t try to baffle with BS, or deflect blame. They will sometimes have to admit shortcomings – and if they can do this in a way that addresses and explains what went wrong and proposes a way forward, they will gain greater respect.

Finally, leaders should understand their employees’ priorities. For time-poor staff, a long-winded waffle about a corporate strategy might not get the cut-through of a short, targeted message that explains how the strategy will help them work more efficiently.

Glenn Grayson: Internal Communications and Engagement Partner, Missguided

Glenn Grayson

Internal Communications and Engagement Partner

Internal communications as a function doesn’t just support an organisation with its own voice; it’s about listening, constantly evaluating and shaking up channels to add variety.”

At Missguided, we work closely with senior leaders and managers to create authentic (true to brand) channels and tools that are derived from employee feedback.

The small gesture of saying ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’ doesn’t come naturally to some, so we introduced ‘Wanna Say’ postcards – a collection of cards with messages of praise that managers can freely pick up, write and deliver to employees.

Our monthly ‘Coffee with the CEO’ sessions provide the chance to sit down with our founder and CEO, to talk about anything – no agenda, no appointment necessary.

And our ’Dream Big’ ideas scheme gives colleagues access to management teams they may not normally work with, allowing them to share suggestions and ideas with senior leaders.

Download the full report for more effective leadership communication strategies

Including tips and ideas on encouraging leaders and managers to listen to and act on employee needs, from:

Dr Kevin Ruck, Owner & Director, PR Academy
Krishan Lathigra, Head of Internal Communication, Department for Exiting the European Union
Dr Frederic Morrison, Course Director & Lecturer in Communication, Ulster University
Victoria Heron, VP Marketing Communications, National Nuclear Laboratory
Alex Bourgeois, Internal Comms & Employee Advocacy blogger
Katie Marlow, Director & Communication Consultant, Little Bird Communication

Strategy 3

Putting steps in place to increase leadership authenticity

Saskia Jones

Communications Consultant and Coach
Saskia Jones Communications

‘Surprise and delight’ is a well-known technique and can be just as effective in employee engagement. It’s about making employees feel valued, included and heard.”

Building effective leadership communication strategies is about making employees feel valued, included and heard. Three ways internal communicators can support leaders with this are:

• Show appreciation: whether it’s on social media, in person, over the phone or via a handwritten note, leaders should lift employees up and show they care.

• Make it inclusive: consider people from every corner of the organisation. Encourage leaders to visit a site, shop or factory and talk about it in their next blog/podcast/leadership video.

• Give employees a voice: from live chats on social media to 1:1 sessions with the CEO, find new and creative ways to listen to employees and show how leaders are acting on the results.

Cathy Power, Global Internal Communications Manager, Experian

Cathy Power

Global Internal Communications Manager

I think that authenticity is key.

Don’t try to pigeonhole leaders into doing something that isn’t in their comfort zone. Find their sweet spot. Build relationships with them to build trust, and allow for honest conversations.

Leaf Graphic 1

Jim Shaffer

The Jim Shaffer Group

IC professionals can begin by sharing the four behaviors that employees watch for to decide whether leaders are serious or not:

• How leaders use their time. Some leaders I’ve worked with use a monthly calendar review to assess how well their calendar reflects their priorities.

• What they take the lead on. Former Motorola CEO Bob Galvin always put ‘lean six sigma’ first on his leadership team’s agenda. He didn’t always stay until the meeting was over, but he never left before the ‘lean six sigma’ discussion had finished.

• Who and what leaders reward and recognize. Fred Smith, President and CEO of FedEx, gives ‘Bravo Zulu’ awards to employees who go above and beyond what’s required to help customers. Bravo Zulu means “well done”.

• The questions they ask. Irv Hockaday, former CEO of Hallmark Cards, always asked employees “What can I do to help you be the best you can be?”, and, “What are our customers saying about us?”, and followed up on each.

Per Zetterquist

Communication & leadership expert, Coach and Senior Advisor

IC professionals should focus on supporting leaders to recognise and understand how they impact people through what they do, and sometimes even more importantly – what they don’t do!

