Over the last month I have been assisting Doug, the President of a $140 million national distribution company, to prepare for a crucial presentation to 350 managers assembled for the company’s annual meeting. Doug realized the global economic meltdown of the past few weeks, as well as recent downsizing that has occurred within the company, has significantly raised the anxiety level among the company’s employees. Doug also knows a critical part of his job as the company’s leader is to not only set the course for the company, but to maintain employee morale and focus by clearly communicating that course in these uncertain times. Through his presentation, Doug will be exercising exemplary leadership by answering the employees’ spoken and unspoken questions about the company’s future.
Doug gets it. In tough times it is absolutely essential for effective leaders at all levels of the company to engage in a dialogue with employees about their future with the company. While it is never easy to tell employees bad news, it is worse to not communicate bad news to employees. The failure to communicate leaves employees susceptible to the million rumors ground out by the company’s gossip mongers. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the calamitous effect this failure to communicate has on productivity as employees begin to wonder if their job is safe and begin to check Monster.com for available job opportunities. Yet, as reported by Anne Bares on her blog Compensation Force, in response to a recent “Economic Anxiety in the Workplace Poll” that asked “What action(s) has your organization’s leadership taken to respond to the economic anxiety in the workplace?”
• 46% responded that organizational leadership had taken “no action” to communicate with the workforce!
This failure to communicate makes me very angry! While I understand the reluctance to communicate bad news, I cannot understand the failure of leadership such reluctance reveals. Being a leader at any level requires that you do the easy and the hard things required for the good of the organization and the people who support it. Whether you are a Front Line Leader or the CEO, you have an obligation to communicate with your employees, especially when there is uncertainty in the workplace. To make it a bit easier here are some tips about how to communicate with the workforce:
Know & Find Out: Leaders don’t have to have all the answers, but they need to get the answers. Tell employees what you know and what you don’t, listen to their questions and then get them the information they need to understand the situation.
Inform the Team: Make sure everyone on the management team from the CEO to the Front Line Leader knows about the situation and what to communicate to the workforce. There is nothing more annoying to a Front Line Leader than to find out about a situation from a member of his work team.
Be Visible: Get off your butt and be in the workplace. Show up and answer questions on all the shifts. Leaders should be doing this in good times as well as in bad times!
Issue a Call to Action: Be clear about what you want your managers and your workforce to do. They want to help – tell them how.
Be in Front of the Rumor Mill: You can’t stop rumors. Find out what those rumors are and quickly respond to them.
The Bottom Line is your Company needs to develop a communication plan that provides information in bad times as well as in good times. How do you think the Company is going to thrive in the uncertainty of the WorkQuake© if the people you are counting on to solve the Company’s problems don’t have a clue as to what those problems are or how they can help solve them?