What’s the biggest mistake you could possibly make in managing change at your company? The absolute worst mistake you could make would be to tell the employees something that would make them feel better, but might not be true. For instance, saying there will be no layoffs with an impending merger, before management knows for certain that there won’t be. This is where the “Yes but” method can be particularly useful. For instance, you might say, “Yes, we believe there may be some layoffs. But, probably not until a year from now.” Or, “Yes, we will have to cut some positions due to redundancies. But, first we’re going to offer voluntary retirement with generous packages.”
A more common mistake is to say nothing because the details haven’t been finalized. Employees can accept the fact that you can’t tell them everything right now. What causes them more stress is the sneaking suspicion that something’s afoot and management isn’t telling them about it. We advise clients that it’s perfectly fine to say, “I don’t know yet, but I’ll tell you when I do,” or “We can’t share that information, but what I can tell you is such and such.” In any case, you certainly want to avoid having your employees hear the news from someone outside the company, whether it’s a neighbor who’s related to top management or a newspaper article.
You can also minimize stress for employees by acknowledging what we call the ‘Two Big Fears.” In the face of any major change in the workplace, employees worry about two major questions: Will this make my job more difficult? And will I lose my job?” Acknowledging those two issues makes them much less frightening. Because it’s human nature to imagine the worst, setting realistic expectations can be a relief. Most people would rather know what to expect, even if it’s not good news, than to be left in the dark.
The most important key to successfully communicating change is to begin with a foundation of respect for the employees. That means treating employees like the intelligent adults they are, as well as putting yourself in their shoes. We often talk about the Golden Rule of Change: If you were an employee impacted by this change, how would you want to be treated?