Supervisory Relations in Times of Change

Man at iPad

by Peter Berridge, president of Shorebird Coaching and Consulting

Uncertain times can be unsettling for staff. Supervisors must respond to some very tough questions.  Will I have a job? How about my coworkers? Will my pay and benefits be affected? Will we still be able to serve our clients? How will they be affected? As leaders, how do you respond? In times of change, staff is looking for certainty. However, all you can provide is clarity.

Too often, leadership waits. Waits until they know how staff will be affected, how programs will change and what the budget will look like before communicating. Why? Because, naturally, they want to be able to assure staff that “it’s over.” The search for certainty can lead to delays in communicating until “we have it right” or “know the answer.” This lack of communication leads to greater organizational anxiety.

Disney is famous for saying you either have a culture by design or by default. Communication is key to designing and upholding your culture. Without ongoing communication, misinformation seeps in and causes unintended consequences: undesirable turnover, lowered productivity and protecting one’s own interests.

  • Supervisors want to provide certainty; they can’t. However, they can provide clarity. Such as:
  • The organization’s situation;
  • The process used to gather information;
  • The need for involvement in providing information, ideas and solutions;
  • The need for involvement in providing information, ideas and solutions;
  • The values that will be upheld and the process used to make decisions if programs and staff are affected;
  • Honesty, if the answers are unknown;
  • I can’t share that information with you at this point;
  • A plan for moving ahead; and
  • The key data and milestones.

Of these, most important is conveying the plan for moving ahead. This provides goals and milestones that staff can rally behind and work toward; a positive focus that can lead to powerful results and greater employee engagement.

Supervisors play a key role in providing communications to front line staff, maintaining employee engagement and gathering essential information for decision-making.

There are many methods for keeping staff in the loop: staff meetings, weekly newsletter, intranet webpage, CEO blog, daily/weekly CEO broadcast voicemail, broadcast email, scorecards and dashboards. Map out your schedule and methods and stick to it.

How about staff reductions? This is another area where mistakes are commonly made. Simply communicating who’s been affected is not enough. Staff who are left have real information needs:

  • Who’s been affected;
  • What positions and when;
  • The work that is being eliminated (we simply won’t be doing those duties any more);
  • Who will do the remaining duties of persons who have left; and
  • What steps are being taken to meet the client needs, transition services, and what problems are yet to be solved.

Staff watch how their peers are treated during reductions. Treat staff well in their departure; if not, it won’t matter how well your organizational values are written, employee engagement will suffer.

Clarity versus certainty is a simple concept that helps organizations through change. Take the lead, share the direction of the organization, what is known, what is not known, and the process to solve the issues the organization faces.

Peter Berridge has over 20 years of experience coaching and human resources as a former vice president of human resources at Courage Center. Peter’s passion is coaching senior executives, rising leaders and teams navigating challenges, with a special focus on nonprofits. For more information about Shorebird Coaching and Consulting, visit