How to Devastate Morale in a Few Words

Words matter, and so often little time or thought is given to a message before it is given! A large manufacturing organization closed a facility which meant duplication of services, so a downsizing was announced. To make the announcement leaders from across the organization were brought together. Although there is some question whether or not downsizing works in the long run, in this instance, we will be looking at the approach.

It was a good thought on the Plant manager’s behalf that they brought people together to communicate to all of them at the same time. Too often employees find out crucial information regarding their organization when it is announced on the internet or evening news. The problem arose in the answers that were given during a question and answer period. One of the supervisors asked, “What criteria will you be using to determine who will be let go?” To which the plant manager responded, “If you think you are on the bubble, you probably are!!” What does that mean? And what was the reaction of the employees? From then on, supervisors gathered in the halls trying to determine what that meant and who would be affected while their departments ran themselves.

The importance of communicating directly with employees cannot be overstated. Even in organizations who are logistically located, technology offers opportunities to ensure that the employees receive information of any sort in a timely manner with an opportunity to ask questions. The answers to the questions should not bring a shudder through the crowd and instead be as clear as the leader knows at that given time. There may be times in large organizations when the leaders only has the information he or she was given from corporate headquarters. In this instance a leader should give all the information they currently have and let employees know that they will send out more information as soon as it becomes available.

When Zappos was sold to Amazon, I contacted Tony Hsieh to inquire how the culture of his organization would be affected by the sale. At that time, you could contact him directly and he got back to me with a 5-page document he sent to all employees, asking them all to take 20 minutes to read it. The memo discussed how the organization would be run in the same manner in the future and 3 reasons that Zappos is excited about the venture. He and the leadership team tried to think of question employees might have and answered them in the memo. He then offered an opportunity for other questions and answered them. This was all done prior to the announcement that Zappos had been purchased by Amazon. When this much care is given to communication and answering questions this will have the least negative impact on the culture.

Strategic communication will help to improve the way in which employees’ experience change. By taking time to think through communication you can minimize the negative affect that this will have on the organization. This becomes a win-win for the organization and employees alike.

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