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We had a great call to my radio show, “The Winner’s Circle” on Saturday (follow the link at danmulhern.com to listen to the show live on Saturdays from 7-9 am). The caller said that he works at a tool and die shop that is in the process of being sold by the long time owners. Uncertainty is everywhere. Will there be layoffs, paycuts, new strategies? Is it even possible the company might close? The gentleman said that with anxiety up and rumors rampant, hardly any work was getting done. He told us that he was an upper level manager but even he didn’t know what was going on and therefore what to tell his team. He wondered if we had any advice. (I’ll share the advice I offered him in next week’s column.)
My guest, Katherine Crowley co-author of Working With You Is Killing Me, warmly empathized with this gentleman. She said she could understand how totally challenging and scary this situation could be for him and those he led. I could hear the relief in his voice, when he said, “yes it is.” Gosh, that step seems so simple: recognize out loud and with compassion how difficult something is. Now, Katherine is a trained psychologist, so she knows the importance of connecting with people’s hearts. But shouldn’t we all know this? To merger & acquisition folks, a job is a calculable ratio of cost to benefit. To an employee a job is food, a home (can you say foreclosure?), predictability, purpose, an identity, shall I go on? It makes human sense and business sense to empathize with people, even if, especially if, hard cuts may come.
Katherine’s co-author Kathi Elster also weighed in and she too nailed it. She told him that he should meet with his people as often as daily, and tell them what he knows. It may not be much, as information is being guarded closely. But information will always fill a vacuum. If top management isn’t talking someone will be, and they may be spreading false information, rumors, and even wild speculation. Kathi told our caller that he could allay some of the anxiety and the unproductive water cooler time by telling people what he knows, even if he just says about a rumor: “I have not heard that to be the case. I can’t say it’s not. But I have not heard it.”
If you’re in a place where there’s a whole lot of speculation and uncertainty, you’d do well to follow the advice of Kathi and Katherine: empathize with your people and communicate frequently and as honestly as you can. Be pro-active and pro-people, to
Lead with your best self!
* Jeanie Daniel Duck, “Managing Change: the art of balancing,” in Harvard Business Review on Change, 1998, p. 61 (orignally published HBR, Nov-Dec 1993)