Your organization is undergoing a significant change, and your team is worried. They want to know all the details about the change. Right now. Trouble is, all the details are not yet spelled out. Plus you have been asked to wait to talk about some aspects of the change until others have been notified.
No question about it; you are in a difficult situation. You want to be a caring leader and give the information your team members desperately crave. Yet you need to be a team player and time the news as you have been asked to do, for the good of the whole organization.
On top of it all, you need to be aware that your team members are analyzing everything you do and say regarding this change. They are reading your tone, your facial expressions, and your silences as well as your words. So be aware of the impact you are making by everything you say and do. Your non-verbals, your worries and fears all bleed through, especially when you are holding on to information that could be shared.
What to do? For now, it might be helpful to think about what your team members want to know, and then tell them all you can, stopping short of what you can’t say. It isn’t easy, but this checklist might help you sort it out.
Here is what your team members want to know:
They want more information. Actually they want all the information you can give them. The reasons, the changes, who will be impacted, but most of all, how will it impact them? It is difficult to live in a state of ambiguity, and when they get part of the information, they get frustrated, and they fill in the blanks with conjecture and rumor.
They want it sooner. They don’t want to wait, especially when everyone around them is asking about it, and wondering the same things. It’s the feeling of being out of control and helpless that makes waiting so difficult. You may not have the information they need yet, but if you have it and you are sitting on it, your team members will go wild with worry.
They want reassurance. Under change we often think the worst is about to happen. If you know there won’t be layoffs, or whatever it is they are concerned about, at least put that to rest. What can you reassure them about? Remember their imaginations and the rumor mill are probably painting a very negative picture. Can you honestly reassure them it won’t be that bad? If you can, you probably should.
They want to be heard. They are hurting and frightened. They want to be understood and will keep reminding you about their feelings until you get it. You can listen and empathize. You can say, “I know this is hard.” Or “I hear you.” Just talking about it can help process these feelings.
They want encouragement. Can they handle this change? Will they survive? It might not hurt to remind them they have resources, they are smart and competent, and they have handled change successfully before. If this is true, offer them these words of encouragement.
They want to know that you believe in the change. If you do, say so. If you have trust it will work out, say so. If you don’t understand it but have faith in your leaders, say that. If you don’t buy in to this change, your team members are going to know it, so be honest but be sure to tell them it is still happening, like it or not, and that we will get through it.
They want to understand the reasons. You may not know the reasons, or agree with them, but people want to know the reasons. It helps them to process.
They want to know how it will impact them directly. Remember they want to know, bottom line, will I keep my job? My hours? My benefits? This is going to be on their minds until they get answers, so your role might be getting that information and permission to share it as soon as possible.
Learning to handle organizational changes is a skill that we can build, and one we will use over and over. You can help your team members to process change, and teach yourself to communicate change effectively. Definitely a skill that will pay dividends every year of your career and life.