It is essential to convey the message that the culture and value system of the organisation will be intact and its fabric will not be disturbed
The first address to one’s employees isn’t all about declaring one’s arrival. It is a golden opportunity to send across a positive message and to connect with them
After the almost year-long Ratan Tata VS Cyrus Mistry debate, the time for speculation seems to be over. Cyrus Mistry is the new man in charge. His first letter to Tata employees set the right tone for him to start off. In his letter, Mistry humbly praises his very successful predecessor Ratan Tata, gives ample hints of what his focus areas would be, and most importantly, succeeds in addressing the predictable anxieties of his staff. This is what a leader’s first address to his team is supposed to do. Plans, strategies, policies take time to show results, but how leaders address their employees for the first time, to a large extent, sets the tone for all these to take off.
Deepak Bharara, Corporate Director-HR at Lanco Infratech Ltd. gives the example of Kelvinator’s takeover by Whirlpool in 1996. ‘I was with the organization around that time. Mr. Jack Smith, the then CEO of Whirlpool, addressed 6000 employees. When a change of this scale happens, people are anxious to know about the repercussions. Jack Smith understood this. He assured the employees that with a multi-national platform there may be a few changes in terms of automation or performance level, but there will be no changes in the work culture so strongly based on Indian values. He gave an overview of a few future plans and assured the employees that their jobs will be safe.’ This was a great way to address people worried about the impending changes that may happen in the organization. This helps people in letting go of their fears, if any.
With a leadership point of view, the first communication (whether it is in the form of a meeting, video conference or something as simple as an email) is an opportunity to take the staff in confidence. The focus should be that through these communications the right message is conveyed in the right manner. Not every transition is as important or significant as a Ratan Tata-Cyrus Mistry one but employee anxieties are more or less similar. Sachin Sharma, 31, who works as a manager in the Brand Solutions department of a media house in Delhi shares, ‘A team leader isn’t just a profile. To a large extent his way of working defines the process and priorities of the team. There is a lot of anxiety among team members when a new team leader comes in. Even if the stakes aren’t very high, addressing people as a team helps them get into the new mode.’ The levels of anxiety are high when a successful and popular predecessor hands over his responsibilities to a new team leader. If it isn’t addressed early, people tend to harbor their fears for a long time.
Touching the right chord
The first communication is not about painting a rosy picture of the days to come. It is about establishing a connection with the team. Deepak Bharara lists out three issues that a leader should touch on while addressing his team for the first time, ‘It is essential to convey the message that the culture and value system of the organization will be intact and its fabric will not be disturbed. Secondly, there should be an assurance of business growth or a promising future. Lastly, if the transition is of a large scale, one should give some clarity about how integrations of leadership will happen.’ Concerns of employees may vary with organization, situation or the degree of change but what is important is that the leader doesn’t let go of this opportunity to connect with his people in a genuine way.