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How to announce difficult decisions

by Susanne Barth, on Nov 9, 2020 5:55:37 PM

Susanne  Barth, Publications Manager 

Asking HR managers why they chose to work in HR you often get the reply that people matter to them and that they like helping people grow. But besides supporting professional and personal development the HR role also consists in being able to communicate difficult decisions. These might be due to structural changes, mergers and acquisitions, saving programmes, low performance or other reasons. As HR manager - cooperating closely with the leadership team - you have to ensure to communicate those decisions professionally. Read here how to do so:  

1.  Prepare your communication 

First focus and think about what needs to be communicated. Write down the key ingredients of your message. This will also help you to formulate the message in a KISS* way. Keeping the message brief is important as otherwise you risk that employees don’t get the full impact of the message. So don’t use euphemisms or a too soft language which might easily be misunderstood. It’s also recommended to repeat the message so that it can really sink in.  

In case that you weren’t involved in the decision-making, prepare yourself to know how the decision was made, which stakeholders were consulted and why the final decision has been taken.

Once you have planned what to communicate, think of how the other person (or group of persons) might react. Put yourself in their perspective and try to adance their reactions. If necessary, then rethink or reformulate your line of communication.

If you are not feeling comfortable to lead this conversation then it's an option to practice it in a role play. Look for a line manager or team members (confidentiality should be granted) and play the conversation through. 

2. Be ready emotionally  

Prepare yourself to speak in a calm but straight-forward way so that emotions don’t influence your communication. Make sure that before fixing the date for the announcement you (and the others involved) have your emotions under control. This will help you to find the right tone of voice as well as having your body language supporting your communication (eye contact, straightened shoulders etc.)

3. Don't hide away

Announcing difficult decisions via email or conference calls is not a good option. If you want to show respect towards the people affected and also underline the importance and seriousness of the situation you have to hold personal meetings. If for example a larger group of employees is affected you might think of splitting the meeting up in several groups. Also be aware that this is not the time for using humor. Afterwards invite people to a question-and-answer session. If it fits into the context of the decision, you can also ask for suggestions how to deal with the challenge.

4. Focus on the future

After the decision has been communicated give people a break to digest the new information. Then help the team or the individual person to make the next steps to move forward. Be their partner and help them in shaping the future – be it what it is.   

*keep it short and simple