Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Change Management Communications: What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

What’s the biggest mistake you could possibly make in communicating change? The absolute worst would be to tell 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. In the midst of change, there are many moving parts, and some early assumptions may be revised as more details and numbers are fleshed out.

On the other hand, it’s also a  mistake is to say nothing because the details haven’t yet 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 anything. We advise clients that it’s perfectly fine to say, “We don’t know yet, but we’ll tell you when we 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 the business section of the newspaper.

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 I lose my job?” If the answer to that is no, then the next concern is “Will this make my job more difficult?” Acknowledging those two issues can take some of the heat off them.

It’s human nature to imagine the worst. So in the absence of communication regarding the change, employees’ imaginations will fill in the gaps and rumours will begin seeping through your organization. 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?

Interested in communicating change more effectively at your company? Tribe can help.

Nick Miller

Change Management: Four Tips to Communicate Bad News Best

Yellow road sign saying changes ahead with blue cloudy skyHeraclitus said “Change is the only constant in life,” and that applies as much to a company as any individual. Stagnation will smother a company’s success and so change should be celebrated as a part of the corporate life cycle. But sometimes change can be bad news to members of your workforce.

That doesn’t mean they don’t want to be informed. It’s the obligation of a business to keep their employees up-to-date on news that can affect their daily lives. In those instances, leadership is given the opportunity to communicate change respectively.

Here are five best practices for communicating with employees during tough times in a manner that helps employees get the right message for how to move forward:

  1. Focus on what you can impact. In other words, don’t waste precious time on things you can’t control. As much as you’d like to, you can’t dictate someone’s response to a message, nor do you have the luxury of changing the message to suit each individual. The most sensible and kind way to handle difficult communications is to deliver messages and news in an appropriate and timely manner.
  2. It’s about tone. It’s tough to deliver bad news one day and then follow with neutral or even positive news the next, but that is essential for a healthy communications team. It’s as detrimental to dwell on the hard decisions made yesterday as it is to rest on your laurels. Think of a newscaster whose job it is to report on a tragedy and then talk about a random act of kindness. Changing your tone accordingly is part of the job.
  3. Have a post-announcement plan. If you’re communications plan stops after the message is delivered, you can lose control of how that message evolves. Plan one or multiple follow up messages in order to combat the rumor mill. Initiate checkpoints to gauge how it’s going and invite feedback. Employees will feel more engaged if you involve them in the process.
  4. Don’t be surprised if employees think change is bad. If you’re not properly prepared for a negative response, it can come across as though your employees’ feelings were not factored in. Acknowledge that the news is unfortunate, but it is a part of the business process.

Need help communicating change to your employees? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The most common mistakes in change management communications

What’s the biggest mistake you could possibly make in communicating change?  The absolute worst would be to tell 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. In the midst of change, there are many moving parts, and some early assumptions may be revised as more details and numbers are fleshed out.

On the other hand, it’s also a  mistake is to say nothing because the details haven’t yet 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 anything. We advise clients that it’s perfectly fine to say, “We don’t know yet, but we’ll tell you when we 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 the business section of the newspaper.

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 I lose my job?” If the answer to that is no, then the next concern is “Will this make my job more difficult?” Acknowledging those two issues can take some of the heat off them.

It’s human nature to imagine the worst. So in the absence of communication regarding the change, employees’ imaginations will fill in the gaps and rumours will begin seeping through your organization. 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?

Interested in communicating change more effectively at your company? Tribe can help.

Stephen Burns

Internal communications and change management

Internal communications are an integral part to any successful company. Truly communicating with employees is the key to creating a productive, creative and open office environment. Simply put, engaged employees are happy employees.

Perhaps the most important role they play is guiding employees through big company changes. When leadership is shifting, if the vision or the direction of your business is changing or even if the future of the company is becoming uncertain, communicating with employees can help reduce or alleviate your employees’ stress and reassure them that you’re looking out for their best interests. Here are six things you can do to help employees through company change.

1) Have respect for the employee. The most effective change communications are built on a foundation of respect for the individual. That means treating employees like the intelligent adults they are, as well as putting ourselves 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?

