When Times are Tough, the Tough Keep Talking!

The only constant in life is change. But when that change affects your work life, it’s an unsettled time for everyone involved. We see the impact of these indicators as we coach executives and managers who are struggling with what to say, and unsure of how to appear confident when everything around them is uncertain.

We’ve written the “bad” news, the “not so good” news…and the “not sure what comes next” news for many executives. And the truth is that many of those executives have been discouraged by their messages, less sure of their direction and worried that they won’t be effective without an exciting message to lead employees into a new year.

It’s natural to want to retreat from communication at times like this – your instinct may be to say as little as possible to keep from causing fear. But, the reality is there is no such thing as non-communication; it’s really a matter of who’s doing it. Employees gossip more and rumors spread faster when times are tough, and executives fail to talk.

It’s during the worst of times that true leaders shine by rolling up their sleeves and getting in the trenches with their troops to cheer them on and relax their nerves…when times are tough, you need to keep talking.

In times of crisis and uncertainty, companies rely on the trust they’ve built from proactive internal communication to weather the storm. But, if you haven’t built goodwill to date, it’s not too late to develop your personal communication plan and make the commitment to keep your employees informed in the months ahead.

In order for your efforts to be effective, internal communication must deliver on three concepts: Consistency, Honesty & Hope.

CONSISTENCY: Communication is a commitment that you can make and keep in the year ahead by having a communication plan. A structured plan helps to set the frequency and consistency of communication in motion. Define in advance how you will communicate with employees and when they can expect it; then, live up to it. When all else seems in turmoil, it’s comforting to an employee to know that they can count on the boss to keep the commitment that he/she made to keep them informed.
Written communication is easiest…you can write an e-mail or blog after hours and stay true to time commitments even with heavy travel schedules and other priorities. But, remember that spoken communication adds comfort and builds connection that written communication can’t. Regardless of the method, employees should hear from senior leaders twice a month and from direct managers once a week.

HONESTY: We’ve seen quite a few presentations in the last few months that attempted to gloss over the ugly truth. Bad idea! While everyone wants to deliver an exciting message, communicating a lack of challenge or worry is suspect for today’s corporate audiences. It’s a good time to be a little vulnerable and honest about your worries as the leader. You can also help employees see beyond their current view of the situation. For example, looking back within the company or forward within your industry is a great way to provide perspective. Stories and examples help people see things through a different lens.
An important part of honesty is creating two-way communication. Include new ways for employees to react to your ideas in your communication plan and allow opportunities for venting frustrations and emotions.

HOPE: The most powerful emotion you can build with internal communication is hope. Now may not be the quarter that you can promise stellar bottom-line results, but you can show change and movement in a new direction. No one wants to feel that they’re standing still or stuck in a crisis that they don’t know how to get out of. You may rarely have all of the answers, but you can create energy around the goals that you’re trying to accomplish.

A good formula for communication could be: define the challenge, tell employees what you’re doing to address the challenge and then tell them what they can do to help. It’s therapeutic for all of us to feel that we’re a part of solutions.

As a manager or an executive, you may not be able to commit to a new course of action as quickly as you’d like and you may not be able to avoid all of the challenges that change will bring your way. But, you can commit to be a great communicator and boost morale and trust with communications that deliver consistency, honesty and hope.

Call us if you need us.