You can’t believe you said it, but you did. Or perhaps you had no idea you said something that was like a knife in the heart to employees. Yup, all managers have made mistakes talking about change to their staff. And some made comments that were thought to be private.
So, what do you do when you realize or learn that your words were not well received? Here are three common situations and how to recover.
#1 Recover from saying to staff, “How hard can it be?”
Doesn’t matter if you’re leading change at work, in business, or even at home, the last thing you want to say is, “how hard can it be?” Why?
Well, first remember you’re the manager. You say it and it impacts staff immediately. It’s just the way it is. The statement also overlooks the complexity that is likely to exist and YOU don’t know about it.
If you said this, here’s what you need to do:
- Publicly acknowledge that you misspoke
- Explain that you over simplified the impact change may have on staff
- Then be sure to say, “I want to learn from your perspective, what the impact the change will have on you and how you do your job.”
- Genuinely listen. Have someone take notes on what is shared
- If you can’t do any of these things, then don’t lead change
#2: Recover from saying, “There will be no layoffs” and then layoffs become necessary as part of restructuring the business.
Take your lumps on this one. During times of change, new realities emerge constantly. This means there will be times that you’ll need to go back on what your word. It sucks. It is, though, a reality.
If you made such a promise, here’s how to start the recovery process:
- Let those who will be let go know first. Don’t pull a Radio Shack and email employees who will be fired.
- Publicly update employees about the shift to layoff employees
- Avoid selling employees on the merits of layoffs. Friendships have been impacted. Workloads have increased.
- Commit to and then follow-through on having an ongoing conversation about the layoffs, the implications, and how to move forward
#3: Recover from not communicating consistently or with transparency
We are advocates of communicating sooner than thought necessary. And we are big proponents of speaking straight with employees. In our Change Playbook, we say that employees can smell B.S. a mile away.
Resist the temptation to water down tough messages and bad news.
If you’ve not effectively kept staff informed, here’s how to build trust and start the recover process:
- Publicly acknowledge that communication has not been effective or honest. Don’t over do this, though.
- Ask employees about the impact of poor communication. It needs to be surfaced and discussed. It helps to establish a shift in the pattern and meaning behind communicating with staff.
- Share the plan on how communications will be different
- Ask for feedback once the new plan is in action
What’s common in these three situations? It’s publicly admitting the misstep and engaging staff in the conversation.
Avoid the political spin when a mistake is made during times of change. It’s expected to happen. It’s how you respond to the mistake that will propel or kill the change.