2) Be aware that knowledge is power. And it also makes people more comfortable. We recommend beginning communications to foreshadow the change as early as possible. Some companies feel they should wait until they know all the details of how things will shake out, but in our experience employees prefer to know earlier, even if there are gaps in the information you can share.

3) Know that it’s ok not to have all the answers. Employees can accept the fact that you can’t tell them everything right now. What causes them much 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 even “We can’t share that information, but I can tell you such and such.”

4) Acknowledge the two big fears. Why are people so afraid of change? In the workplace, it usually comes down to two major questions: Will this make my job more difficult? And will I lose my job? We encourage clients to talk about both. You can bet their employees are.

5) Recognize individual differences. Since they happen to be actual human beings, each employee is unique. They won’t have the same psychological or emotional reactions to change. They will also have their own individual preferences when it comes to how they like to receive information. To support a change, it’s helpful to offer communications in a wide range of channels. From a section on the intranet that’s frequently updated to printed materials to face-to-face interaction. You also may want some train-the-trainer tools to help people managers know how to communicate the change to their teams.

6) Remember: trust trumps all. Your most valuable asset in any change is the trust your employees already have in the company’s management. Without it, any change will throw people into a higher level of stress. If your company is fortunate enough to have built a strong equity of trust in its leadership, your job as a change manager becomes much easier.

Brittany Walker

The importance of prepping managers for change communications

Providing the resources needed for cascading consistent communications is extremely important. In many cases, managers are responsible for delivering messages to their teams. While not necessarily a bad method at all, it’s easy for this technique to become less than stellar for accurate and timely communications. Without the proper guidelines and tools in place, managers will filter any information they receive their own lenses. The problem comes in when their interpretation of the message changes, slightly or vastly, from the message the company intended.

The answer to this common conundrum may be easier than you think. Providing managers with simple communications tools, like talking points and FAQ sheets to help them keep on message in face-to-face sessions, can go a long way towards making things easier on managers. And making communication easier for managers will increase the likelihood that the message will be shared.

For major initiatives or change management issues, a communications toolkit can be an efficient solution. You can accommodate a range of manager communication styles by providing an electronic tool box of email templates they can copy and paste into their own emails, bulletin board flyers they can print out at work, PowerPoint presentations, videos, tip sheets, training guidelines and more. The kit, delivered on a jump drive, included materials that were ready to use as-is as well as templates to be adapted by the individual brands. Direct managers will be able to communicate the sustainability messages as simply as copying and pasting prepared emails. They also can adapt newsletters, posters, FAQs, and more to their own brand standards.

If you can, allow managers to receive the news of a big change before the rest of the company. For major change initiatives, giving managers a “heads up” will allow them to process the announcement before cascading information to their teams. Before middle managers can lead, they need to be informed. They need to have a solid grasp of the upcoming change and how it impacts the company. They should be well versed on the direct influence the change will have on their department and how each employee in their team will be affected. Providing this information in advance will also give these leaders a chance to get onboard with the change. Once a manager is embracing the change, then not only can they act as informers, they can be reinforcers as well.

The Vehicles to Communicate Change

A few weeks ago, Alan wrote a blog called The Right Words at the Right Time During Change. He discussed how change happens; it’s unavoidable and gave some great tips for what to say when. Now that you know what to say and when to say it, here are some tips on what vehicles to use to get the message out.

1. Use what you’ve got. Your intranet is a valuable resource and at Tribe, we talk about it a lot. This is a great central place where all the information can live and it’s a place employees are already familiar with. For long-term change, it’s a good idea to give the information its own page. Make sure it’s easy to access and think about giving it a widget or quick link on the landing page.

We also work with a lot of clients that have newsletters or internal magazines. Consider creating a dedicated column to talk about any changes. Consistency is key and your employees will start to recognize the column as a good place to look for updates.

2. Send it home. Whenever you have a large change initiative, we recommend doing a direct mail piece to the homes of your employees. This gives them the opportunity to get the whole family involved. It helps communicate how everyone fits into the change and gives them time to process the message.

