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COMMUNICATING CHANGE WITH EMPATHY

by | Aug 27, 2019

Starting from a place of respect

Communicating change is challenging, particularly when it’s a major organizational change that will have a negative impact on employees. At Tribe, we counsel clients to start those communications from a place of respect for employees.

For instance, let’s say you’re faced with communicating change that involves layoffs or closures. There are employees who will lose their jobs due to the change, and employees who won’t.

Starting from a place of respect will lead you to treat the employees who are leaving with empathy. Their lives are being disrupted, and although the change presumably will be beneficial for the company, it will — at least in the short term — be a time of anxiety, stress and uncertainty for those employees. (For more on leading organizational change with empathy, try this Harvard Business Review piece.)

That same attitude of respect will shape the way you communicate the change with those who are staying. They may feel overwhelming relief that their jobs are not disappearing. And/or they may feel survivor’s guilt that they get to keep their positions while others will not. Regardless, they’ll be paying attention to the way the company communicates the job loss and how those impacted are treated.

Regardless of the economics or efficiencies of the change, keep in mind you’re dealing with human beings. A reorg that involves job loss may be a business decision, but it impacts actual people and their actual families.

Sometimes leadership may feel compelled to stress the good news following such a re-org. They might focus on the recent quarter’s profitability, or on sales growth, or success at a recent industry trade show. It’s understandable that they want to reassure the employees who remain that the ship has righted itself and is in fact not sinking.

But when leadership shares only the good news immediately after a re-org, it can strike employees as callous. If things are so good, why did you have to lose all those people? It can be tricky to strike the right balance between optimism and regret, but be aware of the ways in which trumpeting the good news can seem disrespectful to those unemployed employees now worried about paying next month’s mortgage.

Business often calls for difficult decisions that benefit the company but not certain individuals. Employees understand that, and don’t need (or want) the bad news sugarcoated. They do, however, want change communicated with respect and empathy.

Wondering how to reach employees with your change message? For ideas on effective avenues for communicating change, you might be interested in Change Management Communication Channels.

Need to communicate a major change? Tribe can help.

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