What Your Employees Really Want To Know About Change
Organizations are organic. They grow, shrink, shift and evolve to stay responsive to customers and the ever-changing business climate. Sometimes change is good and sometimes it's not. Either way, change can affect people's jobs and create a sense of uneasiness or fear.
I once worked for a large corporation where, in the first six months of my employment, I experienced four significant senior leadership changes. I've also worked for an organization that launched an across-the-board business transformation. In both cases, change was imminent. But how that change was communicated and handled was critical—from the messaging to the timing to the follow through.
In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we're sharing key tips for planning and implementing change from Liz Kislik, a contributor to HBR, who helps guide organizations through change.
Plan more time than you ever thought necessary to prepare the content, delivery and necessary follow-up. When communicating across your organization, you should expect to hold not just one initial "all hands" meeting or videoconference, but also a series of smaller team and individual conversations as follow-ups. Also, coordinate the timing of the announcements so that no one is caught flat-footed if the news is released at different intervals by individual managers and organization-wide outlets. Giving people multiple opportunities to take in and process the announcement is essential for thorough understanding; receiving the information from the right sources in the right sequence is crucial for credibility.
Equip all levels of management to explain the context. Provide training and rehearsal or role-play time to everyone who will need to communicate the message; don't assume they'll have the right instincts.
Describe the organizational pain, and how the new solution alleviates it. Instead of just announcing a disruptive change, give the background of what's not working today and why the new plan is the best way to get to the desired outcome. Focus on how customers have been hurt, how the business is incurring extra expense, the negative brand impact—and how the change will help mitigate those problems.
Personalize both the impact and the resolution. If you don't, employees may not understand which specifics apply to them, or even how the company is providing support or services to help them cope. For example, in the small group or individual meetings, be prepared with all the necessary details to answer personal questions immediately. Without this, you'll create even more anxiety and aggravation as people wait for someone to work out the specifics you didn't research in advance.
Give the affected people as many options and as much participation as you can. When they have choices—and the necessary information or support to make them—employees feel more respected and maintain more pride and autonomy. The closer people are to the work, the more likely it is that they'll generate practical ideas. Kislik gives the example of one organization that was having financial difficulties and provided a series of meetings about cost-cutting measures that asked everyone to look for ways to help—even though they were adversely affected by some of the very measures they proposed.
Demonstrate humility and responsibility, not just authority. Many leaders mistakenly believe that they'll be given a pass for shaking up people's lives if they say they're suffering over the decision or the disruption themselves. Even treating the problem as a shared responsibility can backfire and feel manipulative to employees. Instead, say, "I'm sorry I didn't anticipate …" or, "I was too enthusiastic about x…" This shows that you take seriously the impact of the situation on others. You can't prepare for every curveball, so if you don't have the answer to a question, say something like, "Wow, that's a question we didn't think about, but it's a good one. We'll get back to everyone with an answer early next week."
Whether announcing cost-saving measures, a company restructure or an acquisition, by carefully planning your communication and providing the right level of detail at the right time, you can support your employees through the process with transparency and authenticity.
Source: Liz Kislik helps organizations from the Fortune 500 to national nonprofits and family-run businesses solve their thorniest problems. She has taught at NYU and Hofstra University, and recently spoke at TEDxBaylorSchool. Request her free guide, How to Resolve Interpersonal Conflicts in the Workplace, on her website.