“Transparency, honesty, kindness, good stewardship, even humor, work in businesses at all times.” — John Gerzema
Change management is tough. But straight talk helps.
Over my 20+ years at Microsoft, I have seen numerous changes rolled out. And sometimes, instead of being straightforward about the reasons behind the changes, the company would try to spin it for employees as something beneficial, even when it was really just a cost-cutting measure.
This approach eroded trust, created resistance, and caused friction instead of building a partnership.
It’s a common mistake made by leaders across industries, and it highlights the importance of honesty and transparency with employees.
Google CEO Says Some Offices are Like a Ghost Town
With remote work and hybrid work, something has to change.
According to CNBC, during a recent companywide meeting, Google CEO Sundar Pichai defended the cloud unit’s new desk-sharing policy by pointing out the high cost of real estate and the need to optimize resource usage.
Pichai acknowledged that some employees may not like the change but emphasized that the company is trying to be efficient and save money while also improving the workplace experience by avoiding empty spaces.
He also noted that some people have complained about the office feeling like a ghost town due to the empty desks.
Google CEO Defended Desk Sharing Pilot to Deal with Slowing Revenue Growth and Recession Concerns
Following a report by CNBC about Google’s plan to implement desk-sharing policies at its five biggest locations, Google CEO Sundar Pichai defended the move to Cloud employees in a recent companywide meeting.
He cited inefficient use of office space by employees who only come in twice a week, adding that they should be good stewards of financial resources, given the company’s pricey real estate.
According to Google’s executives, the company expects to incur costs of about $500 million related to reduced global office space as it deals with slowing revenue growth and ongoing recession concerns.
Desk Sharing + Assigned Days in the Office for Better Collaboration
According to Anas Osman, Google Cloud’s strategy and operations vice president, sharing desks has led to increased productivity, as data from the pilot showed that Googlers reported better collaboration when they had assigned days in the office, even in a rotational model with shared desks.
However, Sundar Pichai clarified that this policy is only for cloud employees at the moment and the company is allowing teams to experiment with different arrangements. The cloud division represents about a quarter of Google’s overall workforce.
Not Every Cost-Cutting Measure Needs to Sound Good for Employees
At the meeting, Pichai tackled concerns raised by employees about the communication and implementation of the desk-sharing policy.
According to previous reports by CNBC, memes on Google’s internal Memegen system had criticized the messaging from the company’s leadership.
One meme in particular, “Not every cost-cutting measure needs to be word mangled into sounding good for employees,” had gained popularity.
Doublespeak is Disrespectful and Frustrating
Pichai addressed an employee comment during the meeting, which criticized the use of doublespeak in company communications, describing it as disrespectful and frustrating.
The comment also stated that there was no need to make every negative change sound like a positive event.
Google CEO Says Be as Straightforward as Possible
Pichai said in response:
“I agree with the sentiment here. The feedback is valid.
We should always strive to be as straightforward as possible. I think it’s important to understand at our scale, pretty much all communication are public in nature.
You’re speaking to the world and there are many, many stakeholders and so at times, nuance is important, and words can have a material impact and I think sometimes you see that reflected in some of the communications.”
Be Straightforward with Your Team
In a recent Inc article titled “Google’s CEO Addressed Criticism from Employees at a Recent All-Hands Meeting,” Jason Aten offered a valuable lesson for leaders:
Be straightforward with your team.
“The key lesson here is not to avoid making changes that may upset employees, but rather to prioritize honesty and respect towards them, without attempting to spin every change as a benefit when it’s not seen that way.
Your team members are intelligent and can understand that sometimes there are actions that they may not like or comprehend, but they can also recognize when they’re being misled.”
Choose Transparency and Collaboration Over Spin and Doublespeak
At the end of the day, the lesson from Google’s controversy over its desk-sharing policy is clear:
Be honest with your employees. (Even when the truth hurts)
I’ve seen countless changes rolled out with spin and doublespeak that only erode trust and create resistance and friction.
Smart people can see right through it, and it ultimately undermines the partnership between employees and leadership.
The lesson here is not just about being straightforward, but also about treating employees as partners in the process.
When you value their input and keep them informed, they’re more likely to trust you and work with you to find solutions that benefit everyone.
As leaders, it’s our responsibility to foster an environment of transparency, honesty, and collaboration – even when the changes we make might not be popular.
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