Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Employees don’t trust your leadership? Here are 5 tips for changing that.

Here’s the thing: trust is not about guaranteeing employees that nothing bad will ever happen. If building trust requires a guarantee of anything, it’s that the company will tell employees what’s really going on, even if it’s bad.

Impending job reductions are a great example of the sort of bad news that companies occasionally have to share. But employees are smart enough to realize that no company can promise lifetime employment anymore. Most employees don’t even want lifetime employment. They want interesting, challenging work, and in an ideal scenario, work that they find personally meaningful.

Employees start a new job with the expectation that eventually they’ll move on to another company, ideally when they themselves decide it’s time for a change. But unless they’ve been living under a rock, they recognize that sometimes companies have to lay people off, eliminate positions or somehow reduce head count.

Honesty, then, becomes the real building block of trust. Employees feel trust in their company — and thus do their best work and are most engaged — when they believe management is being honest with them. So how does a company go about doing that?

1. Tell employees about any significant changes in the company — and tell them fast, before the rumor mill and the media get a jump on you. Some CEOs and other leaders delude themselves into thinking that if they don’t say anything, the employees won’t notice that anything is going on. Wrong. Employees know when something is up, and in the absence of management communication, they’ll take their information wherever they can get it, often from each other. And what they tell each other is often worse than the reality.

2. Tell the truth, even when it’s bad news. Particularly when it’s bad news. If employees know that the company will be straight with them in communicating negative developments, then they tend not to worry so much. Ironically, sharing bad news makes employees feel more comfortable instead of less so.

3. Give employees credit for being smart enough to know business includes both ups and downs. Most people have experienced plenty of highs and lows in their own lives, and they have an understanding that things move in cycles. Just because the business is down today, doesn’t mean it won’t be up tomorrow.

4. Make room for employees to ask questions. You have to make this honest communication a two-way street. Provide a place on the intranet for employees to ask questions and post leadership’s answers. Hold a town hall and have your CEO respond to those difficult questions on the spot. Or provide your people managers with a source for responses to the questions they’re bound to get. The advantage of fielding those employee questions is that it gives the company a chance to respond to the issues that you have to accept are swirling around the workplace. The other side of that coin is that employees need the information they need to make their own decisions –even if that means their decision will be to leave the company. But by answering their questions honestly, you make it less likely that they’ll feel in a panic to jump ship.

5. Share leadership’s vision for the future. Most corporate management teams believe they’re doing this all the time, and it’s true that the people closest to them are familiar with the vision. But when we speak to the rank and file, there is most often a disconnect and the further away an employee is from the top, the less confident they are that the company leadership has a plan. This vision isn’t something you announce once and then check it off the list. It should be woven into all your communications, from the CEO blog to internal videos to the employee magazine to digital signage — and maybe even to your recognition programs.

Interested in building trust in your organization? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

3 Ways to Fumble When Communicating a Major Change

How does a company communicate a major change? In many cases, not well. Following are three sure-fire ways to get it wrong.

1. Don’t say anything at all until every single detail is final. This is an awesome idea if you want employees to feel insecure and uneasy. Especially if they somehow suspect change is afoot and begin to spread that suspicion via the grapevine.

2. Tell them what they want to hear. For instance, if there’s currently no plan for layoffs, go ahead and promise them that all their jobs are definitely safe and they don’t have a thing to worry about. If that changes, they probably won’t even remember the earlier communication.

3. If it’s bad news, don’t talk about it. If you don’t acknowledge that something has gone wrong, or that a difficult change is coming, then you can keep employees from knowing a thing about it.

What’s that? You prefer treating employees with respect? Then you might find the following tips more in keeping with your approach:

• Don’t patronize them by withholding negative news. They’d rather know what to expect than be left in the dark.

• Tell employees as much as you can as soon as you can. If aspects of the change are not yet decided, tell them that too.

• Don’t make the mistake of thinking employees get all their information about the company from the company. They have plenty of other sources, from the financial news to the local news and from social media to social connections.

