September 13, 2011

Communicate Change Early and Often

A good friend works for a small accounting firm. The owner is getting married to someone who lives about three hours from the office. Although everyone is happy for his upcoming marriage they are more concerned about the impact to themselves. After all, they reason that either the husband or wife will eventually move since three hours is an impossible daily commute. We have a tendency to look at the world from a WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) point of view. So if their owner moves does that mean the business will close? Will they need to start looking for a job and when? The people working for this firm are business professionals who realize that a change will occur and can and will manage through the change; the problem is that the owner has not shared his plans so they are anxious and focused on their own concerns.

I have been in many conference rooms where a team of managers are planning a major change. The discussion will eventually get to what and when to tell the workforce about the change. What typically happens is someone will advocate the position that no one should be told about the change because it will be too disruptive and after all “no one will find out.” That statement should be seen as a danger signal. People are going to see changes in managerial behavior such as conversations stopping when members of the workforce approach or many “closed door meetings.” Everyone will get a sense that something is going on and that will be more disruptive then just telling people about the change in a planned, considered manner.
It is human nature to need information. When information is not supplied it will be “invented” to fill in the gaps. This gap in information results in productivity loss as people speculate as to what is “going on behind closed doors” and each conversation with coworkers beginning with “what did you hear?” In this era of layoffs appearing in the news on almost a daily basis, anxiety becomes high because of a fear of possibility loosing jobs and income. It does not take much to start rumors from spreading. When rumors are spreading what is not happening is productive work.
The second impact to not communicating change with your workforce is a lack of trust develops. People will know that important information is being kept from them and will feel as if they are untrustworthy. That will impact their commitment to the organization and their loyalty.
There are occasionally times when some changes must be kept confidential such as a merger where there are specific legal requirements and contracts requiring confidentially, but most other changes should be communicated as soon as possible. Even if all the information cannot be shared right away or there are unknowns, people will appreciate candor and feeling trusted with any information that is communicated. People will be happy to work for a change that they are involved in and where their opinions are sought.
Your workforce can contribute to or hinder your change efforts. Involving them as early as possible will gain their trust, commitment and input into a successful change.

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