Why managers aren't the best communicators during times of change

Sep 16 2009 by Marcia Xenitelis Print This Article

Everywhere you look these days the focus in Human Resources and Employee Communication is managing change within organizations. But most of these programs fail to achieve their objectives.

During tough economic times, the focus is usually on providing coaching on understanding the emotions people go through during change, helping employees deal with the complex emotions of watching colleagues leave, communication strategies that utilise management hierarchies to communicate face-to-face with their teams on what is happening next in organizational restructures, and so on.

The reason why this approach does not work is because the focus is on managing fear, not change. And this is why managers don't follow through with the key messages and face to face discussions with their teams that you have so cleverly crafted.

I realise that some "studies" show that employees trust their immediate manager or supervisor more than anyone in the organization. Therefore it must follow that if you are designing a communication and change strategy focused on organizational restructures and downsizing the smart thing to do would be to utilize them as a key part of your face to face strategy.

Actually this is not the case and there are many reasons why this is not the way to approach change during these times.

Think about it. Here you have an entire organization paralysed with fear. Budget cuts all around, negative media speculation, no one is secure. And the only person who really knows what is being planned is the CEO.

Is it any wonder, when you give a script for managers and supervisors to communicate to staff, their teams ask what's going to happen with our jobs, and the manager or supervisor in the spirit of trust and honesty says, "I don't know, I don't even know what is going happen to me."

So this is why you need to take a different approach to face-to-face communication during these times.

So here is an example of how you can still give accountability for specific messages to managers and supervisors and at the same time utilize your CEO as a key communicator during times of change.

During another "bad" economic time, during which the organization had nine new competitors during one year I implemented the following strategy.

1. Firstly I had arranged for the CEO to meet with each of the state managers of the business divisions in each state individually. The win for the CEO was to hear first hand how business was in each business division in each state and to meet with key clients at the same time.

2. He explained honestly to each State Manager the reality of the situation with the business and why he had to rely on them.

3. He gave them specific actions of what he wanted from them and they in return delivered and stepped up and managed in some instances the total closure of state offices in true leadership style.

4. We then held "Business Reality" workshops for one day in each state which all managers and supervisors attended. The CEO was present at each and shared with them real business data and the issues facing the organization and asked for their input in coming up with options and innovative ideas to grow the business.

5. These ideas were then considered by the Executive team and the best were implemented in each business division and state.

6. The supervisors and managers now had something to share with their teams - specific action plans for their division. And more importantly the key issues that the CEO had asked them to focus on.

The outcome was that despite going through extensive downsizing, restructures and everyone having to reapply for new roles, we grew the business by 25% in that year.

Obviously the strategy was much more detailed than outlined above, but the purpose of this article is share why I think managers and supervisors are not the best face to face communicators during times of change.

About The Author

Marcia Xenitelis
Marcia Xenitelis

Marcia Xenitelis experience in the field of employee communication spans 20 years. An international public speaker on the subject, the manuals she has written have been purchased worldwide by Fortune 500 companies, universities and over a thousand companies in her native Australia.