macdougall musings

Employee Communication During Times of Turmoil

There is no question, we are in a time of unprecedented change. The world is evolving, and with it, so are our organizations.

Change, while often positive – new babies, new jobs, new seasons – can also be stressful. The human brain is wired for survival, which means it is constantly evaluating our environments for perceived threats. When the brain perceives change as threatening, it triggers predictable neurological responses. These natural responses can in turn, negatively impact an employee’s performance, collaboration, creativity and problem-solving capabilities.

The SCARF model, created by neuroscientist David Rock, provides a roadmap to help counteract these instinctive neurological responses. Using the model, organizational leadership can better communicate changes, ensuring employees feel recognized, empowered and motivated, despite institutional turmoil.

Wrap Your Communication in (a) SCARF

STATUS – How an employee perceives their status within the organization often determines how secure they feel when presented with changes. Regularly giving, receiving and working through feedback can help employees feel confident with their organizational status.

TIP: Share real time feedback, particularly praise, with your employees frequently. Promote their learning in areas of interest and ensure they see their contributions as valuable to overall organizational performance.

CERTAINTY – Human beings crave certainty. A transparent, thoughtful message will be undermined if it is also ambiguous. When communicating changes, you may not have all the solutions to problems. That’s ok! When you can’t ensure certainty, increase employees’ confidence in the process. Give them something to count on like a monthly company update. Consider creating feedback mechanisms so they can voice concerns or ideas.

TIP: Follow this formula: transparent clear communication about current state + outline of process to arrive at future state + dates of next communication + details on a channel for feedback (this can be as simple as an invitation to discuss the changes with the employee’s manager).

AUTONOMY – Control over one’s environment decreases stress. Unfortunately, in times of change, many employees can feel out of control. Although a manager cannot necessarily lessen the feelings of loss of control, they can help an employee feel autonomous by avoiding its biggest enemy – micromanagement.

TIP: Don’t forget when solving problems that your teams are one of your best assets. Creating regular feedback loops allows your team to share their great ideas and simultaneously feel more involved in (and therefore in control of) upcoming changes. Everyone wins.

RELATEDNESS – A feeling of belonging is a fundamental human need. In order to collaborate and work together, employees need to feel related and connected to their colleagues. While team building over zoom isn’t easy, it is as important as ever. At MacDougall we’ve instituted happy hours and online trivia meet ups to stay connected virtually. As our state begins to re-open, we are also planning some social distancing hikes and ways to engage off-screen. Don’t forget to build in time for connecting outside of work.

TIP: When in doubt, ask your employees how they would like to connect with each other!

FAIRNESS – Fairness is deeply rooted in the human brain. Cut a slice of cake unevenly and most children will immediately respond, “that’s not fair!” The solution to this one is easy, treat people fairly.

TIP: When communicating difficult decisions, be transparent and honest about the process and resulting outcomes.

When planning to communicate changes, do not underestimate the role of managerial communication. Research has shown that managers are employees preferred method of communication. In fact, managers often have more credibility with employees than senior leaders.

With some thoughtful planning, you can help your employees move through organizational changes, and emerge stronger, together.

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