Since I’ve been practicing internal communication for so many years, I’ve spent a lot of time asking employees what works for them.
Maybe that’s why I get frustrated when companies make the same mistakes over and over (and over and over) again. All you have to do is listen to employees to know how to design communication that meets their needs.
Take organizational change, for instance. Companies have been managing major change for a very long time—so long, in fact, that you’d think they would be good at it. Yet time after time, leaders (and the communicators who support them) mess it up. They don’t communicate quickly enough. They’re too conceptual. And they forget that employees seek more than information; they need contact with leaders and managers.
Want to stop the madness and (finally) get it right? I’ve compiled employee suggestions about how the best ways to communicate change. Here are their top 7 requests:
1. Be specific
“Too often, communication is very general and after I read it, I say, ‘So what really happened?’”
“Communication is fuzzy and unclear. We need a plan of action so that we can see how we fit in.”
2. Tell the straight story.
“When the news is bad, it’s given a positive spin. So, that is not exactly telling the truth.”
“Doesn’t the company trust employees enough to be honest?”
“The more damaging the information is, the more they withhold from us, the more the rumor gets out. There is so much energy wasted on the rumor mill.”
3. Be clear about who’s where and who does what.
“I would like to have a directory so that if I need to reach someone, I can.”
“Org charts would be so helpful. You can’t read through a long email and figure out where a person or team fit in.”
“A problem I’ve run into is that I don’t know who’s covering a certain area. So I have to do a lot of networking to identify the person I need to make contact with.”
4. Hold leaders accountable for communicating.
“The CEO has disappeared. You don’t see him in the hallways. We just receive emails from him.”
“We need leaders to meet with us regularly to keep us posted about what is going on, what is going to happen.”
“It goes back again to leadership. There’s so much uncertainty, even our leaders don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. As a result of that, they don’t feel comfortable leading. They’re afraid. When you don’t know what’s going on and you don’t want to misstep, what do you do? You stop talking.”
5. Give managers the support they need to be successful.
“It seems that senior leaders know things, but they don’t communicate this information to us, the frontline supervisors.”
“Instead of interpreting the message, my manager forwards the entire e-mail, almost with an attitude. It’s like saying ‘Here, look at this. See what they’re doing now?’ She wants us to know what she has to deal with. But the manager’s job is to make the employee’s job easier.”
“I think the problem is that managers don’t know how to manage. People need management training. As part of that training, they need to learn how to communicate.” -
“Information given out is not credible. Information is confidential and only directors and supervisors know the answers, but they won’t tell employees.”
6. Keep communication coming.
“Communication was very good initially. But since then, we’ve received very little information about the integration process and what it means to us and our jobs.”
“There was initial communication, but then the fear factor hit: What does this mean? What is going to happen? What areas will be affected? Communication has been spotty—none, then some, then nothing.”
“Early on, communication was okay in the respect that people knew the role of leaders. But since then, we’re wondering how we’re affected.”
“There was plenty of initial information about the merger was progressing. But now it’s like pulling teeth to find out how people are impacted.”
7. Open up dialogue.
“Effective communications needs to be two-way, and there has to be a certain degree of trust. And employees in general do not trust management to respond to their issues; therefore, why bother communicating with them. And I think that is why we do not have effective two-way communication.”
“What one person understands from reading something is not always what everyone understands. So you need to get one person to ask a question so that they might clarify it for 10 people.”
“Communication should be about conversation. Senior managers really need to know what people feel.”
“One of the most effective ways to share information is by meeting with people. On several occasions I’ve asked my boss to come talk to my team to share information. I’ve told my boss that she needs to say, ‘This is what we know today, even if you don’t have the answers.’ Employees need to hear that leaders don’t have those answers.”
Okay, this isn’t always easy. But by paying attention to employees’ feedback, you’ve got a great foundation for meeting their needs.