Communicating redundancies is never easy. For either the organisation or individuals. Chiumento MD Mike Burgneay shares some of his thoughts on how to manage communications successfully. 

What we’ve learned over the past 30 years is that there are five “golden rules” of communicating redundancies.

Is everyone on the same page?

Nothing destroys trust in redundancy situations faster than mixed messages. Everyone in the organisation – whether they are at risk or not – needs to hear the same story.

So the key starting point – which has to come from the very top – is a strategic narrative that explains what is happening and why. That core messaging needs to be succinct and based on facts and evidence. It also needs to be honest and frank. Sugaring the pill today only creates problems tomorrow.

Prepared well, that strategic narrative demonstrates that the leadership team are in control of the situation and have a clear plan. It stops immediate panic and inspires confidence that whatever happens the organisation will act with integrity and compassion.

What you absolutely have to avoid is that message being “spun” by individual line managers as communication is disemminated. That could be done with the best of intentions – eg to “protect” their people. However that is rarely helpful. All it does is risk people later claiming they weren’t told the truth. At worst it can create false expectations that come back to haunt you.

Who delivers the message?

For that reason you need to be selective about who delivers the message. Some line managers either can’t, or don’t want to, deliver the news. That could be because they don’t agree with what is about to happen. Or it could be they are too worried and distracted about their own position. Maybe they are inexperienced, or perhaps they fear the reaction of a team they have built and nurtured.

Those delivering the message need to be willing and prepared. That might mean training and coaching in how to deliver the message. It could also mean support to deal with the aftermath. That includes their personal resilience.

“Don’t shoot the messenger” is an old saying. However when communicating redundancy situations there is always a risk that the person delivering the news will get the full brunt of people’s anger and fear. Or it could be a wall of silence. They need to know how to deal with all those scenarios and handle the inevitable Q&A that follows.

How do you deliver the message?

No matter how many times you say “this is a business decision, it isn’t personal” the reality is that receiving news about redundancies is always deeply personal. Especially if your role is at risk.

The internet is awash with stories about organisations and the way they handle redundancy communications. Hearing about potential redundancies by email, or worse still by SMS, shows a complete lack of respect and consideration. It may be efficient but it is inevitably a fast track to wrecking your employer reputation. It smacks of hiding behind a technology wall too.

This is about real people. So communication needs to be personal. It could mean individual or group conversations but it should always feel like you care enough about people to engage them in person.

Avoiding a vacuum

There is always a line to walk between keeping people informed and respecting individual confidentiality and the need to consult before making final decisions. However continuous communication is vital.

As Aristotle famously said, “nature abhors a vacuum”. If you don’t regularly update your people, you risk creating an environment where rumour and gossip flourish. They fill the gap left by management silence.

What support is available?

Stress, anxiety, fear, bewilderment. These are just some of the emotional responses to potential redundancy situations. Your communications should include details of how to access support to navigate the journey ahead.

Who should your people talk to? Is that HR, line management, your EAP helpline? That shows you’ve thought about how best to support all those potentially affected.

What if voluntary redundancy is a part of the equation? Who can help individuals decide if that’s an option they want to pursue? And if redundancy is confirmed, how will you help people to exit the organisation?

Knowing that help and support will be provided if you are made redundant helps to reduce stress and anxiety. It also demonstrates that even in difficult times you remain committed to doing the best you can for your people.

In summary

Communicating redundancies needs to be well-planned. You need to have a clear strategic narrative delivered by confident and competent people who have the resilience to deal with the process. You need to choose the right time and means of delivering the news, remembering always that this is a very personal experience. Avoid communication vacuums and ensure your people know where they can access help and support.

We are very happy to share what Chiumento has learned about communicating redundancies. Just get in touch and we’ll share our 30 years of experience.