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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 bad economic times the focus is usually on providing coaching to understand the emotions people go through during change, helping employees deal with the complex emotions of watching colleagues leave, communication strategies the 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 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. Yes.. I know that “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.

Wrong. 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.

I mentioned in my previous blog the need to focus the organization on growth and innovation strategies and thereby give specific accountabilities to managers and supervisors. During this time, whilst trying to balance negative news as well, your face to face strategy needs to utilise the CEO and not only at town hall forums. Here’s an example of a strategy I implemented during another “bad” economic time, when the organization had 9 new competitors in one year. The CEO met with each of the state managers of the business divisions individually. He explained to them honestly the reality of the situation and why he had to rely on them. He gave them specific requests 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. 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 related to their state operations and the issues facing the organization and asked for their input in coming up with options and innovative ideas to grow the business.

The outcome was that despite going through extensive downsizing, restructures and everyone having to reapply for new roles, the business grew by 25% in that year. Obviously the strategy I designed was far more detailed than outlined above, but the purpose of this blog is share why I think managers and supervisors are not the best face to face communicators during times of change.

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