Remember that, in a void, employees will fill in the blanks with meaning and interpretation typically much worse than the truth! They will MSU (make stuff up). We are all quite good at it; interpreting body language, tone and inflection and often jumping straight to conclusions based in very little data! Right now, all of us are surrounded by negative messages. They dominate the news, breakroom conversations and radio waves. Almost everyone has a friend, family member or neighbor who has been laid off or will be soon. It is critical leaders over communicate and constantly state where you are going and why you can still win.
Employee ponderings are likely to include:

  • is leadership clued in to what is going on?
  • is the company responding quickly enough or will we be the next one to fall apart?
  • is my project still important?
  • am I still important?

Whether you are directly hearing these things are not, it is highly likely they are common thought bubbles among employees. Quite simply, almost everyone is at least a little worried about their job these days (according to a recent workplace poll, more than 80% of all employees are 'deeply concerned about the success of their organization'). This is a dramatic increase from one year ago when numbers averaged in the 20% range!

Remember, as leaders, we have been in countless meetings looking at the current environment and exploring how and why we can still win in the future. However, employees have not been privy to these conversations. They do, however, see messages and are impacted by cuts in travel and other expense reductions. They hear stories, typically with little data to back them up, about competition and what is going on in the market. After living in tough times for several months (and even longer for some organizations and industries) and with employees already feeling a bit worn down, it is more important than ever to over communicate!
Setting the stage and leadership responsibility:
What are the key messages you should communicate right now and what do you want all managers communicating throughout the organization? How can you keep this in front of managers and employees?

  • What are the significant forces at play in our markets?
  • How is our company positioned to win?
  • What is leadership concerned about AND addressing?
  • What is staying the same despite all these changes?
  • What are the top three most important business priorities for the next 3 months? 6 months?
  • What are some personal feelings about the current situation (what does it mean to leaders to navigate through this with a strong team, how are individual leaders keeping themselves focused, etc.)?

Following is a template to assist you in communicating effectively:
Develop the story

  • What has happened?  Be honest and candid, providing as much information as possible (remember that employees will always fill in the blanks with negative stories so give as much detail as possible while focusing on the positive).
  • What's next?  Describe where the organization needs to go now and why.  Give insight into business justification, customer needs, industry demands and trends, internal efficiencies to be gained, etc.  Talk as much as you can about what it will look like when you get there (as best as you can tell today).
  • Outline the advantages and benefits of getting to where you are going and address implementation specifics for any changes.  Talk about timing, how people will be kept informed throughout the process, employee responsibilities especially if they are changing, employee next steps and "to do's", and describe the support that will be provided across the organization (e.g. people, technology, assistance)
  • As a leader, talk about what it means to you to be on the journey, to deal with constantly shifting market realities and tough economic conditions, speak to what you believe it means to each audience member as well.
  • Identify key things that will not be changing.  Consider what could provide a sense of stability, continuity, and identity to the group including things like your values or operating principles, products, market focus, etc.

Where are you spending your time as a leader or manager today?  You cannot communicate too much in tough times and there is little that is more important. Take the time each month to develop your key messages and make sure they get shared throughout your organization.

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