Interested in change communications that are respectful to employees? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Change Management: Avoid employee rumors by letting them know what’s really going on

 

Change Management: Avoid employee rumors by letting them know what’s really going on

Rumors are created to fill information voids. That’s number 17 of 21 “Internal Quotations for Internal Communications” included in a slideshare I stumbled across by Paul Barton of Phoenix, AZ. I don’t know Paul, but I like the way he thinks.

In fact most of the lines he quotes are things we say frequently at Tribe. Another of his slides, number 19, relates to the one above: “Employees should learn of important information affecting them and their organization from an internal source rather than an external source.” Number 18 as well: “In a crisis, internal communications is often the very thin thread that holds everyone and everything together.”

All three of these thoughts relate to the importance of being open and honest with employees during any major change. If you withhold information because you don’t want employees to know how bad it is, you can be fairly certain that what they’re imagining and telling each other is worse than the reality.

One of the best ways to destroy trust in your organization’s leadership is to share something big with the media, customers or shareholders before you tell employees. It’s easy to do unintentionally, especially when there’s time pressure to get out an announcement or press release to correlate with some major happening.

In fact, in Tribe’s research, that news needs to come from the top. In our national research with employees of large companies, major change was one of the few topics respondents said they strongly preferred hearing from company leadership rather than their direct managers.

This speaks to a measure of respect. In any major change or company crisis, beginning any internal communications from a place of respect for employees is the right place to start.

Does your company have a major change on the horizon? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Boost trust in top management by communicating change honestly

Here’s the thing: trust is not about guaranteeing employees that nothing bad will ever happen. If building trust requires a guarantee of anything, it’s that the company will tell employees what’s really going on, even if it’s bad.

Employees are smart enough to realize that no company can promise lifetime employment anymore. Most employees don’t even want lifetime employment. They want interesting, challenging work, and in an ideal scenario, work that they find personally meaningful.

They start a new job with the expectation that eventually they’ll move on to another company, ideally when they themselves decide it’s time for a change. On the other hand, they recognize that sometimes  companies have to lay people off, eliminate positions or somehow reduce head count. They know that job security is a relative term.

Honesty, then, becomes the real building block of trust. Employees feel trust in their company — and thus do their best work and are most engaged — when they believe management is being honest with them. So how does a company go about doing that?

1. Tell employees about any significant changes in the company — and tell them fast, before the rumor mill and the media get a jump on you. Some CEOs and other leaders delude themselves into thinking that if they don’t say anything, the employees won’t notice that anything is going on. Wrong. Employees know when something is up, and in the absence of management communication, they’ll take their information wherever they can get it, often from each other.

2. Tell the truth, even when it’s bad news. Particularly when it’s bad news. If employees know that the company will be straight with them in communicating negative developments, then they tend not to worry so much. Ironically, sharing bad news makes employees feel more comfortable instead of less so.

3. Give employees credit for being smart enough to know business includes both ups and downs. Most people have experienced plenty of highs and lows in their own lives, and they have an understanding that things move in cycles. Just because the business is down today, doesn’t mean it won’t be up tomorrow.

4. Make room for employees to ask questions. You have to make this honest communication a two-way street. Provide an online forum or town  hall meetings or some venue for your people to ask management the hard questions. That gives the company a chance to respond to the issues that you have to accept are swirling around the workplace.

5. Share the management vision for the future. Most corporate management teams believe they’re doing this all the time. It’s true that the people closest to them are usually familiar with the vision. But the further away an employee is from the top, the less likely they are to know anything at all about the vision for the organization. Being aware of leadership’s vision can help anchor employees drowning in a sea of change.

Interested in communicating change in a way that can build trust? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

White Paper Insight Five: Employees Want To Hear About Major Changes From The Top

Employees have strong feelings about how they’d like change management to be communicated. For one, they want to hear about major changes from the top. In Tribe’s Tribe’s recent study “Employee Preferences in Internal Communications,” 64 percent of survey respondents said they preferred to hear about mergers, acquisitions, layoffs and other major changes not from their direct managers but from corporate management.

Even more important, they’re adamant about wanting the truth — even if it’s bad news. Interview responses and survey write-in comments included:

“Be honest. Stop softening the blow when it comes to negative news.”

 “Cut out the Ra-Ra-BS, and be honest about the worst.”

