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How to Keep a Change From Becoming a Crisis

By Linda Varrell for Mainebiz

Over the past year, I’ve received twice as many calls for crisis communications than in the 15 years since I launched Broadreach Public Relations. And none of them had anything to do with COVID.

In some of the cases, organizations were already in the throes of Def Con One, worst-case scenarios that were rapidly escalating and threatening to wreak collateral damage on their employees, customers, brands and long-term chances of survival.

But in many of the cases, the leaders weren’t staring down crisis, but major organizational changes that could potentially become crisis — if not properly managed.

Any change — in leadership, processes, strategic direction, or human resources — has the potential to rattle staff, vendors and customers, even if the change ultimately will benefit them all. Humans, by nature, just don’t like change. But handled with care, a change can burnish your reputation instead of leaving it with a blemish, and ultimately leave you stronger than before.

Here’s how to manage it:

Remember: labels matter. Ground yourself and your leadership team in what is happening and think carefully about what you are going to call it. Be consistent and ensure it passes the “spoken word” test. Whatever label you give to a situation initially will become your new vocabulary. Using updated language is vital as the cultural meaning of words change over time — using words like “diverse” and “variety” interchangeably can take your messaging in two very different directions.

Spare people the spin. I’m a big advocate of candor, so If you’re cutting benefits, don’t say you’re “harmonizing” them. Trying to bury bitter pills in flowery euphemisms rarely goes well. Use plain English. If you’re making staff cuts, call them layoffs — don’t say you’re rationalizing the workforce.

Clarify the context. What events and dynamics led to this change? How will this change alter the course of your organization and help it thrive? When change is about, if staff, suppliers and customers don’t understand what led to the change and what the change is leading to, it leaves too much room for rumors, conjecture, catastrophizing and erosion of confidence in leadership and the company’s future.

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Photo by August de Richelieu:

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