From time to time, every leader has to deliver news that is hard for employees to hear. Even when businesses are doing well, organizational and structural change is to be expected, and acquisitions, reorganizations, or policy changes can affect people’s jobs in ways that create feelings of fear, anger, or sorrow. Each employee wonders, “How will this change affect me?” or assumes, “Oh, this won’t be good! How am I going to get my work done?”
Announcements like these can be daunting. And they go awry if they’re insufficiently planned or poorly delivered. But by attending to the following crucial components, leaders can be ready to communicate the news in ways that will help recipients adjust well and recover as quickly as possible.
Plan more time than you ever thought necessary to prepare the content, the delivery, and the necessary follow-up. Typically, you should expect to hold not just one initial “all hands” meeting or videoconference, but also a series of smaller team and individual conversations as follow-ups. As one of my clients was going through a series of organizational changes, a valued middle manager reacted negatively in each town hall, asking inappropriately detailed questions as if it was a game of “gotcha,” to show that the ramifications hadn’t been fully considered. Once his boss made clear that he would have the opportunity for continuing formal and informal discussions, the manager kept himself in check and was able to offer specific suggestions to improve implementation.
Also, take pains to coordinate announcements so that no one is caught flat-footed if the news is being released at different intervals by individual managers and organization-wide outlets. It may feel like you’re overinvesting in planning, but it will save you time and pain in the long run. Giving people multiple opportunities to take in and process the announcement is essential for thorough understanding; receiving the information from the right sources in the right sequence is crucial for credibility.
Equip all levels of management to explain the context. Provide training and rehearsal or role-play time to everyone who will need to communicate the message; don’t assume they’ll have the right instincts. Otherwise, to escape their own discomfort, they may dump the news or blame management, either directly or indirectly.