“Don’t blow smoke up our ass.”

“Stop putting a spin on everything.”

 “Be honest and direct. If you don’t have the answer, promise to follow up when information is found. Keep good to promises and follow up.”

“Stop embargoing critical information and be truthful to employees. As a director, I am blamed by my employees for CEO/Deputy falsehoods.”

 “Don’t lie to us.”

 Comments also indicated a strong desire to be told about an upcoming change as soon as possible. Employees want to know the reasons behind the change and they want time to prepare for the change, in come cases logistically and in others emotionally.

 “I hope to stay informed of any change before it happens so that I can be prepared to deal with it should it affect me.”

 “Being in the loop really helped me understand the direction and vision of why we underwent those changes.”

“It can be beneficial to find out about changes early so people can prepare for it and to explain why and how the change is being made.”

 “Please let us know (about change) as soon as you can tell us.”

“We as employees need to hear why we are downsizing, or why this department is getting laid off.”

“I want to know what will be impacted and how it will affect me.”

 “I want to know before the changes affect me and not during or after.”

Check back next Monday for Insight Six regarding silos. The full white paper on this research is now available on the Tribe website: http://www.tribeinc.com/pdfs/EmployeePreferences_TribeWP_Fall2013.pdf

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Change Management: Addressing The Two Big Fears

Any major organizational change in the workplace brings up two big fears for employees. The very first is “I might lose my job.” If that fear seems unlikely to become a reality, then the second concern is usually, “This change might make my job more difficult.”

The best thing you can do is address those fears head on. Management in some companies might think the less said the better, but just acknowledging the fears can make them less frightening.

It’s human nature to imagine the worst. When management sets realistic expectations, it can be a huge relief to employees.

This is when the Yes But tool comes in handy. You can say, “Yes, some people will lose their jobs, but we’re working hard to limit the number of employees affected.” Or “Yes, this will add an extra step to our accounting processes, but it will streamline our supply chain.”

If it’s bad news, be honest. Most employees will tell you that they’d rather know what to expect, even if it’s not what they were hoping to hear.

Tell them something, even if you don’t have all the details. With most major changes, there’s an extended period of even those in top management not knowing exactly how things will play out. It’s fine to say, “We don’t know how the merger will impact our headcount, but we know this office will remain the company headquarters.”

Employees can accept that you might not have all the answers yet. Just don’t leave them hanging in a vacuum of information. One of the best things management can do in a major change is to keep the employees updated as fully as possible.

At Tribe, we approach change management from a perspective of respect for the employee. We recommend following the Golden Rule of Change. Treat the employees how you would want to be treated in the same situation. In most cases, that means being given as much information as possible, about both the positives and negatives of what lies ahead.

Cadence of Communicating Change

There is no “normal” timetable to accept a change. Each person in every organization is unique.  Things that bother some people don’t faze others. The same is true when it comes to the timetable that people have in terms of experiencing the four stages of a corporate change – awareness, understanding, acceptance and embracing the change. Select employees will understand, accept and embrace it once they are aware of the change, while others will take months, years or may never fully embrace it.

During the strategy development, establish the long-term vision for your change marketing program and short-term checkpoints. By setting short-term checkpoints you will help manage expectations on how quickly you can expect change to happen. You will also be able to reward and recognize your team for short-term achievements. In addition, you will have the opportunity to tweak any communications or programs that are not delivering results.

Develop a communication matrix by key messages, stakeholders and the time period of your rollout. Once you have an approved strategy, develop a detailed communication plan. Tribe’s recommendation on the timeline of your plan varies based on the type of change and the rollout period. However, on average your change communication timeline should start three months before the first phase of the change and continue six months after the last phase. Focus on the key messages by audience and ensure that you are consistently communicating the messages, multiple times, over the determined period of time.

In the end, change requires consistent and frequent communication. Depending on the magnitude of the change and each phase of your strategy, the cadence of your messages should be weekly to monthly.  Look at each audience within the organization to ensure you are touching everyone, however communicate with mid-level managers on a more frequent basis, as they typically will receive the majority of the questions and concerns. Remember employees will not complain or handle the change as well because there was too much communication.