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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Safety First

Internal communication – the basic need of every organization

Why are many organizations still struggling when it comes to internal communication? Why do managers and CEOs find it still such a difficult topic? And why do you so often hear: “I wish things would be communicated!” Is internal communication underestimated?

I believe that many organizations don’t fully understand the importance of internal communication. I even believe that internal communication is more important than sales, marketing or any other business element within larger organizations that contribute directly to the company’s results. Here’s why:

Good internal communication creates safety.
Safety is basic need number 1 for almost everyone (except maybe for some adrenaline junkies). It’s evolutionarily determined, a primary and biological need. Maslow’s pyramid clearly reflects this: The primary physical needs for food and shelter are followed by safety. Look at the animal kingdom, for example at the African Savannahs. Large groups of mammals, like gazelles, are safe as long as they group together, when they cooperate as a group, and when they move as a group. When one animal isolates itself from the rest, it immediately exposes itself to the danger of being attacked by predators or risking getting lost while seeking fertile grounds and water. The chance that the animal survives is then reduced to zero. Therefore, animals stick together, to stay safe, and to guarantee the existence of their kind.

The same goes for the army. Even though everybody knows what the mission is, if everybody would then go their own way, and need to fight for their own safety above fighting for that of their group, no one will be safe at the end. That’s why there are leaders, such as admirals, majors, colonels, who make sure that the group stays connected, knows what is waiting for them, and that every individual knows what he is fighting for and what his tasks and responsibilities are.

Good internal communication ensures that people will feel safe within their organization, their department, at the place where they spend the major part of their lives whilst awake. It creates engagement with their jobs, it makes them feel connected, appreciated or even loved, but above all: it makes them feel personally responsible for the company’s goals. They know what to expect and also that they’re not on their own, but that they are part of an organization where everybody – day in, day out – makes an effort and aims for the same goal. It is the responsibility of the leaders within an organization to create that feeling of safety, by maintaining excellent internal communication. If leaders fail in giving people this feeling of safety, appreciation, and responsibility within their own field of work, with room for personal development, than this will break up the organization from the inside out. Instead of people putting their efforts together, while aiming for the same goal, they will start fighting for their own right of existence and safety within the company, which inherently risks the safety of the organization.

Think about this: if someone constantly worries about his own safety within an organization, about its continuity, his position, about what is happening within the organization, whether competition is lurking, or about that manager who isn’t supportive or always continues its own course and never listens to him… How much time do you think this person effectively spends on fulfilling his tasks, contributing to the goals of the organization? Very little. Instead, this person is fighting for his own safety, to ensure his own existence within the organization. Just as long as needed to ensure his safety, perhaps at the expense of someone else’s, or until this person is overworked. Or even worse: until one day he couldn’t care less, completely demotivated. When the organization has to cope with bad weather, chances are slim that this person will make extra effort. Imagine the effect when more individuals are dealing with this same issue.

Safety is important for everyone, but also different to everyone. For one, safety can mean a fixed contract, for another it might be a clear assignment or goal, yet for another person it could be to be informed about the health of the organization. Therefore, it is very important that organizations listen to their people. Involve employees in important decisions, especially when it affects them directly! Ask for their opinion and input! Make sure that employees feel appreciated! And even more important, not just feel responsible for their daily tasks, but also for the goal of the organization. It’s not without a reason it is often said that internal communication is the oil that makes the machine run smoothly. Without oil, or with the wrong kind, everything will jam. Give your organization the right oil. Start with your internal communication!


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