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How do you talk to your employees when the future of the organization is uncertain?

Study guide

These days, as we continue to be plagued by the corona virus, many businesses and organizations are grappling with the effects of this epidemic. In the meantime, managers of organizations are faced with a variety of unknowns. In some cases, it is not clear when employees will return to work and when they will return. However, managers must be in constant contact with co-workers and team members. The important question as a manager is how honest you should be with your employees about the state of the organization. In this time of uncertainty, how can you reassure employees without giving them false hope? In this article, taken from the Harvard Business Review article, we tell you how to talk to your employees as a manager when the future of the organization is not clear.

What do the experts say?

Although the Covid-19 epidemic is unprecedented in modern history, management experience in this period is not necessarily unique, according to Paul Argenti, a professor at the Tuck School of Business. Like any other crisis, such as the global recession in financial indicators or the post-9/11 era, employees experience fear and anxiety during this period. Uncertainty causes fear. People are worried about how this will affect our company, my job and my future.

In this situation, you as a manager must build confidence and strength. According to Amy Edmondson, a professor of management and Hebrew at Harvard Business School, you need to be honest about what you know, although you may not know enough about the speed of change. In such a situation, the first step is transparency. Tell honestly what you are aware of, what is not clear to you and what you are going to do to fill this gap. In the second step, you have to talk about possibility and hope. Of course, doing these two steps successfully is not easy. Here are some tips for communicating with employees during this uncertain period.

Tips for communicating with employees at a time when the future of the organization is uncertain

1. Prepare yourself

According to Argentine, before sending a message or talking to your employees, you should understand the challenges ahead. You are supposed to teach people how to successfully overcome crises! In this way, the quality of your leadership is tested. You can also show your employees who you are and how strong you are. Be brave. Your goal as a front-line manager is to be able to guide employees when needed. To do this, it is necessary to have the right frame of mind. Call on your inner warlord and prepare yourself for war. Edmundson recommends that you maintain a regular routine in your life as much as possible. Eat well, exercise and get enough sleep. To save others, you must first take care of yourself.

۲. Plan

You now need a strategy that identifies when and how you should talk to employees about the current situation. When the situation of the organization is critical, you should communicate with employees in a timely and frequent manner. If you put your head in the snow, you will not go anywhere. Employees need to know when and how often they receive enough information from you and other top leaders in the organization. The Argentine recommendation is periodic small meetings and periodic meetings to raise awareness of employees’ most important concerns. At best, organizations provide a system for gathering and exchanging information. Employees can ask questions this way; In this way, information appropriate to the problems raised is provided to employees.

3. Examine your statements carefully

Consider the audience

Put yourself in the shoes of your employee and think about what you want to hear. You are probably looking for something to reassure you that this situation is finally over; But above all, you want to confirm that leadership does not mean hiding or disclosing information after it is over. Understand employee concerns.

Be humble

The truth is that no one knows exactly what lies ahead; So you have to admit that you do not know everything; For example, imagine an employee asking about a possible downsizing. You know there is such a possibility; But you do not know when and how much it happens. You can say, “I wish I could say exactly what is going to happen!” “I will share it with you as soon as I have more information.”

Do not make things look good

You may be tempted to soften the bad news a little. It is natural to seek to reduce employee anxiety; But that doesn’t help, Edmundson said; Rather, it makes you a liar or out of reach. When it comes to pay cuts but the exact amount is not clear, do not pretend that this is not going to happen. However, over time, the truth becomes clear. Getting bitter truths can have unpleasant consequences. When the curtain finally falls, trust is lost.

Be responsible

In any case, you should not do this if you do not have permission to share information. You are accountable to the organization. Even when an employee asks you a direct question, the best thing to do is to empathetically say openly that the current situation is largely uncertain. On Edmundson’s advice, you can say, “We are all together in this situation. “We must all work together to overcome this precarious situation, the challenges and the chaos caused by this crisis.”

Be steadfast

It becomes difficult to communicate clearly with employees when you do not agree with the way senior managers deal with the crisis. Overcoming this challenge is not easy. According to Argenti, the best thing you can do is tell the truth; But also point out your minor differences; For example, if the new policy of telecommuting senior managers and online presence is from 9 am to 6 pm, but you believe in the freedom of action of employees in choosing the time and type of work, you can emphasize by announcing the new policy that at this particular time to your employees and their judgment in advance Things you trust. In other words, find a way to endorse your superiors while respectfully expressing your dissent.

4. Be inspiring

When your organization's status is unclear, try to inspire your employees

Take advantage of the special nature of this situation. Point out your employees’ abilities in motivating language and encourage them to work in a team. “I believe in your abilities,” Edmundson recommends. More than that, I believe in our ability and strength together. “We are going through this period together.” Acknowledge the difficulties ahead; But at the same time, emphasize your strengths and your ability to overcome this. Declare that you believe in overcoming this crisis and in the long-term future of the organization. As much as possible, believe in Argentine belief. Your tone should be neither too positive nor too negative.

