Managing the difficult message

How to prepare employees for a transition process

What says more about a doctor’s bed-side manner than how he or she delivers bad news? People who have been told the worst generally agree that tone is critical. Nothing leaves a bitter aftertaste like the feeling that sensitive information was badly handled. As with the medical profession, business often has bad news to give to unsuspecting people. When tough decisions are made, the consequences can affect not just one individual, but hundreds, even thousands of people at once. It should be obvious that a lot of thought needs to go into preparing for this critical situation particularly as – unlike a doctor – the management of a company has a direct stake in the outcome. Redundancies or closure announcements impact not only on the immediate staff, but right across a spectrum of interests. From stock values and brand perceptions to supplier and customer relations, a diverse array of stakeholders needs to be engaged with at this critical time. It’s extraordinary, then, that companies that spend so long and invest so much in building their image, can jeopardise it with a badly thought-out or hastily executed workforce rationalisation strategy. On a purely personal level, a sudden, unexpected announcement of redundancy is not only unfair to employees but deeply traumatic. On a professional level, it’s not just the bad feeling (and bad publicity) generated locally that a company has to worry about. Nobody will be scrutinising a business more closely at this critical time than its own employees. How it manages the shedding of one part of its workforce speaks volumes to those who remain behind: any company that toys with the trust of its employees is wilfully storing up bigger problems for the future.

Peter Finnegan

Peter Finnegan is managing director of Communiqué International, an integrated business communications consultancy based in Dublin that specialises in designing and directing a wide range of communications training and consulting projects. Finnegan works in Ireland, Europe, the Western Balkans and Africa. He specialises in projects involving media communication, crisis communication, persuasive communication and the communication of change.