By Tom Davidson
Downsizing? Upsizing? Strategic realignment? Product launch? Divestiture? Plant closings? Plant openings? Merger? Acquisition? Benefits changes? Budget cuts?
There’s no shortage of change in the workplace, but there’s always a shortage of sufficient communication about change. While you may not always be privy to changes as early as you’d like, you are still responsible for communicating change effectively and well.
- Ask and anticipate questions. Questions and answers are the lifeblood of every change initiative, so collect all the information you can about the change, not only to inform yourself but also to arm yourself to help others. Even when “frequently asked question” documents are provided, build one of your own, noting what questions people are asking (in their own language), anticipating what questions they are likely to ask (including the hardest ones), and getting the answers. Check with higher-level managers for accuracy, and share the document and its content as far, wide and frequently as possible.
- Over communicate. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so does change. The slightest gap of information will be filled with rumor and speculation. More importantly, since people tend to believe the first version of facts that they hear, letting others fill the void with misinformation is a recipe for long-term for disaster. No issue is too small or inconsequential during times of change. People will want to know about the oddest things, like parking privileges, the annual picnic, and if the logo is going to change, even when they have little or no direct connection to the change.
- Be more visible than usual. Every leader is the eyes and ears of the organization, and during times of change, it’s essential to be in close touch with those who are being most affected. Rather than canceling meetings because of increased workloads, increase their number to ensure a sufficient variety and frequency of forums for asking questions, venting, and taking the pulse of the organization. Your higher-than-usual visibility will put you in a position of being an information source and thought leader.
- Bad mouth the change. No matter what level leadership role you hold, it’s your job to understand the change and help it succeed. Criticizing the change, especially in front of your team, peers or customers, positions you as part of the problem, not the solution.
- Accept every change without question. There are pros and cons in every change initiative, and even if the change is inevitable, your perspective is likely to provide valuable information about barriers and opportunities. If you are too accepting of change, you may be allowing too many bad ideas to go unchecked or untested.
- Hunker down. A natural instinct for some is to keep their heads down and try not to attract too much attention. The play-it-safe theory is that if one can go relatively unnoticed during upheaval of this kind, then one might get through it unscathed. Ironically, it’s the opposite behavior – dealing with the change head on – that insulates people from harm.
It’s easy to be a leader when times are stable and little is changing. It’s when times are challenging or changing that leaders are tested and illuminated. So move toward the challenge, ask questions and fill the void left by others.
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