3. Talk to your employees. Face-to-face communication is one of the best ways to communicate change. It gives employees the opportunity to ask questions and creates a dialogue. To help your managers, it’s a good idea to create some cascade tools like talking points. It’s also important to prepare managers for the questions and let them know what to do when questions are asked that they don’t know the answers too.

Hearing it from leadership is important as well. Employees need to know the whole company has bought into the change from the top down. Encourage your leadership to write a blog or send out an email talking about the adjustment in their words.

Change is always hard to accept, but as long as you have consistent communication you’ll come out the other side stronger and often with even more engaged employees.

When Was Your Last Employee Appreciation Event?

2009 was a tough year. Record layoffs, dismal profits and pessimistic news coverage really do a number on employee morale. But 2010 shows a lot of promise, and it’s time to let employees know that you value their contributions. So when was the last time your company had an employee appreciation event? If you can’t remember, chances are your employees don’t either.

How companies handle the transition from recession to recovery will have a lot to do with their ability to harness employee engagement for future success. Now is an excellent time to take the pulse of employee morale. How much damage has the economic downturn done? What issues do you need to address in employee communications? How do you help employees get ready for the opportunities the upturn will bring?

At Tribe, we use a process called Mythological Branding. Based on an anthropological approach and rooted in the work of psychologist Ira Progoff and noted mythologist Joseph Campbell, its purpose is to give companies a new perspective on what employees believe about the brand, their management and the company’s future success, as well as insights on how to communicate through the upcoming transition and the better times ahead.

Employee appreciation doesn’t have to be expensive. Bringing in a healthy lunch one day for employees and inviting a few top leadership people to come and thank employees for all of their hard work can go a long way towards increasing employee morale.

Although it’s not a perfect measure, voluntary turnover is one indicator of employee morale. If your company’s turnover is higher than the industry average, you’re probably not doing a great job of engaging employees. And those people who are leaving may be some of your employees with the highest potential. After all, by leaving, they are proving they are go-getters who take action to get what they want, rather than just treading water in a non-ideal job position.

An honest survey for employees voluntarily leaving the company can be a great eye-opener when it comes to genuine feedback. And if the first question on the survey is, “Do you feel appreciated for your contributions at work?” the answers will probably not be so positive.

Honest appreciation goes a long way in any relationship. So make sure that your company is putting in the time and effort to make sure that employees feel appreciated. An employee appreciation event can be a great way to raise morale, but only if it’s sincere. You’re much better off not even trying an event if it’s going to come across as insincere because you’re bound to cause more harm than good. But as morale and engagement increase in a company, profits tend to be quick to follow.

Before Your Company Starts with Social Media, Read This

More and more companies are exploring channels like Facebook and YouTube to engage consumers. But it can be a fine line between what employees do in their free time and what becomes public in the new world of social media. One forward-thinking step you can take is to create a social media guidelines document. Employees who are already active in social media will appreciate it, and it can be a great introduction for everyone else. And for companies that want employees to participate in corporate social media, this document is essential.

Before you start, get a feel for what other companies are doing. Fortunately, many companies put this information out there to share with the whole world. For starters, take a look at what these companies are doing:

Once you start to get a feel for the type of material that’s out there, it’s time to look at it through the lens of your own corporate culture. For instance, a technology company is starting at a different place than a manufacturer. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, but the examples above should give you a good jumping off point.

Consider involving employees. Once you’ve put together a document, one high-level suggestion for releasing it is to start with a small group of employees. Share it with them and ask for feedback. A good thing to remember is that this is an organic document—social media is always changing, and it’s impossible to anticipate everything that will come up. But by giving employees a voice in the creation of the guidelines themselves, you’re setting a good precedent for the collaboration and sense of community that you can build with social media.

Some companies are putting goals in place for having x number of employees comfortable engaging directly with consumers through social media, or even encouraging employees to go out and blog on their own in their free time. And once employees are on-board, the sky is the limit in terms of what you can achieve.