Yes; it’s a cliché, but it really is good to talk. This is especially true in times of uncertainty. The less you tell people, the more they will make up their own version of the story – which is often worse than it actually is.
Did you ever play Chinese Whispers at School?
According to Wikipedia: this is a game played around the world in which one person whispers a message to another, which is passed through a line of people until the last player announces the message to the entire group. Errors typically accumulate in the retellings, so the statement announced by the last player differs significantly, and often amusingly, from the one uttered by the first. Reasons for changes include anxiousness or impatience, erroneous corrections, the difficult-to-understand mechanism of whispering, and that some players may deliberately alter what is being said to guarantee a changed message by the end of the line.
How does this reflect a workplace that does not communicate its changes?
I’m sure many of you have heard snippets of news on the grapevine which have turned out to be a very different truth, or you have heard something about a co-worker which did not come from a reliable source. A lot of these interactions contribute to the culture of an organisation, but if left unchecked can be damaging.
Here are a few tips to help you keep staff up-to-date when times are tough:
- Develop a clear communication strategy
Have a clear and consistent message based on the business rationale for change. In a difficult situation, you might feel under pressure to move away from the corporate line to sound less formal, but it’s crucial to stick to the leadership message as consistency is key.
- Control information
There is always a danger of leaks. Work to control the flow of information. Make sure only the official channels speak on behalf of the company. Know your stakeholders – banks, suppliers, employees, shareholders and so on – and ensure you are equipped to communicate with each.
- Keep it simple
People need clarity and understanding about what the current situation is, how it affects them and what the next steps are. Be concise and stick to the facts – wordy and complicated messages will only confuse employees and create more upheaval.
- Prepare and practise
If you’re giving a speech to your staff (at a townhall session perhaps) prepare a script and practise delivering it. Take time to become confident and comfortable with the words – you need to understand the business concept and the rationale behind the change. Be prepared to answer questions, such as “why me?” and “how will I tell my family?” You also need to recognise that people respond differently to change, so prepare for various scenarios.
Delivering bad news can be stressful. When they’re trying to stay in control, people often speak too much and don’t listen enough. This is usually due to nerves, so practising what you want to say can really help here. Developing listening skills is also crucial to demonstrate high levels of respect for the individuals affected by redundancy, as well as their colleagues still in the organisation.
- Timing is critical
Let the people who are being made redundant know before the rest of the world. Make sure your internal and external communications are joined up. Employees won’t be happy if they find out about job losses before you’ve taken time to talk to and inform them.
- Be compassionate
Some people think they can’t be compassionate because they have to remain professional. But telling somebody that they’re about to lose their job always demands compassion. Look at the situation from the other person’s perspective and respect how difficult it might be for them, especially if they have been with the organisation for a number of years.
- Be visible and supportive
A lot of managers deliver bad news and then shy away. But it’s important to keep your door open and make yourself available if people have questions and grievances. Listen to their concerns and don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t have an immediate answer. Saying, “I don’t know but I will find out for you as soon as possible” is better than making employees feel they can’t approach you.
- Don’t raise hopes about outcomes
You need to deliver the news with empathy, but avoid sharing your opinion or raising peoples’ hopes. If you can’t promise positive news, don’t. Rather, focus on the steps that you will take to help with the transition.
- Signpost individuals to resources that can help them
The support networks for people who are being made redundant depend on their individual situations. Your HR team is often the first port of call, and some organisations also offer professional outplacement support for those affected by redundancy. People could also contact charities, unions and other independent organisations for advice, or to help them deal with stress and financial problems. Knowing that there is help available, and how to access it, can make all the difference.
And always… Manage yourself through the change
As a manager, you also need to build your own resilience to cope with stress, deal with all scenarios with care and manage your own feelings about the loss of your colleagues and friends. Don’t be afraid to ask your company for additional support. Again, the support resources available to managers depend on the situation. In the first instance, managers should contact their HR team for guidance, or ask their company or professional network for additional support.
In any period of redundancy, there needs to be a grieving period, where staff can digest what has happened, but then you have to move on and show those remaining that they play an important role. It is not just the current workforce that needs to be kept on-side after a spate of redundancies.
The strategy to minimise the impact on reputation may also involve reaching out to future employees. Any communication plan should be long term to keep staff motivated and focused, at the end of the day, they are the future of your business.
Even through difficult times, companies want to be seen to be good employers. The way to address that is to put out a message that says, we’re making adjustments to ensure a healthy future.