What to Tell Employees When You Don’t Have All the Answers

Susan_Rink-portrait-forwebLayoffs.  Plant closings.  Mergers.  Executive departures. 

These are uncertain times and, thanks to the economy, fear and paranoia, the rumor mill is stronger than ever. 

When a company is gearing up for a major change during these uncertain times, the worst approach leadership can take is to hold off on communicating to employees until all decisions have been made, to sit back and wait until they have all the answers before addressing rumors and speculation. 

So what do you say when you don’t have all the answers, when there are still unknowns?  How do you announce a change when there are still many variables to be decided or when the end game is not entirely clear?

First, don’t discount the role of the manager or supervisor in this scenario.  Employees will often go to their manager for “the real story” and if the management team has not been briefed in advance, they won’t be able to reinforce the key messages.  Make sure that your managers understand the issues, can answer questions about the facts at hand, and are comfortable reinforcing the unknown elements of the change.

Next, leadership should introduce the change with an acknowledgement that employees will have concerns and that there will be opportunities to voice those concerns.  They should stress that this initial announcement is intended to provide context and outline the elements of the change that are known at this time, as well as the unknown.  In addition, they should articulate a timeline for the change and specify which programs, divisions or teams may be impacted.

The first communication should set the stage for future updates and reinforce a commitment to communicate frequently as more information becomes available.  It should also include instructions for voicing concerns or raising questions – to the manager, the executive, etc.   And it should close with a sincere acknowledgement of how difficult change is in any organization and that the organization appreciates the employees support and dedication.

You owe it to your employees to be as honest and direct as possible about the changes afoot.  This open communication won’t eliminate the rumor mill, but it will keep it in check.


About Susan Rink

Susan C. Rink is president and owner of Rink Strategic Communications, LLC (www.rinkcomms.com) and a partner in Triple Play Consulting.
This entry was posted in Communicating Change, Employee Communications - General, Executive Communications and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What to Tell Employees When You Don’t Have All the Answers

  1. Kim Roman Corle says:

    Totally agree with you on this, having been in the middle of mergers and acquisitions, educating leadership should be a number one priority. Thanks for the post.


  2. Susan Rink says:

    Absolutely, Kim. I compare it to crisis communications — you can’t wait until you have all the answers to talk to the public. You need to get out and say something as soon as you can, then set the expectation that you’ll issue updates as often as feasible. Thanks for the comment!

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