Frontline managers are the center of activity for companies — where grand strategy becomes practical activity. They also establish your organization’s most nuclear bond of trust. Employees generally turn to their immediate supervisor, not just for messaging content, but also for tone: Is this really going to work? Should we take this initiative seriously? Do we have a reason to worry?


Because of this, frontline managers are the fulcrum for effective change. If you win them to the cause, call them to action and engage them actively in continuous improvement, you will greatly increase your chances of success. Who else has daily visibility into the mood, engagement level and practical activities of your workforce?


Communications at your company cannot be strategic if they do not account for this critical audience. Here are a few tips to help you activate those frontline managers and prepare them for success.

  • Treat them like management. Too many organizations communicate to frontline managers and employees at the same time. As a result, those managers do not have time to assimilate information or think about how best to present it to their teams. The threat of information leaking rarely warrants the risks of surprising frontline managers with mission-critical information.
  • Exercise their management muscles before the transformational change. If you wait for a grand initiative to put communication responsibilities on your frontline managers, you should expect higher fail rates. No one runs a marathon without training at shorter distances. Start using your frontline managers now so they can practice important communication skills on initiatives that carry less risk.
  • Ask their advice. You don’t have to engage every single manager each time you create enterprise messages, but it is wise to get feedback from at least a small pilot group. They can help you test how messages will play out among real employees, resulting in words that managers can use practically, with authenticity and confidence.
  • Be explicit about tone. When introducing significant change to employees, the tone of the communication is often the biggest takeaway. Are managers calm, confident and accountable? Can they explain why the change is necessary without foisting it off on “those crazy people in HR” or some other safely marginalized group? Make sure managers understand that body language and tone will convey at least as much as the actual messaging. Reading bullet points off a cue card is not “mission accomplished.”

If you are interested in learning more about change that sticks, register for the IABC Heritage Region Annual Conference in October and stop by my presentation with Megan Hogan on Behavior Change that Sticks.