As HR leaders, we implement change, whether positive or negative, all of the time. One of the biggest challenges with change management is how to communicate the change. At the end of the day, employees care most about what change means to them personally, rather than the organizational reasons or needs to implement it. Even positive news can be met with trepidation as a normal human reaction to reject change. There are ways to help ease transitions, and here are three communication tactics that I have found useful:
1. Treat Employees Like Adults
I’ve always had the philosophy that if you treat employees like adults, they will behave like them. And remember, they are adults! It’s easy to talk to employees like they are children if you have to communicate something difficult. But they are big kids and they can handle honesty, so be honest about why changes are being made. While we can’t always disclose everything, keep in mind that employees know what is real and what is corporate talk. Make sure you listen to your employees’ questions or concerns. A true open dialogue will help ease any stress that may come with the change.
2. Flip the Script
Sometimes change is being made for the better and it still makes employees feel uneasy. For example, I once hired a new team leader who had great experience, but the team felt threatened by the change and the outsider coming in. Instead of defending the new hire, I used it as an opportunity to talk about the benefits to the team, how this new manager will be keenly invested in their individual career paths and how her prior experience will help enrich each person’s personal goals. This created excitement and anticipation instead of fear and defensiveness.
3. Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Always ask yourself how you would feel if you received the news you were about to tell an employee. Would you be surprised, angry, excited or sad? This will help you anticipate questions and help you to frame your answers ahead of time. It’s never good to blindside employees with news, but sometimes that can’t be helped. Make sure you have a plan for the entire HR team to spend a lot of time with employee groups to answer their questions. Provide an anonymous way for people to reach out and make sure you follow through and address the questions that come in.
Change is never easy, but the way you communicate the change will help you stay in control of the story and create goodwill and trust with your employees.