Corporate Leadership skills for managing dramatic change
Posted on August 17, 2010 by Leslie Dickson
What to say after you’ve said “You’re fired.”
No, this isn’t a Human Resources column. In fact, I’m sure any HR professional worthy of the name would tell you never to use the phrase, “You’re fired.” (Donald Trump, take note.) It’s not a column on what to say to a dismissed employee either. That’s the work of an HR blog.
This column is about exercising your corporate leadership skills in communicating with the people left behind. A dismissal can send shock waves through an organization. If the company leadership doesn’t have a simple, clear message, then confusion and misinformation will fill the gap, which can have a devastating and lingering impact on morale and performance.
Here’s an example.
Sometime back, a colleague called with this tough communication challenge. A change needed to be made for the health of the organization, but the employee to be dismissed had a long tenure and a high office in the small company. My friend wasn’t sure what reactions to expect and wanted to be prepared. Wise decision. Here’s the communications plan we talked through.
Write an announcement email or letter that will go to employees as soon as the dismissal has occurred. It should simply answer the three main questions the audience will have. What has happened? What will be the effect on me? Where can I take my questions? The announcement can be this simple: As of today, John Doe will no longer be working at the company. We thank him for his years of service and wish him all the best in his future endeavors. Mary Doe will be taking over the departmental responsibilities. If you have questions about your projects, please talk to her.”
Let people know when you expect to fill the position permanently.
Inform your senior managers and board of directors about 24 hours in advance, but make sure they understand that nothing should be shared before the official announcement. These are people who may be fielding questions or dealing with emotional responses from staff or customers. They need time to prepare.
Write an FAQ for the senior managers to help them with communications.
It should include a copy of the announcement that will be made to the whole company and include directions on how to respond to questions. Remind them that they shouldn’t get into discussions of the why and how of the decision. It’s inappropriate – unkind to the departing employee and not helpful in helping the staff move on. The responses should be simple and honest: “Human resources issues are private. It’s inappropriate to talk about that. We’re a professional company and we’re going to stay focused on our work.”
Alert senior staff to be proactive in problem-solving.
Change can be difficult, creating confusion on projects and schedules. Emotions may be unpredictable, too, which can hinder good work. Look for ways to troubleshoot issues during the transition time.
No office drama.
A dismissal is the ultimate water cooler talk. Perk up your ears and gently intervene when you can. Refuse to get involved in gossip, remain even-handed, refocus on the work.
Choose a “chief executive communicator” to handle tough or unexpected questions.
If a staff member isn’t satisfied with the answers from a manager, this is the person to contact. If customers have concerns, this is the go-to guy. If the press calls (heaven forbid), this is the one and only spokesperson. It assures that every question gets the same – and the right – answer.
Relax and breathe.
If you’re calm and in control, you’ll convey confidence in the decision and the organization’s ability to move ahead.
Image by Weaselmcfee
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