Sharing bad news
When it comes to sharing bad news, however, it is best to do so in person, the group agrees. A transparent communications plan gives the company a strong sense of what is happening to “get ahead” and avoid surprise, suggests Whitwell.
Mackie says that when relaying bad news, senior leadership teams should first come together to “game this out” and decide how it will land and who needs to be considered most once it is revealed. Once made, fast follow-ups should be planned to listen to concerns and to be reflective sometime later.
“They’re going to want to come and have a really in-depth conversation with you and you’ve got to give your team time to do that,” she added.
Rosen says it’s important that management make themselves available for feedback and to “never underestimate the importance” of being visible and open to people sharing their thoughts, especially with newer employees given the amount of movement over the last 3 years.
The role of human resources departments has changed for some agencies such as R&R Partners, which rebranded the department to “people and culture” three years ago.
However, Marsh says he doesn’t like to lean on the HR team during difficult periods as he believes that “people expect accountability from leadership. There’s no way to hand that off to someone and still be accountable.”
The group also recommended that news come from the top but that managers are made aware in advance. The empowerment of managers is important, the group believes and their roles should be respected when it comes to communicating with their own teams before any executives get involved.
“I’ve always had an open-door policy because a lot of times people just want to be heard,” explained Whitwell. “And sometimes you find out that it might be just that—they’re struggling and they just want to be heard. That’s when I say ‘thank you for bringing that to my attention but you should speak to your manager’ and if it’s a bad situation then I figure out how to navigate it.”
Mackie adds that since joining fivebyfive this summer she is determined to be “visible” across the agency to be receptive to approaches from anyone, without undermining department heads.
To be supportive, R&R Partners has introduced employee resource groups for staff who identify as LGBTQ+, working moms, African American and Hispanic/Latinx, which Whitwell says “gave everyone the opportunity to come together and talk” about their issues in the workplace. Department heads would then take those issues and work through providing solutions.
“Culture is important. People want to feel like they’re a part of something versus working for someone,” Whitwell explained.