Manager Communications Strategies

Susan Rink of Rink Strategic Communications provides insight and strategies for manager communications in this video, including strategies for communicating adverse news to employees, such as layoffs.  For more information and employee communications tips, please visit


Think About the “Whys”

whyYesterday’s retrospectives on the life and legacy of Sen. Edward Kennedy reinforced his reputation as a passionate, eloquent speaker. 

Throughout the day, news stories showed clips of interviews with and platform speeches delivered by an articulate, charismatic champion of civil rights and equality.

Yet one clip from his failed Presidential campaign in 1980 stood apart from the others.

In this clip, a reporter asked the late Senator why he wanted to be President.  A fairly straightforward question for any candidate seeking that office, right?

The Senator’s response?  “Ummm……ahhhh….”

No wonder Kennedy failed to gather support for his campaign.  It’s hard to rally around a candidate who cannot tell you why you should vote for him.

Managing people is a lot like managing a political campaign – managers try to build support for their ideas and rally groups of people to accomplish a common goal.  And like politicians, managers often find themselves having to support or defend a decision or action made by someone else.

Their employees expect them to know the answers, to be able to provide context for the action or decision.  Unfortunately, in most cases managers are briefed on the “what”, but they don’t have the information they need to answer the “whys”.

So often when developing change communications plans, communications professionals overlook the role of the manager in reinforcing our messaging.  We fail to equip our managers with anything beyond the most superficial talking points.  As a result, we set our managers up for failure.

As any parent knows, “Because I said so” isn’t an effective answer.  Likewise, “Because the CEO says we should” won’t motivate employees to embrace change.

Managers must be able to articulate, in plain terms, why the decision or change is a good one, what the consequences of inaction are, and what benefits the employees will see as a result.  If they are unable to do so, your elaborate change management communications campaign has little chance of succeeding.

My advice to communicators:  Don’t let your managers twist in the wind.  Give them the information they need to address those tricky “whys” and win the support of their employees.  In the end, everyone wins.

Home Depot Remodels Internal Communications

home-depotThere’s something going on at Home Depot.

During a visit to my local Home Depot this week – my first in several months — I immediately spotted some changes, the first being the four orange apron-clad employees who greeted me as I walked in the door and offered to help me locate the items on my list.

I admit it – my first thought was that I was singled out because of my gender, sort of a reverse profiling.  But I quickly realized that every customer who entered was greeted in the same way.

I saw lots of other changes too, such as increased staff in the paint department (a source of much past frustration) and lots of stock on the shelves.  As I engaged in some casual conversation with the cashier, he mentioned that Home Depot is making a number of changes, all designed to win back customers and build loyalty.  That’s right, the cashier told me.

From an employee communications standpoint, that type of interaction is enough to send us into a happy trance.  We face a daily struggle to ensure that, amidst all the other “white noise” generated by our organization, employees at every level of the organization are familiar with the company’s goals and know how their work supports those goals.  Clearly, the folks at Home Depot are on the right track.

I did a little digging when I got home and found a BusinessWeek article from mid-May, “Putting Home Depot’s House in Order.”  I was interested to read that, in addition to a number of operational changes implemented by the retailer’s newest executive vice president of U.S. stores, the communications team has implemented a new policy designed to tame the email beast.  Instead of the 200 or so company emails and reports that a manager would typically receive on Mondays, the flood has been reduced to a single message.  The remaining info is posted to the company’s intranet.

Having been on the frontlines of that battle at a former company, I have great respect for Home Depot’s communications team and their ability to change behaviors, both at the corporate level where “Information push” is the general rule of thumb and at the unit level, where lack of time is often cited as an obstacle to intranet adoption.

Apparently, the Home Depot employee communications team found an opportunity to integrate their change into the division’s overall business strategy, successfully linking streamlined communications with more time for the store manager to focus on customer service and satisfaction.

Like the best home remodel, that internal communications change should yield a significant return on their customer win-back efforts.

Susan C. Rink is principal of Rink Strategic Communications, which helps clients take their employee communications to the next level.  Email her at