By: Andrew Formanek, Strategic Thought Partner of Key&Spark
How effectively you communicate unexpected changes within your organization can reduce the impact of fear and anxiety, as well as bolster trust and confidence among employees.
For better or worse, we live in a time of constant uncertainty that can see our lives and livelihoods change dramatically from one week to the next.
Whether in global affairs, business, or in our own families, effective leaders understand the need to connect with people during times of uncertainty by communicating a clear and candid vision for the future.
I recently consulted with a business that was forced to adapt to a significant, unforeseen event that shook the foundations of the organization. Due to the significant operational and commercial changes required, the company was in urgent need of a robust change communication plan to retain employees and knowledge, shore up morale, and maintain trust and confidence in management.
Should you and your company finds yourselves at a similar juncture, here are five points to help guide your communication strategy through a period of unexpected change.
1. Don’t wait to communicate – It takes no time for speculation and gossip to run through your organization. Get ahead of the rumours by developing (in cooperation with other senior leaders) an initial communication plan, and swiftly implementing it. This should include carefully considered key messages and an interim plan of action for the organization. By being quick to communicate, you will not only nip rumours in the bud, but you’ll also calm people’s nerves by showing them that unexpected changes are being managed competently.
2. Share all relevant available information – Any unanticipated change will require a provisional, step-by-step approach to safely navigate the business out of danger. You are unlikely to have a clear, fully formed strategy to deal with change from the get-go. Nevertheless, try to provide everyone in your organization with access to relevant information as it becomes available. Be open with employees about gaps or dependencies in planning, and if you can’t answer a question immediately, commit to providing an answer at a given point in the future. Information from reliable sources will help stop the rumour mill and prevent fear and speculation from eroding employee morale.
3. Maintain consistent and frequent communication – Be deliberate in how you communicate to the organization, both in terms of messaging and frequency. Periods of change, whether planned or unplanned, require management to present a united front, so make sure senior leaders are aligned on key messages and the latest planning. A regular cadence of messages, updates and in-person meetings should form the backbone of your communication planning.
4. Be clear about what is changing (and what isn’t) – When the dust begins to settle and you organization starts to find its new direction, you’ll want to begin communicating what will change within the organization, and what will stay the same. Provide line management with guidance in talking about any new expectations, responsibilities or processes that have emerged as a result of the changes. And be prepared to support those tasked with meeting those expectations, in the form of training, direction and a channel for two-way communication.
5. Be honest and authentic – Probably the most important point on this list. Provide your organization with a sober and realistic narrative of the change that has happened. There is always a temptation to downplay the impact of change or talk around the issue. Instead, be humble and honest about the situation, while demonstrating a clear plan for the future. Acknowledge and respect the personal investment that people have in the company’s fortunes, and the many individuals and families who depend on its success. This, along with the sincere offer of support to those impacted, will help build trust and confidence among employees.
I’ve been witness to more than one such change during my career and have seen how the unexpected can have a serious impact on companies large and small. While it may never happen on your watch, it is certainly wise to prepare a gameplan should the unthinkable ever happen.
Should you or your organization need support in developing a communication plan to help manage both planned and unplanned change, Key & Spark can help. Contact us today to find out more.