In practice this means helping them to think through the new strategy, or new set of values, in terms of actions: three things they need to start doing, three things they need to do differently, and three things they need to stop doing altogether, so that employees can see, experience and understand the changes to the strategy or the new values the leadership team want to flourish.

And in doing this, remind your senior leaders of the old saying: “Your actions speak so loud that I can’t hear what you say.”

Focus on supporting leaders to recognise and understand how they impact people through what they do, and sometimes even more importantly – what they don’t do!”

Download the full report for more effective leadership communication strategies

Including even more advice on putting steps in place to increase leadership authenticity, from:

Helen Reynolds, Comms Training Director, Social For The People
Hannah Claffey, PR & Communications Executive, Acorn Recruitment
Deborah Hinton, Senior Strategic Communications Consultant, Phil Communications
Priya Bates, President, Inner Strength Communication Inc.
Kellie Garrett, CEO, Kellie Garrett Enterprises

Strategy 4

Coaching leaders and managers by providing advice, data and tools

Caitlin Kirwan

Internal Communications Manager
DAS UK Group

Without effective line-manager comms, your communication efforts become relatively futile.

Firstly, make the expectations clear, and hold managers accountable. Each month at DAS UK Group, we expect all people managers to hold a minimum of one team meeting, and one 1:1 meeting with each of their direct reports.

Secondly, it’s important to provide relevant content to be cascaded, and prompts for local communications. I circulate a monthly management briefing document, which clearly sets out the messaging that needs to be cascaded and other content which is just for managers themselves.

Finally, make sure you’re on hand to offer managers additional support. Some might need coaching on how to structure team meetings, and some might benefit from learning how to handle difficult conversations effectively.

Messaging and engagement at a local level is critical to getting a consistent message across.”

Mike Klein

Changing the Terms

At a certain level, everyone is a communicator. Some leaders and managers rate their own skills highly, while others are particularly uncertain or timid.

Our job – as communication professionals – is to amplify our clients’ voices, and align them with organizational intent.

To do that, we need to draft courageously and ambitiously, while at the same time, being prepared to edit comprehensively. We need to stand for the fulfilment of organizational intent – and frame our advice, training and coaching in a way that centers the task at hand in the context of organizational intent.

By doing so, we don’t just help our leaders to communicate more effectively – we reinforce their perception of our professionalism and value too.

Annique Simpson

Internal Communications Manager
Close Brothers

If you’re looking to help your senior managers develop effective leadership communication strategies, finding out senior leaders’ preferred communication styles, strengths and goals first will help you decide what help to offer them.

Be patient. If your leaders don’t prioritise internal communication, you may find they lack ‘basic’ communication skills. Thankfully, we can quite easily meet senior leaders where they are – both in terms of their current communication skill level/appetite, and physically if needs be.

Don’t be afraid to give feedback or challenge them. If we spot counterproductive language and/or behaviours, we should feel empowered to flag this in a constructive way.

I’ve saved the most obvious for last – make sure you know your stuff. If you want senior leaders to trust your feedback and advice, you need to show you have the necessary skills and knowledge to deal with their comms challenges.

It’s critical that you spend time getting to know your leaders and watching them interact with their teams.”

Rachel Royall

Director of Communications & Women’s Network Lead
NHS Digital

IC professionals can help their leaders and managers to: recognise the value of conversation by listening to their employees and adapting how they do business; tell powerful and human stories that invoke action and keep things real; and be visible and accessible.

Communicators can do this by understanding the business and coaching leaders and managers on the tools, techniques and channels available to them. They can demonstrate case studies of where certain things have worked well, and perhaps not so well.

Internal communication is no longer the post room for the CEO; it is a powerful and strategic management function with the ability to build advocacy and drive an organisation to adapt, improve, and to do great work.

