How to keep employees happy in times of change

As I wrote in one of my previous blogs, internal communication is essential for any organization in keeping their employees happy. But internal communication during organizational change is too often still seen as a simple way of how to get information from management to the rest of the organization. Simply put: top-down communication, purely meant to inform. This is most often the case in organizations that have grown rapidly in a short period of time, or with more traditional organizations that have existed in a certain form and size for many decades.

Let’s have a look at the benefits of this strategy:

  • It’s simple: management makes decisions, employees should follow.
  • Control of the information: employees only get informed about when and what the management thinks is necessary.

Sounds simple and effective? Well, think again, because this strategy also has a few major downsides:

  • Employees feel left out: no one asks for their opinion, their ideas or what’s important to them.
  • Employees have little motivation to get involved, and lack to see the bigger picture.
  • Usually they also find out about change at the very last moment. Or worse: through the press.

The results of this strategy can be devastating for an organization, especially when changes are needed for continuation or further growth. Communication is especially important when organizations are going through mergers and restructuring processes. It can be stressful for employees as well as management. When employees feel left out, they start to assume the worst, fearing for their jobs and their safety. Then, they start to resent and resist change.

But what happens when we reverse this strategy, and have internal communications be about listening? Something magical happens:

  • Employees speak, management listens
  • Employees are heard, feel involved
  • Employees are motivated to speak up and come up with new ideas
  • Employees feel more appreciated

When following the second strategy, employees are far more willing to accept changes and to cooperate into building a better company. It gives them the feeling that they participate in the decision making process. And they will market the organization from a far more positive perspective. It is like in a relationship, without good communication between each other, one can feel left out and that can ultimately undermine the relationship. That is why good communication is the single most important component of a good relationship.

There’s no rocket science involved here. Sadly though, many organizations still follow the first strategy, for various reasons. Maybe management feels like employees aren’t capable of understanding high-level decisions (you would be surprised!), or maybe they even feel threatened or are too pride. Maybe it’s just the way things have always been and no one ever thought of doing things differently.

Whatever the case, it’s time to start listening.

As a manager, it’s your job to find out about what motivates your employees, what their dreams and goals are, and what their ideas are about the organization. You should know what’s important for them, and it should be important to you too.

Here are five simple steps how to start improving internal communications:

  1. Set clear values and goals. By making sure the organization’s goals, strategies and principles are well understood, the bigger the chances are that your conversations will be constructive and fruitful, beacuse everyone knows what they’re working towards.
  2. Begin the week together. Take the time to discuss what the week will bring. Give updates on small and bigger issues that the organization faces. The more they know, the more likely they are to provide suggestions or focus on solutions in their daily work.
  3. Make small talk. Take small moments during the week to talk to individuals and listen to what is going on in their life.
  4. Be quick to respond to requests on more information. By respectfully answering questions, trust is gained and it further strenghtens the bond.
  5. Recognize and celebrate individual accomplishments of your employees. Maybe even brag about it to other key figures of the organization. Nothing builds more trust than making people feel appreciated.
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Fries get cold (why do customers choose you?)

Recently, I was standing in the local snack corner, waiting for my order. There are two snack corners in our village, about 200 meters away from each other, along the same road. One is a new modern looking shop that claims to “fry healthy” and where friendly, and always smiling, ladies serve fries and sell ice cream to the customers. The other place is much simpler, owned by a middle-aged couple, with a small takeaway area. I found myself standing in the second one.

I chose the second place on purpose. Not because their food is better (for me fries are fries, I’m not too picky when it comes to that), but because I felt a little sorry for the owners as the other place seemed to be, from my point of view, a bigger success. I ended up having a conversation with the owner while he was fixing my order, and I asked him how business was going and whether the competition nearby was bothering him. His answer surprised me.

“You know”, he said with a smile, “I’ll tell you a secret. Fries get cold.” Surprised as I was, I asked him what he meant. He continued: “Across the street from here is a supermarket. Next to the supermarket is a large parking lot. You can park your car almost in front of my door. This means you will be back in your warm car as soon as you get your order and therefore you will be home sooner. The other place has only little parking space. This means that people with bigger cars or company vans, will choose to park at the big parking lot next to the supermarket. These people will sooner enter my shop, as they need to walk less far. This way, I always have enough customers, because fries easily get cold and cold fries don’t taste good.”

I was surprised by the simplicity of his answer. He didn’t seem to worry at all about the competition. It’s not just the location that makes his place a success, the features of his product suit the location. If it would be a pharmacy or clothing store at that same spot, with a competitor at the same distance, the location wouldn’t matter as much (for those products people are more willing to park 200 meters away). But walking 200 meters through the cold, to get to your car, with an order of fries? No, thanks. This man knew very well why his customers would continue to come to him.

It may be that your company is situated at an amazing location, with strong products, attractive and friendly personnel and impressive marketing. Sounds like a success, right? Yet, there are many companies that operate like this, but still aren’t successful. Simply because they don’t understand exactly why customers would choose for them. A good company strategy, for that reason, starts by answering the question why people should choose you. If you don’t know exactly why people should choose you, the chances to become successful are much smaller.

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