Transparency and Clarity: The Key Ingredients for Successful Change Communications

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Today's business leaders are tasked with helping their employees navigate a new and often unpredictable work environment — a mission that will require transparency and clarity at every turn. Learn how Deb Hughes, SVP, Human Resources at ADP, views transparency and clarity in communication within the workplace.

Whether employees have been working from home or have never left the front lines, employees have learned what it takes to stay productive over a long and extended crisis. In addition to facing genuine concerns about their own health and safety, as well as their families and friends, employees have also had to adjust to significant changes in where, how and the way they work.

Today's business leaders are now tasked with helping their people continue to navigate a different and often unpredictable work environment. This mission will require transparency and clarity in communication at every turn.

Employees expect to be informed

Employees expect that their leaders will keep them informed about what's happening within their organizations. During a crisis, this means having forthright conversations about how the organization is being impacted, what the company's response will be, whether jobs could be impacted, and how employees can do their part to help the organization survive, if not grow stronger during these challenging times.

Employees want their leaders to tell them what is happening, they do not want to be surprised. Leaders should always be honest and forthcoming about their intentions and their actions. At the same time, leaders must also recognize that oversharing can inadvertently cause anxiety and stress. To achieve a healthy balance, leaders should strive for what I call "responsible transparency."

Responsible transparency

It's common for employees to want more insights and a sense of direction from their leaders, although providing employees with the many and often overwhelming considerations in making a decision often leads to greater confusion and chaos. Additionally, if important information isn't communicated clearly and authentically, it could be misinterpreted, and employees may pick up on unintended signals and get the wrong impression. In contrast, an approach that emphasizes responsible transparency enables leaders to pause and share truthful, focused information that's understandable and digestible.

For instance, let's say you're considering whether employees will return to work from an office. Safety is the number one priority, and you also must consider your culture and what impact this decision might have on maintaining or enhancing it. Exploring this question might yield many pages of data and lengthy reports, but is it helpful to share all of that with employees for the sake of transparency?

Instead, leaders could simply share what the final decision was and lay out some of the key and critical factors that were involved in the deliberation. Ultimately, our goal with responsible transparency is to give employees the right information at the right time so that they can make good, data-informed decisions for themselves.

This approach may represent a change for leaders who feel they should always know the answer to every question or aren't used to explaining their decisions to their teams. Alternatively, by offering the specific pros and cons of the choices that went into the final call, we are enabling our leaders to represent the decision with clarity, which reduces stress and anxiety for everyone.

In addition to being transparent, leaders must be authentic. They need to speak in their own voice and avoid "corporate-speak." People don't want to be spoken "at," and they can recognize it when it happens. For example, our employees have been dealing with an extended timeframe of pressure and change at work and at home. People want to know that we see them as humans, that we recognize that we are all humans and share in this human experience, and that, frankly, it has not been an easy one.

Employees also want to know that their leaders are listening. Empathetic listening involves communication flowing in both directions. As leaders, to make sure our employees feel heard, we should solicit questions and concerns from employees with openness, respond with compassion and use these conversational insights to amplify comprehension. In other words, the success formula for effective listening is "Empathy + Compassion = Mutual Understanding."

Delivering clarity in communication

Embracing responsible transparency can significantly help leaders provide clarity in their conversations with associates about changes. When employees are offered data points and facts, it helps them understand the situation or task at hand. Their trust in the organization and willingness to align with the preferred direction tends to increase.

Once leaders adopt this approach in their communications, employees will expect it to continue. Maintaining responsible transparency and delivering clarity in communications takes a deliberate mindset to share messages, decisions and updates in ways that engage people's hearts and minds. If we have learned anything over the last eighteen months, we've seen that if we don't make people feel seen, heard and appreciated, we may and probably will lose them.

Leaders aiming for greater transparency and clarity should focus on being direct, honest and authentic in their discussions with employees and clarify what is changing and what is not changing. Doing so can open doors to connecting with our people on a human level and securing their buy-in when new changes are on the horizon.

While the two years have been challenging, it has shown us what it takes to support our associates through difficult times: honesty, empathy, compassion and understanding. When your employees know that they can expect responsible transparency and clarity in your communications, this trust becomes a foundational step in engaging your people to work together towards your common goals. You have the power to be the constant as we move forward in this dynamic and ever-evolving world of work, helping your employees and your business to thrive.

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