In a recent discussion with a client, the question of communication came up. Specifically, when to share sensitive information with team members.
This client had a fairly large organization, with approximately a half-dozen of management-level individuals, all of whom had teams that reported into them.
One of the managers was planning to exit the organization in the next month, but it was still confidential.
“What do we tell people, who do we tell first, and when should we do it?”, was the question posed to me.
Situations like this come up a lot in a business, where sensitive information needs to be shared, but in such a way that it doesn’t cause panic or ‘leaks’ out into places where they shouldn’t go just yet.
If you find yourself in this particular situation, as many of us do when we reach leadership roles, it can cause a bit of stress for everyone involved. Succession planning, potential team realignment, workload distribution – there are a number of factors to consider.
However, if you approach the situation with a strategy in mind, you can increase the likelihood that you will have a solid change plan in place. Here are a few steps to consider when this particular type of change crosses your desk.
Map Out Immediate Stakeholders
Often times, the very people that this change will implicate are the last ones to know.
We tell ourselves that if we let employees know that their supervisor is leaving that it will cause panic, anger, and undue stress. Chaos is what we envision, so our first reaction is to wait.
Say nothing until the perfect plan is in place.
Yet, more often than not, this perfect plan is never developed, communication is fragmented and anecdotal at best, and it is the very lack of communication that leads to the outcomes that we fear will happen if we are simply open about it in the first place.
As soon as you have confirmed that a supervisor, manager, director, etc. is leaving, put an action plan in place to let their immediate team members know.
It is ok if you do not have a plan in place yet, and it is also ok if you do not know where things will land – as long as you communicate this fact.
Keeping people in the dark is the fastest way to the rumour mill, which elevates stress, speculation, anxiety, and productivity drop-offs. If individuals are kept in the loop and we are honest with them, then the coming weeks, as plans are formed, are easier to handle.
A benefit to this strategy, is that you can solicit feedback and ideas on how to move forward, straight from the team themselves. When people feel involved, they are more likely to support any new changes or strategies going forward.
You are also likely to hear ideas or solutions that you would never have thought of, given that you do not live in their day-to-day. Employees are the first line to excellent problem solving if given the opportunity.
Create a Clear and Purposeful Communication Plan
Rarely do organizations take the time to create a communication plan, which is why most business communications are met with resistance, confusion, and push-back.
When you create a communication plan, you are building a strategy to inform, consult, and engage individuals that will be ultimately affected by the change.
Your communication plan should include who needs to be informed, when they are to be informed, how they are to be informed, as well as include a mechanism to collect feedback and input.
We all love email, it’s no secret. The most common form of communication in today’s business world is still email, yet when it comes to announcements of this nature, email is not your friend.
Tone, intent, style, word-choices – this can all be misunderstood, misconstrued, and misused when sensitive information is shared via email.
The ideal way to communicate this type of information is to ideally be face to face (which with today’s technology includes video-conferencing), or at least via telephone.
It is important that with personnel changes of this sort, that individuals are provided with the opportunity to ask questions right away, express thoughts, and clarify any points that are not understood. This is also the best way to convey your message directly, in order to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
The main objective in communicating that a senior member of the team is leaving, is to ensure that everyone is kept in the loop. Contrary to what we have been made to believe, in these types of situations, less is not best.