Why What You Say is NOT What Your Employees HearAnne Warfield
June 1, 2009 — 2,444 views
He walked into the room to deliver the news that the company was going to be looking at the possibility of outsourcing parts of their IT services. It was actually a part of their database management that IT hated and openly talked about hating. So he knew they would be glad to hear that the company would consider outsourcing it. He walked into the room, delivered his news, and was soon flooded with the resignations from his top talent.
Another CEO wanted to get closer to all of the employees. He devised an internal message board where he could post all the news of what was going on. He knew that an informed employee is a happy employee and better able to do her job. He posted news about the company selling off some of their buildings and consolidating employees to their remaining buildings. Pandemonium broke out that day and production declined as the employees all wondered, "what is going to happen to us? Is the company losing money? Why would they sell their buildings?" Even though these buildings were like ghost towns with low occupancy.
In each of these scenarios the intent was good. Management was trying to deliver to employees what they thought they wanted. In both situations it backfired and in one case, with devastating effects as they lost their top talent.
There is a point to middle management and I am still baffled by companies that don't get it. They believe that the new model of sharing information down to all levels is what will bring power to their company. They believe it will empower employees. The reality is that it most often baffles employees and creates a bigger rift between management and employees as well as causes wasted time answering unnecessary questions.
The new model of sharing often reduces senior management to crisis and reactive management and immobilizes the company. People forget that EACH role in the company plays a significant part and each role in the company needs the EXACT tools and information that they need to do their job-not any more and not any less.
To simplify this, let's look at it in relation to a parent and child. Now please note that I am not saying that employees have the intelligence of a child or should be treated like a child. What I am saying is that they each have a specific role in the family and we should NOT confuse that. If every employee had the skills and tools to be a manager than they would be. But let's face it, many don't. And many don't want to develop them either. They want the security of knowing the hours they need to work to get their paycheck period.
Let's take the building example and look at it from the parent/child perspective. How do you think the child would react if the parents just came home and said, "We are selling our house and moving"? My guess is the child would be full of questions as the child tries to discover how this new information affects HIS WORLD. He may ask," where are we moving to? Why are we moving? When will we be moving? Can I still see my same friends? Will I go to the same school? What will my room look like? Will I still have my own room? Where will my toys go? Can I bring my toys?" The parents will be inundated with 101 questions and they had better be prepared for them.
Now imagine what happens to the child if the parents say, "we don't know. We just know we are selling our house." The child is left to sort this all out on its own, draw their own conclusions, and pacify their fears. In this situation most people will go to the worse case scenario and panic.
The role the parents play is to PUT the information into a CONTEXT that the child can understand. The error most management makes is to believe that their role is to DISPENSE information. That thinking will get you in trouble again and again.
It is the child's role to think about everything they hear and filter it through their understanding of the information at that point and time. They probably can't project out and understand Mom and Dad's situation at that time. A job promotion, job transfer, or a layoff is difficult for them to grasp how it will change the family. For many kids, a layoff means Mom or Dad will be home more often. They have a hard time seeing how that could be a bad thing.
Now let me get back to middle management's role in all of this. Senior management's role is to visualize the future and push the company in new directions. Employees are the ones that actually do the work that makes the vision happen. Middle management plays the critical role of balancing the two and sharing senior management's perspective with employees and vice versa. Middle management needs to be the one that employees can easily go to with questions, ideas and clarification. Without this important segment, employees either go to each other or bog senior management down with so many questions that senior management never gets to visualize and work on the future.
So what can you do about this?
Here are some quick tips on making sure that what you say is what is being heard:
1. Think about what you are going to share from the other person's perspective. How may they react to this information? What are their concerns and issues? How does this affect their world?
2. Think about what medium you will use to share the information. Does it need to be face to face? Via video? Via video conferencing? Via the Message board? In order to determine this you need to know what you want the receiver to do with the information you are sharing.
Let's go back to the first two examples I shared with you. With the IT department, the manager should have approached the group with the IDEA of outsourcing rather than just telling them that they were going to be doing it. That way, if employees complained that they didn't think it should be outsourced, he could have directly challenged them on how they complain about managing the database and asked them how to effectively solve the issue.
With the building sale, simply adding on WHY they were selling the buildings and HOW it would positively affect the employees would have alleviated all problems.
There is a big difference between "we would like to announce that we have successfully negotiated the sale of two of our buildings on Dogmat campus. We will be consolidating all employees from those two buildings to our existing buildings"
And "In our efforts to always invest our money in our biggest asset-our employees- we have successfully negotiated the sale of our two low use buildings on Dogmat campus. Each of these buildings was less than 30% occupied and we were spending a lot of money maintaining unnecessary space. On top of that our other buildings are only at about 60% capacity. We will be moving all employees from these two buildings over to our existing buildings. There will be no job losses and this is not a move that signifies loss of growth. Instead it exemplifies our desire to keep our company on the cutting edge by keeping our capacity up and freeing our resources to continue our growth."
The second way, although longer, answers key employee questions, calms nerves, and allows employees to focus on their work rather than on how this will affect their work.
Look at all of your communication from employee meetings to customer meetings to emails. Are you always thinking about the context of how you want your message received or are you merely trying to get your message out? Changing this one thing in your organization can have a dramatic impact on your company.
About the Author
When people want to know how to say the right thing at the right time, they call Anne Warfield. As the leading Outcome Strategist, Anne helps people negotiate, present, sell and lead by managing perceptions, since perceptions become reality. She does this by showing you how to speak so people WANT to listen to you.