March 19, 2020
We’ve all heard that familiar phrase, “The only thing constant is change.” But, I don’t think any of us have experienced these unrelenting waves of extreme change. Each day – and sometimes each hour – brings a new update, a new restacking of priorities and new decisions that need to be made. Just as we think the storm might be letting up, more updates roll in, and another wave of change crashes down.
Helping employees navigate this extreme change is critical to organizations’ short-term and longer-term survival. Consider this – we’re coming out of one of the lowest unemployment periods in U.S. history when the fight for quality talent was fierce. While unemployment is increasing in some areas, other areas are desperate for qualified, skilled employees. Once our current situation recedes, the war for talent will once again heat up as organizations try to move swiftly to hire. Building bonds with employees now by helping them manage change could be the difference between quickly reestablishing performance versus lagging the pack.
So, what should organizations be doing now? Here’s a framework to help build trust and engagement with your employees and help your organization manage through the COVID-19 change curve.
- Be visible – A recent Edelman report noted that employees are looking to their organization’s leaders for information and guidance during this pandemic. Senior leadership must be visible and accessible.How do you make that happen in a new era of social distancing? Provide daily or weekly updates via a trusted communications channel accessible to all employees – email, intranet, employee app or virtual town hall. Use video so that employees can see and hear your voice.
- Strengthen relationships, don’t just share information – Employees will remember how you made them feel – perhaps even more than the new policies and procedures that were implemented. As you communicate, be empathetic and understanding. Remind them to support each other as everyone balances changing professional and personal demands.
- Overcommunicate – Even if there isn’t new information to share, continue to communicate. Remind employees of what has been shared. Reinforce that the leadership team is meeting daily to review changing conditions. Employees want to know that leadership continues to be on top of a very fluid situation.
- Transparency – Be transparent in what decisions are being made and why. When possible, tell employees what senior leadership is discussing and considering. Transparency builds trust which in turn strengthens relationships.
- Gather feedback – While we must make decisions quickly, these decisions impact employees. When possible, gather feedback from the employees in advance. If not, ask employees to provide feedback afterward to inform future policies and communications.
- Set the tone for managers – With more and more organizations working remotely, managers play an increasingly important role in keeping team members engaged. Lead by example and help managers understand their increased responsibility.
During this time of extreme change, the shore may feel incredibly far away, but we know at some point we’ll reach it. Communications will help smooth the journey and ensure that you have a loyal and ready workforce to take on what lies ahead.
Need immediate help to help manage the extreme change in your organization? Contact Matt Barkett 24/7 through email or at 216.780.7800. Call our COVID-19 hotline for communications leaders any day from 11:00am to 1:00pm EST at 216.937.8902. You can also contact me to talk more about our change management capabilities and experience.