What do you do when your company decides to remove a long honored tradition, something like, let’s say, giving your employees chocolate eggs at Easter? How do you communicate the change in a way that doesn’t make your employees hopping mad?
Believe it or not, this was the conversation we had recently when I led a communications workshop, with one group selecting this scenario as the one they’d tackle as they learned and practiced my IMPACT approach to communications.
It started out as a bit of fun, although it was actually a true situation for one of the attendees. But as it turned out, it ended up being a great scenario for discussing the importance of getting your communications right, especially when taking something away from your employees – even something as simple as a chocolate Easter egg.
I thought I’d share some of the key takeaways from this discussion to help you should you face a similar challenge:
1. Get a feel for reactions.
Have you ever given your child the ‘wrong’ Easter egg (or anything else)? And instead of jumping for joy, they sit in the corner and pout. Well that’s exactly what can happen if you don’t take the time to understand your employees before you go and share the news with them.
For example, how did they feel about receiving the egg to begin with? Was it really important to them? Did they possibly bring it home and give it to a loved one? Or possibly, did many just throw it away because they didn’t even like chocolate (is that even legal?!).
“By understanding how your employees may react, you’ll be able to communicate in a more effective way, covering their key concerns or pushbacks.”
2. Start by explaining the why.
We all agreed that the most important message employees needed to hear was why this was happening, so why were the eggs no longer being given out. If you dance around this or sugar coat it, all you do is create a group of angry and disengaged employees.
So for example, if you’re ending this tradition because the business needs to find ways to save money, be truthful and tell them this. If you’re doing it because you found that 50% of eggs were left on desks because people didn’t want them, again, tell them this. Whatever the truth, share it with them.
“Your employees deserve to hear the truth. And if you don’t tell them it, trust me, they’ll create their own version of the truth . .. . which is often worse than the actual truth!”
3. Make sure the message is heard.
Picture this, you send out an all-employee email announcing that chocolate Easter eggs aren’t being handed out, and . . . no one reads the email and . . . your entire workforce shows up in the HR office demanding their chocolate!
Sound like something out of a science fiction film? Trust me, it can and will happen if you rely on one method for communicating your announcement. The group talked about the variety of ways you could ensure that each and every employee hears the news, doing so through team briefings, posting the news on the company intranet, or even hanging posters in toilets (we did get into a strange conversation on the power of toilet communication, but that’s something for another blog!.
4. Consider who should send the message.
Another topic of hot debate was the question – who should send out the message? At first, some suggested it be sent out by HR, but quickly the group came to the conclusion that since it was a business decision, the message needed to come from the business.
In HR we often think, or are told, that we need to be the bearer of bad news. Why? Shouldn’t it come directly from the person/group who made the decision? We need to push back more on this, as it is not only better for us, but better for the audience, our employees.
5. Think carefully about the use of humor.
The final topic the group debated was the use of humor, or in some situations, the holding back of humor. We had a great discussion as to when and why to use humor, and ended up agreeing that humor is not a ‘no-no’, but should be used with caution, making sure that everyone will perceive it as funny and not just being rude or disrespectful.
Using the example of removing the Easter egg, although one member of the team created a clever line about the company being lean and helping employees be lean, we all agree probably not best to joke about something as important (and emotional) as food!
So there you go, five things to keep in mind when you next communicate to your employees. I hope you found them helpful, and feel free to share others with me.