5. Offer support

In the end, you should try to understand the worries and anxieties of your employees and team members. You can not manage the emotions of others; But you can reduce their fear and anxiety. In a situation where most employees are telecommuting, you can not use the occasional goodies to measure the emotional state of employees. No matter how much you talk to people on Zoom or WhatsApp, the face-to-face conversation gap will not be filled. Keep in touch with employees to find out about their status. Listen carefully to their words and wishes. Most employees want to make sure they get back to work. Reassure them as much as you can.

Principles to remember


  • Identify and understand the challenges you face in leadership (you are teaching people how to overcome crises successfully);
  • Consider the perspective of the staff and think about what you would like to hear if you were them;
  • Encourage employees with the message “We can do it together” in an inspiring and inspiring tone.

You should not

  • Turning to speculation: Be honest about the facts;
  • Mild situation: In this way, you become a liar and out of reach in the eyes of others;
  • Neglect of personal communication: Meet staff in small, face-to-face groups and show your support.

Practical recommendations

1. Be honest and receptive; But admit your ignorance

Eugenie Fanning, vice president of real estate startups, emphasizes that in these difficult days she tries to be as honest and transparent as possible; At the same time, he admits that he does not know what the future holds for them. The future is not clear to him either. In his opinion, there is no problem if we do not have all the answers.

Due to the impact of the Corona epidemic on business, his company was forced to make difficult decisions. Early in the crisis, the company’s CEO announced a reduction in marketing budget and travel expenses, as well as a reduction in the salaries of the ten-member leadership team. Two weeks later, he announced the reduction of all employees’ salaries. He was quite clear about budget cuts; But most employees were concerned about downsizing; So Eugene wanted the information provided by the board members to be consistent.

In this regard, he had regular one-on-one meetings with staff representatives and other managers of the organization. “I do not know what will happen,” he said bluntly. But at the moment we have no plans to reduce the force. “The goal is to get through this period without losing anyone.”

Because he had previously established strong, trusting relationships with the company’s employees, his message was easily conveyed. The experience of this period in a startup company even added to the depth of his attitude: “I both heard about the termination of cooperation and gave such news to others. In startups, you have to keep up with the changes; “But I understand that those who are just starting out have concerns in this regard.”

Normally, the company held a meeting every two weeks where all employees could anonymously ask questions to board members and senior executives; But during this period, these meetings are held every week with the presence of more middle managers.

Eugene also teaches company leaders to have a positive and powerful tone: “The message of the company is not just ‘We are going through this crisis’; “It also refers to the steps that are to be taken to successfully overcome this period.” At the same time, Eugene is not unaware of his confident tone and tries to emphasize the recent success of the company.

۲. Consider your audience and convey a sense of power and positivity

Give your employees heart and confidence when the status of your organization is not clear.

When the dangers of the Covid-19 epidemic became apparent in business, Andres Lares, CEO of a Baltimore education and consulting firm, and his partners negotiated to decide how to talk to employees about the situation.

They talked about their personal experiences from the 2008 recession. Then they tried to see the story from the staff’s point of view: “What are they thinking? What are they afraid of? “What worries them?” Based on these conversations, Anders developed principles for communicating with employees. The goal was to empathize with employees and address their concerns and at the same time empower middle managers as leaders of the organization.

In the first step, they decided to stay in touch with employees more than ever. According to Anders, they meet with their team members every week. He meets with key members of the management team twice a week. “It saves a lot of time,” he says. This gives people the opportunity to share their concerns and helps us come up with actionable designs across the organization. One-on-one meetings are invaluable. “When the situation is uncertain and people are looking for a course of enlightenment, it is important for people to come to the realization that what the leaders of the organization are saying is true.”

In the next step, the organization sought to strengthen the confidence of managers; In this way, managers confidently convey the message of the organization’s leaders to other employees. According to Anders, the company teaches managers that while being transparent, they empathize with their employees and do not hesitate to lead them in the direction chosen by collective agreement; This creates a level of solidarity in the company; Something that is needed to overcome crises.

Anders acknowledges that despite the telecommuting of staff, there has been no reduction in the workforce to date. Employee salaries have not changed either. Of course, this is what the company is thinking about; But it will not happen so soon. In the worst case, the company will have to cut salaries.

Anders is honest about the company’s financial situation with its employees; At the same time, it has taken the necessary steps to obtain assistance from aid organizations and hopes that the company will retain all its employees. There may be difficult conversations ahead; But the company has not yet reached that point. Hearing these words, every employee takes a deep breath as a sign of calm. Beyond that, Anders reassures his staff by emphasizing that “we will all be together.”

Anders is proud of his team’s achievements over the past few months: a team that works harder and more productively than ever. According to him, the best moments are the times when he sees different people in the company taking the lead and taking on tasks that are not normally their responsibilities.

What experience of organizational leadership did you have as a manager or employee during the Corona epidemic? Share your experiences with us and our readers.




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