I’ve been involved in a number of change initiatives over my career, leading some and helping leaders guide their teams through others. No matter what spurred the change, whether a technology implementation, branding change, or global health crisis, the most important element is always communication.
Everyone handles change differently. People move through the process of letting go of the old, and accepting the new (or inevitable) at different rates of speed, and with different emotions. Good communication, and leaders who take this responsibility to heart, tend to build faster acceptance and engagement on the other side, and thus more productivity.
Here are some of the leading practices that I’ve used, and have been sharing with clients and other leaders in my network.
Share early and often
No one had the luxury during this pandemic to prepare their team or organization for what was coming, through well a thought out change and communication plan. While it hit out of nowhere it doesn’t mean that leaders are off the hook with communication.
As employees went from the office to working from home, or staying at work as essential workers, those leaders who have kept up constant communication have been seeing more engagement and productivity.
You may sometimes feel like you’re a broken record, repeating the same messages over and over. What you might not realize is that because everyone is moving through the change process at different rates of speed, and are also hearing your messages differently. Someone might not have absorbed a message you shared two weeks ago because they weren’t ready to hear it. People need to hear some messages up to seven times for it to really take hold.
So right now communicate more than you think you should. And next time you have the luxury of planning for a change, remember that to start the messaging before you need involvement and engagement for the best results.
Use a variety of communication channels
Email is good for when you want to ensure the message is clear and consistent. It guarantees that everyone who receives the email sees the same message, though they still might interpret it differently. However, inboxes are probably flooded with emails so if it's critical, find a different way, one that calls attention to the importance of the message.
While working from home limits the ability to have the in-person meetings in the same location, it doesn’t mean you can’t do similar things via the online meeting tool you are using.
Conduct large, virtual meetings or town halls with all employees. If you’re in a variety of time zones or countries, videotape the message so people can watch it at their convenience. Be sure to leave time for questions during the live events, and have a way for people to ask questions after viewing the taped ones.
Even if it’s not your personal favorite medium, use other communication channels that are common for your organization. Slack, IM, newsletters, or anything else that is sure to engage the most team members.
Be open (and vulnerable)
Many of us have worked in organizations that have gone through some type of change, and had the responsibility to take a leadership role in the process. As mentioned before, the difference this time is that the change is happening to you along with our entire team at the same time.
You probably don’t have a playbook for talking with your team about everything that has taken place, or what will happen as businesses start to return to offices, branches, and plants. It’s okay to not have all of the answers, and it’s definitely okay to admit it.
Saying, “I don’t know,” might be one of the most important leadership phrases to use right now. This is not the time to make something up. Just don’t leave your team hanging. If it is something you can get an answer to, do it and report back. If it’s something that has not been decided on, let your team know that too.
Remember, communication is an ongoing journey, especially during these times. Keep it up and you will be helping your team in more ways than you will ever know.