Timing your comms: If we tell them, will they panic?

I’m often asked about the best timing for important announcements, particularly when it’s for a complex or difficult change. “We don’t want people to panic!”

No, of course we don’t. But they won’t. People panic when there is a physical threat to their lives. That makes sense. If Godzilla is marching towards your home, you should definitely run away screaming. But changes at work are not like that, are they?

When people say, “Well we didn’t tell them because we didn’t want people to panic,” it’s usually right after someone asks, “Why didn’t you tell us sooner? We could have prepared!”

And if the leader says, “Well actually, there is nothing you could have done,” then we know that leader knows nothing about leading change. Mental preparation is MORE important than any physical preparation.

In practice, we always announce change early so people can begin processing it. Change and “surprise!” do not mix.

Now, to be fair, people will wonder whether a change is going to impact their jobs. They are assessing threat, and that’s normal. And there are some who will indeed overreact. But leaders have a way to handle these responses. It’s called transparency.

Every change I’ve worked on has implemented multiple methods of communicating regularly with employees at all levels, with – and this is critical – an easy way for people to respond. Through huddles, manager meetings, anonymous forms, suggestion boxes…you name it. Change goes smoothly when employees feel they have a voice and there is a response to their questions and concerns.

Most people are logical, rational human beings. They know change will happen. It’s part of life. It may make them uncomfortable, but it will not cause panic. Besides, put yourself in their shoes. If a big scary thing is going to happen in the future, wouldn’t you want to know about it sooner than later? The first stage of adoption is mental.

Thoughtfully yours,
Jeff Skipper