Six Essentials for Communicating Change to Your Employees

by Laura Pokrzywa

Siemens chief executive officer, Joe Kaeser, just announced the engineering company will eliminate more than 11,000 positions around the globe in an ongoing effort to cut costs. At the same time, rumors abound as to whether the 167-year old company will sell its healthcare business or continue its effort to purchase another energy giant, Alstom. One thing is certain: change is an inevitable part of business.

Ask any Siemens employee . . . when organizations of any size undergo change, stress levels are multiplied for all employees. But those stress levels can be brought down significantly by effective, proactive management practices. The most impactful, hands down, is good communication.

Clear, honest communication is key to easing your crew through periods of change. Keep them informed and you will meet much less resistance. Leave them out of the loop and you will lose their trust and create unnecessary stress.

ClosedSignFor example, when one business owner with several related but distinct companies decided to close the doors of the smallest entity (a shop staffed by just two full-time employees), he failed to communicate anything to his employees until the day of the closure! Not surprisingly, the sixty employees in his other shops grew concerned by speculative rumors about the future of the core business.

While closure of this larger entity was never under consideration – a simple memo communicating the legitimate business reasons for the change would have significantly reduced employee anxiety and warded off an unnecessary decrease in productivity and morale.

If you want your team to remain successful and productive through change, consider these best practices for communicating change (or anything) to your employees:

1. BE CLEAR! People have very powerful imaginations. If you don’t keep them informed (as much as you can), they will fill in the blanks with all kinds of scary scenarios. So, let your people know what to expect, when to expect it and why it’s happening. If they understand the business reasons for the impending changes, they will be much more likely to accept them. Especially if you can communicate how the changes will benefit the employees. —One caveat: Keep your communications simple and honest. Don’t try to hide behind slick euphemisms. Everyone knows when a realtor describes a home as “quaint” they really mean “old”. And “cozy” is code for “really small”. And “convenient to public transportation” means you’ll need to sleep with earplugs. Just the same, employees aren’t fooled by “code words”. It is much better to simply withhold sensitive information than to lie or mislead.
2. BE COMPASSIONATE. Just because employees understand the reasons for the change doesn’t mean they are ready for it. They may be anxious about the future of their job (despite reassurances), sad for the loss of their status quo, or just feeling uneasy in general. They need to know that you have heard their concerns and that you understand!
3. BE AN EXAMPLE. Leaders must show the same commitment to the changes as they expect from employees. That means staying focused on the goal, keeping a positive attitude, and involving others whenever possible. Employees who are part of the planning are usually much more engaged—even through change.
4. BE AVAILABLE. This is not the time for you to hide behind closed doors. If you have to, set a recurring “open door” appointment on your calendar. Not only will it help you manage your time, but it will communicate your willingness to hear concerns and your honest desire to get their feedback. Then be sure you are in your office, door open, at that time. They will appreciate the opportunity to be heard. And you may find the feedback from “the trenches” invaluable to improving new processes and meeting your own goals.
5. EQUIP THE TEAM. Make sure your managers are well-informed and thoroughly trained in any new processes or systems. Give them all the tools they will need to walk their teams through the coming changes. If new processes or procedures will be part of the changes, be sure to provide good training well in advance. If possible, train employees in groups or teams to encourage those natural support systems. “We’re in this together” is a lot less stressful than “Don’t worry. You’ll figure it out.”
6. BE OBSERVANT. Once they have been given a clear understanding of what is expected, it’s up to management to monitor progress and mark milestones. Offering informal feedback during the early stages of change will be less intimidating and will inspire confidence. Setting short term, measurable, specific goals will give you an opportunity to celebrate accomplishments along the way. Those recognitions will encourage continued commitment and boost morale.

Change happens. Though it can bring stress and uncertainty, it is also necessary for health and growth—for the company and for the employees. Communicating effectively through periods of change will minimize the stress and maximize the benefits.

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