Download the full report for more effective leadership communication strategies

Including further training and coaching strategies and tools you can use to help leaders and managers become better communicators, from:

Rachel Miller, Director, All Things IC
Jo Bland, Head of Internal Communications and Engagement, NHS Digital
Ieva Zaumane, Corporate Relations Consultant
Helen Deverell, Director, Helen Deverell Communications
Rita Zonius, Director, The Enterprise Social Engineer
Gabriela Torres, Corporate Communications Coordinator, RMIT Europe
Shweta Midha, Program Communication Manager, Bharti Foundation
Advita Patel, Communications Specialist, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
Sia Papageorgiou, Director, Strategic Internal Communication & Digital Media, Cropley Communication
Amanda Hamilton-Atwell, Managing Director, Business DNA
Ciara O’Keefe, VP Product and Customer Delivery, Staff Connect Group

Strategy 5

Highlighting the importance of internal communications and employee engagement to organisational success

Amit Joshi

Communication Consultant
Yorkshire Housing

IC professionals should not agree to communicating something without understanding the why.”

Senior leaders have to be transparent with their IC managers about what they want, why they want it, and the relevance of the message. IC professionals should not agree to communicating something without understanding the why – push back until you have everything you need, and help leaders to understand the risks and rewards.

Internal communicators should act – in the words of the Godfather – as a “consigliere” (adviser). Understand the situation, and assess the most appropriate platforms to communicate the message. It’s also important to gauge employee reaction by analysing impact.

However, senior leaders need to position their communications managers within their circle of trust in order to achieve engaging internal comms. This way, IC professionals can help them develop effective leadership communication strategies side by side.

Alejandra Pinedo

Internal Communications Analyst
Bank of Mexico

It is important to guide the communication of senior leaders towards the action they expect from their employees – to reformulate the message from the perspective of the employee in order to be more efficient, and generate empathy.

Reformulate the message from the perspective of employees.”

Alison Sharpe

IC Consultant

Firstly, help managers to believe in the importance of the communication, so that they take ownership and want to do it.

Now that you have their attention, give them some key tips like these on designing internal comms:

1. Start at the end. Ask yourself: what action do I want as a result of this communication? Is everything else in place to enable that action to occur successfully?

2. Find the hook! Connect your message to something current in your team’s day-to-day working lives.

3. Be succinct. Nail down the 3-5 key points that you want to share, and stop there!

Finally, help them explore ways to share the communications. And for leaders and managers who don’t feel confident delivering comms in-person, provide communication training to help them out.

Paul Cawley

Comms & Engagement Officer
Balfour Beatty CLG

Help leaders to simplify their messages. Ask what outcome they want and shape internal comms accordingly.

And advise management on the correct medium(s) once clear on the audience and desired outcome.

Water splash

Download the full report for more effective leadership communication strategies

Including ways to provide support with turning leadership messages into communications that get results, from:

Danae Gardner, IC Consultant, H&H
Sean Williams, Vice President, Education & Internal Communications Practices, True Digital Communications
Terry Hart, Business Advisor, Designing Successful Change

So, what have we learned from these pearls of wisdom on effective leadership communication strategies from the IC community?

Well, for starters, there’s plenty of effective leadership communication strategies we can put into action to help our leaders and managers be the very best they can be.
Whether it’s teaching them the value of listening, providing robust toolkits and frameworks to help shape their communications, or simply being an expert supporting wall for them to lean on when it comes to engaging employees – we need to always be on the front foot to ensure we get the results we’re looking for, by transforming our senior leaders and managers from invisible figureheads into inspiring, authentic enablers of success.
But we’ve also discovered that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to developing effective leadership communication strategies.
Every organisation, every internal comms professional, every leader and every manager is different and unique. This is wonderful, because it opens up a vast landscape of opportunities for collective progress and achievement.
But it also presents the challenge of being mindful of how the leaders in your organisation operate. How they learn, how they think, how they communicate, and what their Unconscious Motivators are.
In fact, judging by this article itself, you could say it’s more like a 50-sizes-fit-all challenge!
Only with these understandings can you really begin to tap into the desire to unlock their necessary skills, knowledge and capabilities to step up to the plate – and become the expert communicators employees want them to be.
And since the clock is forever a-ticking, we’d say there’s no time like the present to get started!

A big thank you…

…to all the wonderful internal comms professionals, industry leaders and all-round good folk who shared effective leadership communication strategies for this blog, and the full report.

Now it’s your turn – we’d love to hear from you. What are your go-to effective leadership communication strategies?
Keep the conversation going and let us know on Twitter @handhagency!

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