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July 27, 2010

When Times Get Tough, the Tough Get Going to Improve Communication

Charles Dickens had it right – these are the best of times and the worst of times.

Many organizations are feeling under attack and protecting every asset.  In some, the pressure is mounting for leaders to find the answers, and employees who need to stay focused and productive are often numb out of fear of losing their job, taking on more work, or focused on the unknown.

Hidden in these tough times, is a defining moment to create real, meaningful connections to maintain – if not drive – productivity and minimize the disruptions that come with change.  It’s a time to ensure communication is a top priority to minimize the downside of change and accelerate the upside.

Now more than ever, we need leadership

I used to work for a manager who said, ‘Lead, follow, or get out of the way.’ This is a litmus test for leadership, which means sharing with employees what we know and what we don’t know.  This is a time for courageous conversations and straightforward communications.

Specifically, this is the time to talk about how the organization is positioned for the future and/or how changes are being made to set the business up for future success.  It’s also critical to clearly outline specific expectations for employees and what’s needed of them.

Here are some tips when communicating during tough times:

  • Remember the shadow that’s cast by leaders and the company – if in a situation where layoffs are happening, keep in mind that they may be tomorrow’s prospects, clients, boss, or future job candidates someday
  • Be honest, human, empathetic and show you care – delivering tough news is tough and it’s okay to let employees know it; do what you can to make them feel comforted
  • Hold a mirror to yourself – as you prepare to share updates and/or tough news, consider how you would like to be communicated with if you were in the employees’ shoes
  • Outline expectations clearly – it’s the fastest way to find out if employees are on the same page as you and engaged, and if they’re not, it could be a safe way for people to gracefully opt out of their job
  • If layoffs happen, help the remaining employees “mourn the loss” – don’t pretend that nothing happened or that the people left in the company or group aren’t affected
  • Don’t wait to communicate until you have all the answers, by then it will be too late – if you wait, someone is going to speak on your behalf and fill the information vacuum whether the information is right or wrong
  • Provide context and relevance so employees understand the meaning behind what’s being said and understand what it means to them; have a message platform of core messages and actions
  • Consider creating online and real-world networks for alumni – a place to keep in touch with others, network with each other, and keep a fond connection with the company so your organization is seen as a connector and you have ambassadors

Remember, talking about the state of the business – whether good news or grim – makes good business sense to avoid significant distractions at a time when a steady hand at the wheel is needed. 

Now more than ever, employees want to know where they stand and they need to stay focused.  To do this, they need the right direction and information from their leaders and communicators.

What tough message are you sitting on…..waiting for the “right time” to share it?  What’s holding you back from sharing that message now?

- David Grossman 

going slow to go fast

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Going Slow to Go Fast is a high-level, go-to resource for communicators who want to build an effective internal communication process that speaks directly to business leaders’ number-one question: How will this improve our company’s bottom line? Download Now!

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