Until Morale Improves, Continue the Beatings Will

It’s easy to forget that the relationship between employer and employees is not just an analogue to businesses and customers. They are, for all intent and purposes, exactly the same. There is an exchange of goods and services (work) for a fee (compensation). Many organizations continue to operate under the framework of employee relations made famous by Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge: begrudging parsing of minimal compensation and workplace facilities.

But, as always, there is nothing new under the sun. It seems that as management styles and motivation techniques rise and fall in vogue, there are some truisms that apply. And for me, the most critical is: communication is key. This was reinforced for me just recently as I was working with a client.

Like many organizations, my client spends the end of the year and the first part of each new year evaluating successes, misses, and opportunities. The mid-level execs assemble their findings and recommendations, the executive management team huddles, organizational roles and alignment is scrutinized, and new objectives announced. Now under normal circumstances these are all Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). This latest round, however, did not follow the SOP. Rather than planning the rollout of new roles and organizational alignment and scheduling time for managers and impacted individual contributors to review, the management announced the changes as part of a broader team meeting.

One wouldn’t expect that the results would be terribly surprising, but the management team was taken aback by staff reactions. Colleagues who had been consistent performers had their roles eliminated or “redefined” seemingly at random. Long-standing client relationships and in-flight opportunities appeared to be “at-risk” by the staff as a result of the realignment. Water cooler whispered conversations all seemed to begin with, “Can you believe…?” Lots of email and phone calls expressing frustration, confusion and dismay crossed the offices.

Effective communication is an essential element of any successful relationship, be they personal or professional. In this case, resolution was achieved by:

  • Apologizing to the impacted employees
  • Scheduling small-team meetings to present the full decision-making process and data
  • Clarifying the impact to affected employees in tailored org-wide messaging
  • Preparing customer-facing communications with the subject-matter-experts in the teams

It will be likely that despite these efforts, some hard feelings will remain. But with a focus on clear, consistent communication, I believe these will fade with time. As true as it is with regard to customers, communication, frequent and clear, is a critical element in growing and keeping your employees.

So, what tips do you have for managing organizational change and communications?  Comment below!