Sharing insights: Where do line managers come in?

We recently caught up with Simon Townsend, Internal Communications Manager at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), where he shared his insight on the role (and power) of line managers in internal communications.

Employing over 80,000 colleagues in more than 700 sites across the UK, DWP presents some unique challenges for an internal communicator. When I was invited to talk to the Heads of Internal Communications for Arms-Length Bodies (ALBs) about communicating with (and through) line managers, I realised we had some worthwhile insights to share.

So, back in July, I travelled to London to talk about what we do and how we do it.

After setting the scene around the scale and complexity of the department, I explained how, within the central communications team we manage a relatively small number of channels, including: an intranet homepage, an online magazine featuring colleague stories and case studies, and some email newsletters to keep colleagues up to date on specific topics.

The challenge for us is that alongside this, colleagues receive a huge amount of communications from other sources. These can vary from messages from senior leaders in their business areas, building managers, peers and colleagues implementing business changes.

The main thing that helps us to reach colleagues more effectively is that their preferred and most trusted way to get information is through their line manager.

We know we can’t provide targeted and relevant communications to every individual line manager, but what we can do is help provide them with the skills and materials they need to do this themselves.

We make this happen by supporting a network of communications leads from each directorate. They’re accountable to their director and lead on delivering communications in their business area. We give them advice, support and help develop their expertise, while they take ownership of developing and delivering their communications plans.

This approach allows us to coordinate our delivery of cross-departmental campaigns, gather insight and raise the standard of our communications as a whole. It means we can deliver communications through colleagues who are much closer to the audience than we are, and who are experts on their part of our department.

We also suggest our communication leads build networks in their own areas so that important communications can be (and are) cascaded further into the organisation, helping us to reach colleagues we’d miss using only our central channels.

Feedback from our leads on our support has been good, but we’re always looking for ways to improve. Looking ahead, we’ll provide more training on best-practice techniques, like building OASIS communications plans and making the most of your evaluation.

If you’d like to find out a bit more about what we do and how we work, you’re very welcome to get in touch with me! You can email me Simon using