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How not to break bad news to your staff

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When it comes to change communications remember: people won’t remember what you said or what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the lasts few weeks, chances are, you caught the news that BBC Two’s ‘The Victoria Derbyshire Show’ has been axed.

While this is a huge blow to the BBC’s current affairs programming, following the show’s huge success in investigative journalism for close to five years, it is also a useful lesson in how not to give your employees bad news.

Victoria even tweeted that the first she’d heard about it was via the media, before adding that she was ‘absolutely’ devasted by the news.

As you can probably guess, this is no way to handle organisational change. Badly managed change can last in an organisation’s memory for years so it’s worth getting it right.

Giving Bad News

Any organisation has to be able to manage change – and of course it won’t always be welcome news for everybody involved.

A tough and sensitive time for everyone involved, skirting around the problem isn’t going to help, so it’s all about preparing and being sensitive to people’s feelings and emotions.

Dos and Don’ts

In the case of the BBC and Victoria Derbyshire, the way it was handled was clearly not great. However, sugar coating bad news is not the way to go either.

There are a few things you need to remember when it comes to talking to staff about change plans.

Do

  • Understand why the decision you are delivering has been made
  • Think about what you’re going to say before you dive in
  • Calmly explain the rationale behind the decision

Don’t 

  • Sugar coat the news, always be clear and direct
  • Allow your body language to contradict your words
  • Listen. You’re not a robot so don’t act like one!

Be fully prepared

Remember that the people you’re talking to are adults. This means being open and honest about what might change, what the next steps are and what help or support they can expect.

Five top tips for talking about change

  1. Your employee will no doubt ask questions. Make sure you think about what these might be in advance. This will also help you to work through the issues involved and how you’re going to communicate these.
  2. Speak normally and avoid corporate speak. Your employee wants to be spoken to like a human being, which means you shouldn’t try to hide behind buzzwords and jargon.
  3. Provide context. People’s primary concern will of course be how any changes affect them personally – but letting them know the reasons for change should also help.
  4. Be caring. The last thing you want to do is come across as cold and uncaring. If people seem angry or upset remember that this is new information for them, while it is probably something you have been considering for a while.
  5. Listen and make sure you give the conversation the time it deserves. You show you care by not dashing off somewhere else and delivering incomplete information.

Being prepared beforehand will help everyone in the long run.

If you think you may need help with your internal communications and help managing change, High-Rise Communications can help. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch, we’d be more than happy to help.

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