Whether a business owner or a leader inside a company, at some point you’ll have to communicate change to clients, employees or other important audiences. How you communicate that change matters.
I remember the conversation like it was yesterday, not 14 years ago.
The CEO of the small analyst firm where I worked stopped by my desk and invited me to have a conversation in his office.
Why did the CEO want to talk to me, a mid-level research manager, who wore a lot of black, no make up and kept her long, curly hair slicked back in a tight bun so no one would notice her?
My steps were hesitant as I followed him.
He invited me to take a seat, closed the door, crossed his arms and legs in his chair and said, “Stacey, I called you in here today because you’re one of our top performers.”
I smiled and sat taller.
“And if you don’t start selling our products, I’ll fire you.”
With that, I crossed my arms, furrowed my brow and zipped my lips.
The CEO and I never spoke to each other again.
Three months later, and after making sure my bonus hit my bank account, I quit.
Work friends later told me he asked, “Why did Stacey leave?”
Communicate Change with Empathy and Curiosity
Last week, I had a conversation with a client who needed to communicate change to his employees. His message sounded too similar to the one I heard 14 years ago. So I shared the story and we explored what might happen if he approached the conversation with more empathy and curiosity instead.
Maybe something like:
Stacey, the company is getting ready to sell, and we need to beef up revenue. That means we need everyone, at all levels, to sell our products and services. You’re one of our top performers, and I’d like you to stay along for the ride. I realize this may be a big change for you, in a non-sales role.
So, here’s what I’d like to know:
- How do you feel about the change?
- Are you willing/interested/able to come along for the ride?
- If yes, what support or training do you need to make this happen and be successful?
After all, I told my client, just because someone is a top employee or client doesn’t mean they are the right person to come along for the new ride. Empathy and curiosity can help figure that out while maintaining a positive relationship.
And, just because the change seemed easy to him, didn’t mean it would be easy for his employees. He needed to make sure they were set up for success.
He was skeptical at first. Then he tried it. Surprising to him, he had more positive and productive conversations as a result.
The Bottom Line
As leaders and business owners we have to remember that change is about more than the change. It’s also about the people involved in the change. Communicate with empathy and curiosity to make sure they’re on board and have what they need to succeed.
Otherwise you risk watching your top clients or employees walk out the door while you stand by wondering why.
Your Turn to Talk to Me
When you communicate change, how important is empathy and curiosity in your conversations? Have you ever left a job or company for similar reasons?
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