How to Honestly Discuss the Future with Employees

Few topics bring about a bigger mix of emotions than the future. Thinking about upcoming events can cause great excitement, panic, and everything in between. The more unknown the future remains, the more volatile the opinions employees can have about it.

Managers should seek to ease their employees’ minds as much as possible by being up front and transparent about their future. Sometimes the answers aren’t crystal clear, but communicating with employees and giving them as much information as possible keeps them from (incorrectly) filling in the gaps on their own.

Future Organizational Plans

What a MANAGER might say: 

“This year, we’re taking a more customer-centric approach to the way we do business. We expect Q2 sales to increase by 12 percent. We’ll need to make adjustments to reach this goal, so stay tuned for more details."

What an EMPLOYEE might think: 

“So what exactly is changing? What does ‘customer-centric approach’ mean, and how does this affect my work? Is a 12 percent jump attainable? And when can I expect more details?”

What’s the problem? 

The manager’s statement was incredibly vague, and it didn’t explain at all how these adjustments will affect the day-to-day work or goals of individual employees. The manager’s job is to take the overall company strategy and break it down into details relevant to each employee. Managers need to communicate the high-level strategy in a way that empowers individual contributors and helps them understand how their work aligns with the goals of the team and organization.

A better approach...

Managers must be able to fill in any gaps in communication from leadership to eliminate confusion for employees. They need to figure out how each employee fits into the overall strategy (both positively and negatively) and clearly lay out the plan in one-on-one conversations with each employee. This communication is going to vary from employee to employee, and managers must be prepared to use different approaches with various position and personality types.

Growth and Development

What a MANAGER might say:  

“We’ve scheduled some upcoming trainings for employees and uploaded a number of resources onto our intranet. Take advantage of these to grow your skills!”

What an employee might think:

“More training? Great… I’ve done plenty of training here already, and nothing ever changes.”

What’s the problem? 

Simply providing training or resources isn’t enough. These offerings may not address specific employee desires or fit into their development goals. The training isn’t necessarily optimized for growing and developing individuals in ways meaningful to them.

A better approach...

Managers should know who their employees want to be, not just the job they want. They need to be comfortable discussing development outside of just organizational and team constructs. Growth should be defined in terms of the employee as a human, not just a worker – this allows the manager to tap into their motivations and discover what drives them. Maybe they’re passionate about personal finance, disciplined when it comes to health and fitness, or are generous when it comes to lending their talents. By framing development conversations in terms outside of just compensation or job status, managers can help their employees grow as people, become more well-rounded human beings, and be set up for future success.