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Shaping the Message, Week 2

A major contract has just been lost.  The economy is faltering, and the news reports claim a grim picture of just how slow recovery will be.  Weather just landed another punch with heavy rains likely to mean flooding in the community you call home.  Any one of those events is a lot to take in.  A combination of events can take one’s breath away.

The likely reaction to these looming challenges is a leadership team around a table discussing possible scenarios of how to manage the emerging threat.  They are discussing options, framing possible methods of mitigation, looking at models and forecasts of economic impact and timelines for disruption.  What they often fail to consider is that the entire organization sees them and feels the tension.  In the absence of any facts, each will make up a story (incomplete, inaccurate, and negative).  We can encourage them not to do this, but we might as well save our breath.

Good News or Bad…People Behave Best in the Truth.

The only thing that will stop the chain of events that lead to adverse behavior and chaos is information.  Clear direct statements delivered that are actionable with supporting data, known variables, and an acknowledgement of what is NOT known. 

These three simple steps will help stem the tide of bad behavior in the workplace:

  1. As a leadership team, craft the facts into a concise (preferably one page) statement.  Having the team do this together increases continuity of messaging.  Language should be simple and honest.  If something is NOT known, it should be recognized and communicated as a changing element.  Have the team select one leader who will act as the point person for all communication.  This may or may not be the CEO.
  2. Deliver the statement in multiple formats.  Departmental roll out by department managers, email distribution, print materials, and internal press releases are all modalities of communication.  Anticipate questions from individuals and collect, answer, and deliver a set of frequently asked questions to help people see how the information may or may not impact them personally.
  3. Stick to the statement.  If it is possible, give actionable advice to team members telling them what they should be doing while they are waiting for next steps.  When the facts change, the leadership team should again go to step one and repeat.

Next week we will frame up communication management strategies that act to create a culture of trust within organizations.  Investments you make now in ongoing, clear, concise, and direct communication will put trust resources into place for when the possible bad news comes.

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Leading in the Moment is produced by Margaret Sumption of Sumption & Wyland. Margaret has over thirty-five years of experience assisting hospitals, nonprofits, and other organizations move their business forward. She is a popular, dynamic, and effective speaker for nonprofit professionals, associations, and policy makers. Margaret is frequently sought after as an executive coach, serving leaders in hospitals and nonprofit organizations.
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