No news is not good news: the importance of communications during change

Sharon Platts

By Sharon Platts

11 Jun 2019

Communication was one of the key topics that we covered at our recent roundtable event in London, Evolve and Thrive: Brexit.

1Business Coffee Meeting

Attendees at the round table explained the various ways their organisations could be impacted, and the concerns were quite broad, ranging from sourcing materials and trade to talent attraction and the obvious impacts this could have to their P&L’s.

Whilst none of us can be 100% clear on the exact impact Brexit will have on our organisations, there was some really valuable discussion had around how businesses could prepare themselves for a number of scenarios and where possible work to keep themselves agile enough to respond.

A key worry which came out from all attendees was retention of current employees, and the risks associated with delivering business continuity if people leave and return to home countries within the EU. Whilst there are of course limits to what an employer can control, one key theme which came out from this discussion was the need to communicate, and the need for two-way communication between your leaders and your people, so you understand what’s happening in their world, and any ways in which an employer can support them.

The good news is that everyone at the event recognised the importance of communication. However, 41% of respondents to a recent Twitter poll we conducted said their organisation is not communicating its plans and approach to Brexit at all.  

Why is communication essential? 

Interestingly, nearly 1 in 4 (24%) of respondents in the same poll said that there was “no need to” communicate their plans. This could be for a number of reasons and understandably organisations may not want to publicise sensitive plans that risk disrupting their people.

But outside of those situations, not communicating can bring risks that outweigh the benefits from a talent retention perspective. We all know that meetings behind closed doors, long conference calls that leave everyone frowning, or even a simple change in demeanour from line managers can signal to people that ‘something is going on.’  

There are two human traits that combine with this to create problems for organisations. Firstly, humans are psychologically predisposed to focus on negative events and threats – a hangover from the days when identifying threats early improved our chances of survival. On top of this, human beings aren’t wired to handle uncertainty well. When we don’t know what’s going on, the natural human tendency is to invent our own narrative to fill in the gaps.

Consider too the context that Brexit adds to this situation. Ever since we voted to leave the EU, the news and media has been deliberating on the impacts and ramifications of Brexit for businesses – with an arguably dominant message being that Brexit is not good for business. 

So if you aren’t communicating in any way with your people about Brexit in the worst case scenario, you could see valuable people leave your organisation at the very moment you can least afford to lose them. If left unchecked, the consequence of this will be a fall in morale and productivity among your employees.  

So even if you aren’t making many business changes for Brexit, communication, it’s plain, is essential to retaining talent. 

Three essential tips for communicating with your organisation: 

1: Communicate even when there’s nothing to say 

Even if you have no update for people, you need to tell them that’s the case. Otherwise they will invent their own reasons as to why you aren’t talking to them – and as we’ve explained above, those reasons are unlikely to be benign. 

This is relevant for those people who aren’t planning for Brexit yet – or who don’t plan to at all. As we’ve said, your people are living in a world where the effects of Brexit on organisations like yours are constantly being discussed. Most people will be wondering what their organisation’s stance on Brexit is – so telling them what you’re doing, even if that’s ‘we’re not doing anything,’ is a good thing. 

2: Keep it positive 

The tone of your communications is crucial. Think about where your people may be at, emotionally. They may be fearing for their jobs, or worrying that they will need to learn new skills. At the very least they will likely be feeling unsettled about whether your organisation is going to be making big changes. Employees who are EU nationals may be considering leaving you to move home because they don’t think they’ll be able to stay. 

Keeping your communications positive, and reminding employees that you care about their wellbeing and their futures with you, can go a long way towards helping people feel safe and secure, and therefore productive. Think about how you can reassure people that you’ll be doing whatever you can to support them in the weeks and months ahead. 

3: Make it a dialogue / set up employee forums

If you read that last point and thought ‘I have no idea how my people are feeling,’ then making your communications two-way is a great way to find out. People like to feel engaged; asking them for feedback on how things are going, or taking time to understand their fears, can make a big difference to how effective your communications strategy is. 

At Connor we’ve been advocating the importance of having employee forums so that people can talk about what’s going on in their world. Organisations we work with are finding that where forums are set up, they are learning more and more about what their people are going through, for example with the EU Settlement Scheme.

4. The role of the line manager

If your organisation doesn’t feel big enough for an employee forum, or forums don’t feel culturally right for your organisation, remember the pivotal role line managers play in knowing how people are feeling. HR teams and business leaders should be collecting intel from their managers and how they’re people are feeling about Brexit and calling out any ‘flight risks’ with regard to talent retention. It’s therefore important your managers have the right skills to have open conversations with their people, and check in with where they are at.

Need help with your plans? 

Another poll we conducted indicated that fully 75% of organisations have dedicated any person/ resource to examine and plan for the impacts of Brexit.

If your organisation is in a similar position, Connor may well be able to help. We specialise in helping organisations plan and roll out large-scale change, and with that in mind we’re offering organisations a free consultation to assess their preparedness for Brexit. Visit our landing page and sign up today to see if you are ‘Brexifit’, or call us on +44 (0) 1491 414010 to discuss. 

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