How to help managers communicate during a recession

Bolstering your internal communications is especially important now. Here are three ways to do it.

Here's how to help your managers navigate messaging around a recession.

Protection or defensive stock in economy crisis or market crash, business resilient to survive difficulty or insurance concept, businessman holding umbrella to cover and protect from downturn arrow.

Are we in a recession?

Already companies ranging from 7-Eleven and Walmart to Netflix and JPMorgan are letting employees go. Even if you’re not losing your job, you’re seeing those pandemic-induced pay hikes eaten up by inflation. Whether we’re in a recession or not, many employees are anxious about their livelihood, which is tied to the company.

That’s where internal communicators need to step up, providing a link between employees and the enterprise amid the uncertainty.

So, what are communicators to do?

Your organization should already be sharing information about its financial performance and outlook in a way that anyone can understand. That will make your task easier when the news is bad.

For those unhappy occasions, your first step is to determine exactly what a downturn means to your company. Layoffs? Store closings? Office consolidations? Compensation changes? Just as economic downturns don’t affect every person in the same way, they also don’t affect every company in the same way.

  1. Clarify managers’ role

If you haven’t done it already, use the downturn to create an expectation that all managers in your organization will play a significant role in communicating the change. It will pay off for all future efforts. Use existing meetings or communications channels targeted to your managers to state the business case for their involvement in the communications process.

Three-quarters of companies with high-performing employee communications have above average employee performance compared to their competitors, according to a 2021 HR Research Institute study.  In contrast, only 43% of companies that are laggards in employee communications have above average employee performance.

Most employees look to their direct supervisors for guidance, which gives managers an opportunity to ease fears. To support managers’ efforts to address employee concerns, establish a clear feedback loop and plan for answering questions. Make sure managers know how to put employees’ feedback into the loop as well as how and when they can retrieve answers and information to support their teams.

  1. Make comm channels easy for managers to use

One of the keys to successfully delivering messages to employees is using the appropriate channel. Do your managers know how to use the communications tools your organization has? And are they experts or beginners? Whether it’s Microsoft Teams or speaking during a stand-up meeting, determine if your managers need support, training or resources.

An investment in raising managers’ skills on your communications channels strengthens the work environment. Well-trained and informed managers can contribute to an organization’s  culture and motivate the behaviors needed to develop a competitive advantage, according to the 2013-2014 Towers Watson Change & Communication ROI Study.

  1. Give them clear instructions

Managers often lament that they receive lots of information from their bosses, but it isn’t clear what should be passed along to their teams and how urgent the information is.

Some easy ways to make communications cascade include:

  • Highlight the key points for managers to share with their teams
  • House relevant information in a central location (such as an online portal)
  • Set a deadline for sharing information
  • Provide non-urgent information to managers on a regular schedule so they know when to expect it
  • Create toolkits for larger initiatives (these can include key documents, key messages, FAQs and timelines)

There is no more important time to prepare managers to deliver information in a genuine way than when the business faces challenges.

Equip your managers so they can have meaningful conversations with their teams. Such discussions are opportunities for employees to see their roles in supporting the success of the organization.

DeNesha Tellis is an affiliate consultant with Ragan Consulting Group, specializing in executive and leadership communications. Schedule a call with Kristin Hart to learn how we can help you improve your communications effort with training, consulting and strategic counsel. Follow RCG on LinkedIn and subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.

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