A Change of Plans

Hi, Martin here. The other week something happened to me on my journey home, which in all honesty has probably happened to most of us at one time or another.  I was travelling back from York after a long day’s work when the train I was travelling on stopped unexpectedly just outside Peterborough.


After a few seconds the guard came over the tannoy to inform us that a little way ahead of us a person had been hit by a train and so all services were now suspended.  Naturally this was not a pleasant situation, but having been delayed on trains many times previously usually this announcement would have been the last we heard from the guard until we got moving again. This lack of information and silence would then be followed by many passengers calling friends or loved ones to complain that they were stuck on a train and didn’t know what was going on.  For me that also normally includes having a rant on social media to vent my frustration!


Although on this particular train something very different happened…


Instead of the expected silence from the guard,  every fifteen minutes or so the guard on this train would come back on the tannoy to provide everyone with an update of what was happening and when we were going to be on the move again. At times he wouldn’t actually have any new information to give us, but rather than not saying anything, that’s exactly what he would tell us. In his 15 minute updates, as well as apologising for the delay he would also explain what would be happening further down the line and what the British Transport Police would be doing to get the line reopened as soon as possible.


These regular updates had a hugely calming effect on both myself and all the passengers around me, instead of calling their friends or loved ones to complain and moan, they were passing on the information the guard had provided and were reassuring them they would be continuing their journey as soon as possible. It was also interesting to note how any people seemed to appreciate being kept in the picture, even if there was no new information forthcoming.


Eventually we arrived at our destination two hours late, so I’m guessing most of my fellow travellers much like myself needed to change their plans as a result, but it got me thinking…


My train journey just involved a change of plans for the evening, but how often as leaders in our work life are we faced with organisational change of varying size? It was really fascinating to see the positive impact our guard’s regular communication had on how we felt and our confidence that we had all the information available and weren’t being left in the dark. How often when we experience ‘change’ in the workplace do we unwittingly leave our people in the dark causing them to worry or complain they don’t know what’s going on? Even if you have no new information to share, or there are things you’re not allowed to tell people, that’s what you need to say, just like the train guard did for us. Naturally you also need to make sure as soon as you do have any new information you communicate it immediately to everyone in your team making sure they don’t hear another version of events on the grapevine.


A wise person once told us, in times of change when people are feeling uncomfortable or worried, as a leader you need to ‘communicate, communicate and communicate!’ Only when people turn round and tell you: ‘I know, I get it, you don’t need to keep telling me this information’, do you know you have communicated enough. The guard on my train that evening obviously adopted this same philosophy and the difference it made to how I and my fellow passengers felt was amazing. Instead of complaining, we relaxed knowing there was nothing we could do to change the situation.  So if your business or school is going through a period of change at the moment, you might want to ask yourself: have I really communicated all the information my people need and do I know for a fact they understand it or, perhaps unwittingly am I keeping them in the dark?


Til next time




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