If you have to communicate controversial or significant changes to your employees, chances are you spend a lot of time working through what you want to do, why you're making he decision, and so on. Then, at some point, you communicate the changes.
But sometimes, the reception of the message isn't what you anticipated, and people respond negatively. Why?
Spock vs. Kirk
Chances are, you used your Spock brain a lot during this process. If you're a Star Trek fan, you know that the Spock brian is the home of logic, reason, objective thinking, and such.
Often, the key to making changes go more smoothly is to consciously engage your Kirk brain. Again drawing from Star Trek, the Kirk brain is the domain of emotion, passion, intuition and personality.
When you plan your communications strategy, spend some time thinking through the reaction to your message - not from Spock's perspective, but from Kirk's perspective.
- How will your message be perceived by your "audience?"
- If you were hearing the message for the first time, without the benefit of the logical discussion and time to digest the details, how might you respond?
- What hard questions are likely to come up?
- And so on.
There is a good possibility you won't know the answers to these questions. After all, we don't know what we don't know. What next?
Borrow a Kirk brain
At this point, it may be a good time to team up with a few people from your employee population who can act as 'sounding boards' and help you anticipate where your message could have unanticipated negative effects. If you go this route, a few things should be made clear up front:
- Before engaging in a detailed discussion, assure your sounding boards that you will take their input seriously (I'm assuming you will, of course). In return, insist that they not undermine your message by letting it "leak."
- Make it clear that input does not equal a vote, and that there's always the possibility you will not alter your message or decisions based on the input.
During the process, be candid and open as much as you can - and this candor and openness should go both ways. Don't hold a grudge if you don't like what your sounding boards tell you (if you feel like you won't be able to do this, don't engage with sounding boards - you probably won't get positive results anyway).
There are plenty of resources out there for helping managers and companies deliver messages well and to help people through change. But I think one of the most important resources is right there in your Kirk brain.
By the way - if this topic makes your brain hurt, take a break and (in full color) see what happens when Kirk fights Spock. And, of course, if you have thoughts, best practices, or good resources on effective communication of difficult topics to employees, please share.