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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

Factors That Cause a Change to Stick

At Tribe, we approach change from a place of respect for employees. Regardless of whether this is positive change like recognition programs or a negative change like layoffs, communicating it successfully will give you a much better likelihood of having it adopted by your employees.

Take care of your people. Morale sometimes suffers a blow after change. Let employees know what the change means to them as individuals as well as the company as a whole. This will help them see how they fit into the big picture and how what’s good for the company can also be good for them.

Set a clear timeline for the change. Often it’s the unknown that’s hardest for employees. When there are unanswered questions about when a change is happening, often it’s not embraced. Let employees know what’s happening when and give them time to process and understand the change. Understanding it is a step they need to take before they can embrace it.

Be sure you tell the truth. Sometimes this means using the “yes, but” rule. Such as, “There will be layoffs but we don’t know when.” If you don’t tell them the truth you aren’t building a foundation of trust. As a company you might not have all the answers and that’s okay as long as you’re being honest and transparent. If your employees don’t trust you in a time of change, it will be much harder to build acceptance for the change.

Let them know where to go if they have questions. This will help eliminate any rumors or confusion associated with the unknown. This is especially true because you can never communicate everything to everyone. Dedicate an email address or section of your intranet to answering questions to keep any molehills from becoming mountains.

 

Any questions about a change in your company? Give us a call at Tribe, we’d be happy to help!

Change Management: How Communicating Keeps the Boat Afloat

Times of change can be scary. Employees hear rumors, start playing the telephone game and before you know it, Chicken Little is running around screaming, “The sky is falling!”

Thoughtful communication to employees can make all the difference. Including everyone in the process from the beginning naturally encourages employees to embrace the change and jump on board. Companies sometimes do nothing or as little as possible because they don’t want to rock the boat. The irony is it’s the surest way to sink the Titanic.

It can be tricky to determine how your company culture should play into your communication tactics. It would be out of character for a company that communicates to employees in a casual and friendly tone to all of the sudden button up and hide in a time of change.

Remember your culture and values when communicating change. Now’s the time to use a bit of the goodwill you’ve stored up over years of building trust through communication.

For more information on how to keep your employees in the loop, check out this previous blog on communicating change. 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Biggest Mistake In Change Management

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?

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

What to Tell Employees About Potential Layoffs

Employees want to know the truth, but you don’t want the truth to send them into a panic.  If your company is facing a possible merger that would create some duplicate positions, or moving towards downsizing due to economic realities, the “Yes, but” method can be helpful.

Here’s how the “Yes, but” method works: Be honest about the realities of layoffs, but pair it with some sort of silver lining.

So what do you say when employees ask if people will lose their jobs? Using the “Yes, but” method, the company response might be, “Yes, some employees will lose their jobs, but only a small percentage.” Or “but first we’ll offer volunteer retirement packages and that should substantially reduce the number of layoffs.” Or “but not for at least a year when the merger is expected to be finalized.”

The trick is to find some good news to pair with the bad. When employees hear that the company is taking steps to lessen the impact on individuals, whether it’s by offering an outplacement program or generous severance payments or even just by doing anything possible to reduce the number of lost jobs, it helps keep trust in management alive.

The irony of delivering bad news is that sometimes it can increase employee trust. Employees appreciate the company’s truthfulness, and in many cases they also will trust that if something even worse were to happen, they’d be informed of that too.

Knowledge is power. By letting employees know the bad news, the company gives them a chance to make good decisions in their own lives. An employee might decide not to buy that new house right now, or to encourage their high school senior to look at less expensive colleges.

Reference your values. Are you meeting resistance from the higher ups who are uncertain they want to share this bad news? Then you might point out that respect or integrity or honesty is one of your company values, and that this is an excellent opportunity to live that value in a way that’s highly visible to employees.