Blog

Communicating negative change is an opportunity to build employee trust

by | May 22, 2018

Here’s the thing: trust is not about guaranteeing employees that nothing bad will ever happen. If building trust requires a guarantee of anything, it’s that the company will tell employees what’s really going on, even if it’s bad.

Employees are smart enough to realize that no company can promise lifetime employment anymore. Most employees don’t even want lifetime employment. They want interesting, challenging work, and in an ideal scenario, work that they find personally meaningful.

They start a new job with the expectation that eventually they’ll move on to another company, ideally when they themselves decide it’s time for a change. On the other hand, they recognize that sometimes  companies have to lay people off, eliminate positions or somehow reduce head count. They know that job security is a relative term.

Honesty, then, becomes the real building block of trust. Employees feel trust in their company — and thus do their best work and are most engaged — when they believe management is being honest with them. So how does a company go about doing that?

1. Tell employees about any significant changes in the company — and tell them fast, before the rumor mill and the media get a jump on you. Some CEOs and other leaders delude themselves into thinking that if they don’t say anything, the employees won’t notice that anything is going on. Wrong. Employees know when something is up, and in the absence of management communication, they’ll take their information wherever they can get it, often from each other.

2. Tell the truth, even when it’s bad news. Particularly when it’s bad news. If employees know that the company will be straight with them in communicating negative developments, then they tend not to worry so much. Ironically, sharing bad news makes employees feel more comfortable instead of less so.

3. Give employees credit for being smart enough to know business includes both ups and downsMost people have experienced plenty of highs and lows in their own lives, and they have an understanding that things move in cycles. Just because the business is down today, doesn’t mean it won’t be up tomorrow.

4. Make room for employees to ask questions. You have to make this honest communication a two-way street. Provide an online forum or town  hall meetings or some venue for your people to ask management the hard questions. That gives the company a chance to respond to the issues that you have to accept are swirling around the workplace.

5. Share the management vision for the future. Most corporate management teams believe they’re doing this all the time. It’s true that the people closest to them are usually familiar with the vision. But the further away an employee is from the top, the less likely they are to know anything at all about the vision for the organization. Being aware of leadership’s vision can help anchor employees drowning in a sea of change.

Interested in communicating change in a way that can build trust? Tribe can help.

Subscribe to our internal communications blog