Change is one of the few constants in our world of work. Change comes in many forms and can have a minor or major impact on our organizations - often intentionally, sometimes unintentionally.
An effective internal and external communications plan is essential to maximize the outcomes change will have on stakeholder relations and on the bottom line.
Get Out in Front of Change!
What Constitutes Change? Most organization changes are intended to increase ROI or mitigate disruption. Sometimes change occurs in anticipation of trends in the economy or industry. Other times significant occurrences with partners and vendors trigger changes. While there are many reasons to initiate change, all change initiatives are undertaken to create or improve outcomes, from revenue and sales to productivity and product development.
We've helped our clients with marketing and communications strategies through a variety of corporate changes, be it acquiring and merging with other companies, reorganizing or changing value propositions, creating and implementing new digital tools, and more. Timely tools and messaging was needed -- whether it was working with Western Union during its launch of new digital tools and financial services in Cuba, supporting KEEN footwear's new U.S. factory, addressing DHL's expanded footprint and reorganized domestic routes or when the Fritz Institute introduced the International Red Cross humanitarian logistics software.
Whether change is driven by either positive or negative factors, building employee morale and retaining or strengthening employee culture is essential.
The old adage, "Don't take it personally; it's only business," has no place in successfully managing organization changes. Employee feelings and knowledge are pivotal to keeping your team focused and committed to the company through transitions. Clear and timely communications are important to help employees understand each change in ways that do not interfere with their clarity of purpose or expectations of their work. Ensuring that employees, as well as customers and the marketplace, buy-in to changes, or helping them feel confident that the change was well thought out, will determine how engaged or disheartened they may feel.
Be the Rumor Mill
Routinely, organizations undergoing change promote executives, reorganize staffing and "right-size" or lay off employees. Sometimes management is so focused on their organization's process and leadership appointments that they wait until after the rumor mill has ramped up to share information with employees, which is too late in the game to create goodwill and implement an effective communications plan.
It's important to avoid a talent drain, risking departure of your best people during a time of flux. I've seen employees accelerate job searches or accept offers to leave during poorly managed change situations. Often the first to go pre-emptively may be those you most want to retain as part of your core team.
In any change situation - from an adjustment to a transformation - there will always be people and teams directly or indirectly affected. Even when groups of employees or partners and vendors are not directly impacted by a situation, these changes usually raise questions about how and if they themselves will be impacted. If management remains silent or fails to reassure employees about the goal of these changes, employees will keep wondering what other changes are in the works and who will be impacted next time.
The same counts for vendors, investors and customers. While innovation is (almost) always respected, people want to do business with an organization that is predictable, transparent and communicative. Learning about change from an outside source during a transition, or sometimes afterwards, can shake confidence, cause confusion, and worst case, raise questions about alliances and brand loyalties.
Change is Coming: Now What?
While a strategy and plan is necessary to implement organization change, the same is true for change communications. Change makes ripples, so think deeply and broadly about how and where the immediate change will have an impact.
To whom must you communicate? Internally? Externally?
What are your goals for communicating? How will you measure the effectiveness of communications efforts?
Asking the right questions will help to develop the right goals:
What are the specific changes being implemented and what are the secondary changes that might occur downstream?
What departments, functions and individuals are directly impacted by the change?
What impact do new ROI or growth plans have on the workforce?
Are there changes in expectations, process flows, staffing and compensation, new resources or rules about suppliers?
What are possible disruptions to work flows and employee experience that should be considered?
How does change impact product or service delivery to customers?
What do customers need to know to remain confident and loyal?
Rather than risk creating a climate of anxiety and uncertainty, develop your plans at the beginning of a change process, incorporating communication at all levels and developing messaging that has a strong emotive appeal to connect with employees.
Developing a communications plan that provides a clear path forward is vital to creating clarity out of the chaos that is so common during change.
Ivy Cohen Corporate Communications helps companies build reputations and differentiate in a competitive market through thought leadership, public education, issues management, content strategy, and strategic communications. To find out how ICCC can help you and your company build your reputation contact firstname.lastname@example.org, call 212-399-0026 or visit www.ivycohen.com.