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.