Can you Over Communicate in Tough Times?

Posted on August 19, 2011.

A recent Wall Street Journal article, Memo to Staff Don't Panic by Joe Light, cited examples of how some  CEOs are communicating to their staff in these tough economic times.  As I read, I reflected on my experiences managing teams through five mergers and three recessions.  Though those weren’t good times, I learned some valuable lessons.

  • Hiding doesn’t help. I knew my company was going to have layoffs. As a new manager, I thought if I kept a low profile and essentially hid in my office, the bad news would blow over me and my team like tumbleweed in a dust storm.  Instead, it was more like a Mack truck. In the end, not only did Izero input to who from my team was let go, I lost the respect of my remaining staff.  As a manager, you must always be part of the decision.
  • Edit the company’s “Talking Points.”   Whenever there’s bad news, many companies come up with talking points to allay fears and keep people focused on their work.  Sounding just like C3PO from Star Wars, I would read these verbatim to my teams, which only added to their uncertainty. Too much corporate speak can make your teams feel even more uncomfortable.  Personalize the message and focus on your audience. What do all these words mean to them?  How will they really be impacted?
  • Tell the truth.  If times really are tough, don’t pretend everything will be hunky-dory.  Avoiding tough questions and acting as if your folks won’t be impacted is easy, but unfair.  If they might be affected, be honest.  Just be sure to balance the bad news with the fact that the more successful your team can be, the less likely they will be cut. Keep them focused on the job at hand as much as possible.

The bottom line is that you really can’t communicate too much during tough times, but if your message isn’t right or it’s delivered in the wrong way, you may do more harm than good.

We’d love to hear some of the messages you’ve been receiving or delivering during these tough times.