Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bonus Blog: Delivering News about changes in the workplace with as little jackassedness as possible

How many meetings have you been to where the gossip has been in full force about layoffs or reorgs or people leaving, the sky falling, the return of Godzilla, etc. and then the meeting sort of answered your questions, but may have left you in a further panic while having to sit through another hour and a half of things that management wants you to hear in hopes that you will not freak out about whatever the change is?

I have sat in a lot of those meetings.

From time to time, I've had to give the occasional meeting. When I do it, I like to follow the guidelines below:

1) Make it a short meeting. People get shook up, they want time to process it. If you're not giving them time to process it by talking to them continually, you are effectively wasting your breath because after the news and the immediate five minutes after (during which they're looking for additional info), you've lost them. These kinds of meetings should be booked for an hour and last a half hour or less so everyone has plenty of time for questions and/or to flee to the parking lot to quietly talk amongst themselves.

2) The first ten minutes of your half hour "the world is changing" speech should be exactly what is changing the world: we're going to have a re-org because budgets are down. You can explain why budgets are down, or why you're good people, or how awesome things are, but for sure communicate that a) the thing is happening.

3) The second ten minutes should be information the people hearing the announcement should find useful. This means that a lengthy explanation about how rough the decision was to make, etc. should not go here. This is not about you or the company, this ten minutes is addressing the fears and concerns of employees. This is the ten minutes when you care about their feelings and their future. This is when you tell them when changes will apply and what happens next or, when you expect to know more about changes and where to go to get info about what happens next. For example, "We're having re-orgs, but no one is being let go," or "We're having a re-org and we'll be reviewing all positions from now until May 1, at which time we'll have additional information for you about the reorganization" or "X is leaving us, and a complicated process of internal promotion will be taking place in the coming weeks. For more information, please see your manager after this meeting."

4) The final ten minutes are things that you are saying to prove that you are a human being relating to other human beings. Validating feelings of loss or frustration, assuring them that you'll all get through it together, and so on. These ten minutes are often empty platitudes (I did do a whole blog about how you sometimes have to lie as a manager), but people who have been shaken up need comfort, however you can give it to them, as honestly as you can give it to them. They need to know that things are safe, that they are heard, and that even if there's nothing they can do, they are not alone. This is also the time you ask them if they have any questions and you answer those questions as honestly as you can.

5) When the 30 minutes are over, interrupt the discussion and let folks know they may flee if they wish, but that you will be there for the next half hour to answer questions. Make yourself available then (or later if you have to), and work with other manages to be available to ask questions/have a unified message front for employees.

6) Now is not the time to announce additional instability or ambiguity. If your VP is leaving, telling people that you're also thinking (but haven't decided) about a complete realignment of the department will only spread panic. You don't want people to panic anymore than they already are. Also, despite the fact that it seems like it's best to pull the bandaid off all at once, it's not. People need to feel some stability, especially if you haven't decided, for sure, to make things unstable.

7) If new changes have to be introduced after a major one, make them as positive as possible; so, if a dept is realigning after a VP is leaving, frame it with positive language such as being more efficient, and letting people do more of what they want to do. And try to make it that way while you're at it.

If you are not a manager, or not a manager involved with the big announcement (whatever it may be), you can still help. Talk to your manager (if you are an individual contributor) and ask for a group meeting and suggest he/she go over the points: what the change is, how it was made, what exactly will affect the team, that we're all in it together. It will make you and your manager and the rest of the team feel much better.

If you are a manager, but not the one dropping the announcement, you can set up your own meeting to hit these points, and to be available to your team or others to answer questions and be available for venting. People don't like change. Let them feel safe expressing themselves and they'll adapt to that change pretty rapidly. Further, they'll follow you through it, because they know you'll treat them right, because you HAVE treated them right.

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