The Website and Blog of HR Author and Speaker Lori Kleiman

Communication is Key… Even When You Have Bad News to Share!

"What if, and I know this sounds kooky, we communicated with the employees."

I have always marveled at mangers who want to insist that HR should be responsible for firing a bad employee. The truth is – these are just managers who don’t want to deliver bad news!  I am asked to handle this for organizations on a regular basis, and my answer is always no. Communication, both good and bad, is a critical role of leadership. I do offer to sit in on the meeting and coach the manager through the conversation if necessary, but they have to take the lead.

As business leaders, we are often responsible to share information with our employees that they don’t want to hear. The fact is, we are in business to make money…or serve a constituent need in the case of non-profits….and that means making decisions that are often not in the best interest of our employees. It’s not just about terminations, often the situation involves a change of hours or work location, a new program, training that is required or a change in benefits.

A recent article about “spinning a PR disaster” provides tips that are applicable in a variety of business situations. Personally – I like their first suggestion, avoid the problem in the first place! Well, that’s nice advice and they talk about considering all sides of a situation before making a decision, we know in business sometimes we have to make changes that are just not going to be popular. A few good suggestions that can be summarized from the article include:

Have the conversation – don’t let people stew and wonder. We all know how fast rumors spread in the workplace. You might think it will just go away if you don’t address the issues, but that is rarely the case.  Put out a quick, well written memo, or have a quick scripted conversation so that you are sure you convey the essence of the situation.

Stand in their shoes – As you craft your communication, understand what the motivation of your audience is. Will employees be worried if transportation is available during the new hours? Does the new piece of technology you are excited about convey the idea that jobs will be eliminated? Think about what they may be thinking about and try to put the audience at ease before they ask the question.

Practice the message – If this is a critical business change, start with a script. Even if you don’t intend to read off the script, be sure that you have thought through what you intend to say. Run the messaging by a trusted advisor or peer who will give you honest feedback and be open to suggestions. Often we think we are clearly conveying a message and our audience has not idea what we’re talking about!

Finally – as you consider communication to a group, keep in mind that adults receive information differently. The population is discussed in many circles as being divided into three categories. While there are challenges to the science, we all can site examples where a message sent one way wasn’t received by the whole group. Many in the communication industry still believe it is best to present your information through various methods. The three we commonly explore are through sight, hearing and participating. If you are addressing a large group, consider sending an email, having a presentation or conference call and also finding a way to send you message that allows the recipient to do something with the information.  This is your best chance at ensuring that everyone will process the information.

Communication is a major part of all leadership and management roles.  It’s not always fun, but it must be done.

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