Your team may occasionally execute projects that will have unwelcome effects on an organization’s workforce. Most impacts are intended to be positive, such as workflow and machinery updates that improve safety for staff. But in other cases, employees may learn their jobs are scheduled for relocation or that their positions are being eliminated entirely.
During this type of project, it’s possible the team will need to rely on these same workers to carry out specific duties, from boxing up equipment and supplies in preparation for an upcoming move to helping with the graceful shutdown of a soon-to-be-mothballed technology platform. Maintaining engagement with employees who are unhappy or worried is no easy task, but it’s often an important component in executing a project successfully. If your project will create unfavorable circumstances for workers, a handful of strategies can help keep your team and employees moving forward together.
If a project leads to concerns within the organization’s employee base, there are likely to be a lot of questions coming your way. While it’s prudent to assign a primary point of contact for queries, it’s also pragmatic to expect you’ll receive questions informally and through roundabout channels—during discussions in the cafeteria, while waiting for the elevator, etc.—and team members should do what they can to remain accessible. If you’re able to answer an inquiry directly, do so. Even if you later need to transfer an employee to your point person or another department for further assistance, do your best to respond to inbound requests for information and add a human touch to each interaction.
You don’t want to give the impression you can make unpleasant outcomes better if you can’t. Don’t promise to work miracles—you likely can’t stop a plant closure, for example—but it’s also unwise to pretend to be blind to the reality that employees will experience negative effects as a result of the project. It’s perfectly acceptable to sympathize with their concerns and to tell them you wish the situation was different. Listen when they have questions, even if you aren’t the right person to answer them. Allow them to vent (to an appropriate degree) and don’t take their frustration personally. The more your team can approach the project from a human perspective, the better response you’ll get from employees, even those who are frightened or angry about their predicament.
Acknowledge cultural differences
When an organization expands or partners with a new company—mergers, acquisitions, or perhaps growth into another region—there are sure to be new cultural influences. Working through issues with employees will be more effective if the project team can recognize these differences and find a way to incorporate them whenever possible. Is your e-mail-centric company taking over a small factory where workers have historically shared news in person? Continue to send messages using your normal protocol, but pop in for a few face-to-face chats, too. By adopting practices that fit into employees’ longstanding cultural norms, your team will likely find the workforce more engaged and willing to partner with you on difficult issues.
Be ready to direct employees to additional information and other resources
Supporting partners are typically involved in projects that have a workforce management component and you shouldn’t hesitate to leverage them whenever possible. Questions about relocation specifics may be better answered by someone in HR. Worries about diminished opportunities for growth might be a good topic for a department leader. Develop a list of resources and keep it handy. You can then provide phone numbers or e-mail addresses to workers who are looking for more information.