The initial shock is over, some version of the new normal is here, and your team understands that long-term change is coming. They're counting on you to guide them through it. They're looking to your actions, of course, but they're also paying close attention to your words.
Which words? Here's a checklist: 7 key words that will strike both concrete and reassuring tones with your employees. If they're popping up often enough in your remarks, you can feel confident you've done at least one small part of your job as a leader.
People want to know that you are listening, and that they are being heard. They want to know that you're paying attention to the macro challenges facing your business, and the more individualized challenges they're facing in their lives.
So, the more you're saying things like: "I'm listening," and perhaps even better -- "We asked X, and you told us Y, so we're going to do Z..." -- the better the message you'll be communicating.
People are worried. Some are worried about their health. Others are worried about their jobs and their economic survival. Others have family concerns, fears about the direction of the country -- and even a combination of all of the above.
Thus, the more you can offer a legitimate sense of security, the more receptive they'll be. Don't overpromise, but if you can say: "My goal is no layoffs," or "My commitment is we will do everything we can to keep everyone's jobs at least through August," you're at least removing some small source of insecurity.
You've seen already over the last few months that flexibility is going to be one of the key things employees need going forward. Some will want ability to work remotely long-term. Some will need to stagger hours. Others might have a harder time than normal performing their jobs; the flexibility they might need involves forgiveness, and more help going forward.
You needn't agree to every single request, but the more you're using variations of the word "flexible" and backing it up with action, the better and more reassuring the message you'll be sending.
People want to be told the truth, and they want to be told that things are going to be OK. Sometimes those goals conflict. But overall: Optimism increases the likelihood of positive results.
So, the more you can display a realistically optimistic attitude, the better. Example: "We project a challenging year, but we've been through things like this before, and always persevered."
Shared sacrifice, shared effort, shared reward: People want to know that you're all in this together, and that they really can count on leaders and coworkers. It's especially important when your workers are now scattered, working remotely, and you haven't had as much interaction with them as you might otherwise.
Make them understand that you value them both as individuals and as a team. Make sure they know that even if they're working remotely from a spare bedroom somewhere, they're being included.
Yes, sacrifice gets its own entry, especially talking about shared sacrifice. A lack of discussion about shared sacrifice right now could actually be a red flag to many employees, who expect that sacrifices will have to be made.
If you don't address this, and if they don't hear about shared sacrifices, they can become more concerned about unshared sacrifices: layoffs versus everyone taking a temporary 10 percent pay cut, for example. Bonus: If you're asking for help on this front, make sure that you're sharing the burden yourself, too.
7. Please and thank you.
These two phrases: please and thank you (yes, I know it's technically three words) will pay dividends. They imply respect.
Moreover, there are some studies that suggest people perceive polite arguments and instructions to be more persuasive than similar directions given in an impolite manner. These words cost you nothing, so if they give you even the slightest edge, now's the time to start using them.