Communicating Change With Employees

Randy StuartBlog

Employee Communications

Managing organizational change requires thoughtful employee communications. But when there’s a disruptive change that involves job loss, truth and trust are essential elements in sustaining a workforce that’s focused on achieving the organization’s overarching business goals, efficiently and safely. Don’t just take my word for it, read author Randy Pennington’s practical guide book Make Change Work: Staying Nimble, Relevant, and Engaged in a World of Constant Change.

Employee communications addressing layoffs are invariably packed with euphemisms such as “streamlining efficiencies” and “cost structure reduction.” Fancy corporate jargon is seen as meaningless rhetoric, and often does more harm than good. Employees are human beings, and what they really want is the company to be straightforward about what’s happening, why it’s happening, and the game plan moving forward.

Below, are five ways to effectively communicate and help ease employee concerns:

  1. Honesty trumps transparency. Communications professionals should go into an internal communications program, whether it’s an internal branding campaign, crisis situation, or impending change, emphasizing honesty and timeliness over sharing granular details. Employees, not only want to know what’s happening; they want to hear the truth, especially about bad news. However, if there are parts of the change or campaign that cannot be communicated yet, simply say so. And, if possible, give them a target date when to expect substantive answers.
  2. Identify the outcome you want from both the change initiative and the communication program or tactic. What’s the call to action for the communication program or tactic? What systemic or operations changes are under way that provide the framework for the desired results and behaviors? Can you leverage past success, importance of risk-exposure and/or ‘don’t burn a bridge’ mentality to mitigate concerns?
  3. Provide reliable resources for disseminating information. The rumor mill will be running overtime in layoff situations or during depressed market conditions, so counteract that by implementing a multichannel approach via branded intranet, microsite, emails, videos, promotional items, etc. Redundancy and repetition is powerful. This is also an excellent place to share the business reasons behind the organizational change or forward game plan along with timely updates as the process unfolds.
  4.  Two-way communication. Communications teams should establish a pathway for employees to offer feedback, share questions and concerns, and a process for which management can respond. We often recommend a place for employees to post questions and read management’s response, and a survey that allows employees to give feedback anonymously. The latter helps management/leadership gauge the hot issues that need addressing.
  5.  Longevity. Employee engagement is a marathon not a sprint, and your communications plan should be prepared to nurture the enterprise well past the revival mode.