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Silence is golden; or is it?

While this may be the mantra of any worn-down parent (especially during the long summer holidays, am I right!), it’s certainly not the case for employees going through change.


All too often, communication is cited as the reason change programmes fail. According to a Harvard Business Review survey, 62% of us see poor communication as one of the most critical issues change programmes face, and it costs too - between $4,000 and $6,000 per employee each year.


But the financial metrics aside, it’s the people involved that have the worst experience when change is not communicated and they are left in a vacuum of despair. With no corporate ‘truth’ to call upon, naturally people start to make up their own stories and clobber together their version of the truth based on some hearsay from an overheard kitchen conversation, a sprinkling of some corporate programme of old gone wrong, and a good old hunch.


In this blog, we look at the most oft-cited reasons organisations don’t want to share information with their staff and give you some tips on how you can overcome these issues within your organisation.


‘We don’t yet have the full story’


Clients repeatedly say to me that they’re not ready to put out messages as they don’t have all the answers. And that is where the problems start.


You don’t have to have all of the answers. This is not an exam and you are not going to get a better grade by being able to give a blow by blow account of the change.


Yes, your colleagues will appreciate all of the info they can get but no one expects everything on day one. What they expect, and need, is honesty. They can wait for details.


Instead share what you know and be open about what you don't. If you’re able to, tell staff when you will know more information and set up regular updates with them so they know when they can get more details.


‘It’s bad news - what they don’t know can’t hurt them’


Yes it can! Not to overuse the trite sayings, but ‘to be forewarned is to be forearmed’. Treat your people as adults and give them the information they need to be able to make decisions about themselves, their careers and their families.


Even if your change programme won’t impact roles or job security, it’s still important to give people information so they can prepare, even if it is bad news.


Through any change programme, it’s useful to have an ERP number set up or a peer champions support network where staff can go to talk about the change. This of course should be in addition to HR and the programme’s own drop in sessions.


Remember, 15% of the workforce identify as being neurodivergent and over 8 million Brits suffer with anxiety. Adding a major (or minor) work-based change into their lives can have serious consequences and it’s important we consider this when thinking how best we can prepare people for the changes ahead.


Whether it's good news or bad news, a well-thought through change plan with open communications can help people accept the change much more quickly than hiding it from them.


‘They might leak the announcement’


Yes, they might. Staff talk and have families and friends outside of work who they naturally share information with so don’t tell them things you don’t want to get out. But then ask yourself. What is the real risk here? Is it classified information? Do they need to sign the official secrets act or be under NDA? If not, then you can probably wear the risk of them leaking information.


I always get clients to consider what would happen if an announcement was leaked. If it’s a regulated body or publicly trading company, then there are rules to follow about who knows what when, but otherwise, the general consensus is that it’s better to take the risk of a leak than the reputational hit of hiding info from your staff and the general public finding out first.


In summary, while it can be tricky to find the right time and the right words to share major changes with your staff, it’s important that you do it as soon as you can. Developing a relationship based on trust and openness will stand you in good stead as you seek to deliver the major change programme. If they know that you’re honest with them and they come to rely on you as a reputable source of the truth, they will in turn understand and support your position when you need them to.



If you’re unsure how to communicate your major change programme effectively with your staff or need some support getting started, get in touch with us at hello@insideoutconsulting.co.uk. We’re an award winning internal communications consultancy, specialising in digital transformation and major IT change, so you’re in safe hands.


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