Communicating Change: 4 Problems with E-mail
So you've got a big announcement to make to your staff – a change in benefits, a change in PTO policy, an organizational restructure, perhaps? Sending the right message to employees is a key aspect in managing change in an organization, but it’s important to remember that it’s not just what you say that matters; how you say it is equally as important. In a world where most employees are operating on smart phones, tablets, and laptops, e-mail is a great way to quickly deliver a consistent message that reaches most employees with a simple click of a button. However, leaders should understand the problems they may face when using e-mail as the formal method of communicating organizational change.
1. Intention vs. Interpretation
Studies show that over 90% of a message is communicated through non-verbal cues (tone, posture, eye contact, hand gestures, etc.). All of these cues are eliminated in an e-mail and your readers are more likely to interpret your message in a different manner than you had originally intended. It is important that e-mails are carefully written to display the level of information, empathy, justification, or explanation appropriate to the situation. It’s also important to consider the audience – how many readers will see your message and will the message impact individual readers differently than others?
2. It’s not personal.
Consider the personal impact of the change that you are communicating to the employees. Are you restructuring your benefits as a result of Affordable Care Act that will lead to increased costs for employees? Are you considering a reorganization that will result in position eliminations? If the message you are delivering may have a negative impact on one or more employees, informing them via e-mail may make them feel that you don’t care about them enough as an individual to take the time to inform them of the change in-person. While some business decisions that are going to negatively impact the employees are justified and required to successfully grow your business, it is important to remember that your employees are your number one asset. Sharing news via e-mail that may negatively impact your employees can lead your staff to feel unappreciated and decrease their level of engagement in the organization. Even if you have to make a small change that your employees may not like, those same employees are essential in successfully working through the period of change and have your business come out on top.
3. It is forever.
If the change you are communicating to employees is confidential in nature, or not 100% guaranteed, keep in mind the message you send in an e-mail is permanent and never goes away. Employees will always be able to access the content of the e-mail exactly as it was written. While it’s important to only communicate truth, e-mail provides the opportunity for employees to forward, copy or print your message and perhaps forward it to a competitor or unintended receiver. We can’t control employees who may verbally share the information that is given to them; however, e-mail makes it much easier to relay an exact message to another individual or organization.
4. No guarantee of receipt.
Most employees access their work e-mail on a regular basis; however, it may be that you have members of your staff that do not. Do all of the employees that are affected by the change need to access their company e-mail address to do their job? Do your employees have client e-mails that they primarily work from and only check their company e-mail on an as-needed basis? Do you have employees working in the field with little to no computer access at all? If all of your employees are not consistently on their work e-mail, they may not receive the message within the appropriate and/or necessary time frame.
Managing organizational change is not an easy task, and a strategic communication plan is essential. An e-mail may be appropriate, but it may not. Alternative methods of communication could be one-on-one meetings with employees who will be affected or a verbal announcement in an all-staff meeting to inform them of the decision followed by an e-mail with the need-to-know details. Consider what the change is, who it will impact and how it will impact them before determining the best method of communication.