I mentioned Captain Miller from Saving Private Ryan, and his successful leadership, in my introductory blog post. This example is especially pertinent in the United States where employees are often leery of top management’s plans and want to hear and discuss business plans and change firsthand.
Employees on the front lines tend to prefer face-to-face interaction with those who impact them most directly – their managers. Managers are the best conduit for reaching employees’ hearts and minds with plans and objectives. “Face-to-face interactions are best used for employees to build interpersonal relationships with their managers and also for managers to transmit work instructions and daily operations to their employees.” In short, managers are the medium.
The military analogy, reinforced by my use of the words, Mission Alignment, may seem unfortunate. But let’s face it, times are tough. “Business is war” may be more relevant today than ever. Companies must succeed in an ever-escalating, competitive frame. People must succeed as individuals and teams if they want their companies to be competitive. More and more companies seek innovation and new solutions from the front lines. This innovation comes only with change and an all-new management style.
Employees need to know why their role in the company matters, and what success looks like. They need the company’s plans to be real and relevant to them and the jobs they do every day. They need to know the nature of the mission they are joining, where they are going and how they’re going to get there.
Times are tough and times are fast. People have to come together quickly around new direction, reorganization and the constant demand for innovation.
Often employees feel really great about working for a brand, but that doesn’t mean they understand what senior management is trying to accomplish, or what they should do to help move the needle. Nor does it mean they can assimilate change or new directives without critical conversations with their managers, supervisors and each other.
So managers are the critical factor, again, more than ever before. That creates a challenge. Managers have to be in the know, all the time. They must be ready to explain and justify everything that takes place in their units, from supporting high-level strategy to what’s on today’s task list. They need tools to communicate the mission, the destination and the elements of strategic plans affecting their people.
When managers are not in the know, it weakens their credibility: “Just how connected is my manager? Don’t the bigwigs trust her?” “Why aren’t they keeping him in the loop?” “Maybe she don’t understand the plan herself.” When managers aren’t plugged in, employees question the soundness of the plan itself: “Why can’t anyone explain this?” “If it’s that complicated, how are we going to make it happen?”
Change communication teams have tried various forms of the information “cascade” over the decades. Is that a good metaphor for change communications, especially when the content of a “cascade” never changes? Every business strategy has many different internal audiences. Each needs a vibrant translation of the plan that resonates with them and makes the company mission real and relevant.
Most importantly, they need someone to deliver that translation firsthand. The best medium? Managers.
 Ean, Lee Chang. “Face-to-face Versus Computer-Mediated Communication: Exploring Employees’ Preference of Effective Employee Communication Channel.” International Journal for the Advancement of Science & Arts, 1 (2010: 44.