In our first article of this series on communications during a reorganization, we mentioned one of the key reasons a reorg fails to deliver its full value is because leaders don’t spend enough time focusing on the people side of it. The human side of change. Communicating early and often in a reorganization is a big part of that. In that article, we covered audience identification and key message development. Here, we discuss more of the tactical elements of communicating a reorganization, namely how to implement specific communications strategies. And because employees are your most important stakeholder during a reorganization, we focus on this audience in this blogpost.
When to start communicating a reorganization
Ideally, you should begin sharing information about a reorganization as soon as talks begin. Because, inevitably, it won’t be long before the rumor mill picks up on it. Now you may say this approach is just not practical. But, you really have only two choices. You can either let the rumor mill drive the conversation, or you can drive the conversation. We choose the latter.
Now, there’s another advantage to this aside from avoiding cranking up the rumor mill. You’ll be able to hear the views, opinions and feedback to further develop and refine your reorganization ideas. This isn’t to suggest that this input will be the only thing driving leadership. But knowing what people think and feel will help you understand the barriers you’re up against. And it may just change some of your preconceived ideas on what the reorg looks like.
How exactly might you go about doing this? Well, for starters, we’ve found that most organizations launch a reorganization team. This team is responsible for formulating the reorganization and, most likely, they meet on a regular basis to fully develop the plan. Often, this is an interdisciplinary team. But aside from devising plans, this team serves as a conduit between top management and the staff. Members provide insights they pick up in their day-to-day interactions. These insights are valuable to the communications team because they can inform whether changes are necessary to the strategy.
Balance of one-way and two-way communication
During stakeholder mapping, it’ll become apparent that to be effective in your communications efforts, you need to have a balance of both one-way and two-way communication. As we’ve discussed before, two-way communication creates the dialogue necessary to building trust. And maintaining that trust is challenging during a reorganization. That’s an understatement!
Two-way communication also helps get people involved in championing the change. While the pain of any reorganization is real, there will usually be pockets of employees who see the necessity and importance of it in sustaining the company long-term. That said, if the company has been in “reorganization mode” for years, then that’s a different conversation. One that’s a more uphill battle.
One-way communication is generally content that’s pushed out from the top down and can include:
- Email updates
- Traditional memos
- Email/video messages
- Live-chats using social media platforms
- Intranet updates
- Microsites, or a niche website devoted to information about your reorganization
- Posters or other “wall” materials
- Popup banners
- Digital screens, or messages loaded to desktop screens
- Direct mail
Outside of the day-to-day planning meetings around a reorganization, there are many ways to engage in two-way communication with your teams during a reorganization. Two-way communication includes:
- Team huddles to catchup weekly or monthly with your teams and answer questions
- Weekly or daily check-ins with your direct reports to get feedback and answer questions in real-time
- Webinars to report out on the progress of the reorganization and answer lingering questions
- Town hall meetings to be visible to larger teams and, most importantly, answer questions
- Email messages or blogposts that provide a way for employees to provide feedback
- Social media communities using tools such as Yammer and Slack
- Private chatrooms
- Dedicated email account where employees can send questions
- Confidential/anonymous hotline where people can leave questions or comments
Divide and conquer
Depending on the size of your organization, when creating your plan, you may want to bucket your communications into two categories: corporate communications and functional area communications. By functional areas, we mean departments such as Legal, Research, Human Resources, Engineering, specific product line business units, etc. Corporate communications are the larger, more broadcast-type communications designed to reach the masses.
You might decide to assign someone to guide and plan organization-wide communications, while asking other staff to focus on individual business units. Yes, it takes a lot of resources if you want to do it well! In 2016, we partnered with a company on a multi-billion-dollar merger & acquisition that had many of the same characteristics of a reorganization. We partnered with seven functional units/departments and a separate organization handled all the corporate and investor communications. Our work started nine months before the companies publicly announced the M&A. Trust us when we say it takes a lot of time and strong planning to be successful.
Map out milestones
Within your plan, it’s good to think of your work in terms of phases or milestones. One suggestion is to segment by the timing of the public announcement, with the idea that the public announcement will align to certain internal decisions being made:
- Pre-public announcement
- Public announcement
Another idea is to simply map it out by the public announcement date and work your way backward. Then set a three-month post-announcement horizon as a “hyper care” phase. This is the timeframe in which you know there will be a lot of questions and needs. Your final milestone can be the point by which you expect to enter more of a “maintenance” phase.
Put processes in place
Aside from how to structure or building out the communications plan, you’ll want to ensure you have good tracking of intel that’s coming in along the way. Who’ll be the point person in capturing questions that come up in town hall meetings? How will you share these questions with those who’re planning and implementing the reorg? What process is in place for getting questions from these types of meetings answered? How will you share the answers to these questions more broadly, for the benefit of all employees? While these decisions aren’t necessarily the purview of communications, they do need to be made. And your communications team needs to be kept tightly in the loop.
Tend to the wounded
And finally, pre- and post-reorg, be very mindful of how much time you invest in communicating with employees who will remain with the organization. According to a study conducted by Leadership IQ, the state of the workplace following layoffs, which are often the byproduct of a reorganization, isn’t rosy. To put into context just how tough it can be, consider these stats:
- 87% of surviving workers say they are less likely to recommend their organization as a good place to work.
- 64% of surviving workers say the productivity of their colleagues has also declined.
- 81% of surviving workers say the service that customers receive has declined.
- 77% of surviving workers say they see more errors and mistakes being made.
- 61% of surviving workers say they believe their company’s prospects are worse.
The study goes on to say that through an open-ended question, surviving workers were asked to describe their personal feelings following the layoffs. The three most commonly used words (representing 62% of respondents) were guilt, anxiety and anger. All of these are not the kind of words you want to hear your employees say. Therefore, it’s important not to let your communications quickly fall off after the reorganization dust has settled. If your reorg involved layoffs, you have even more work to do.
Track your progress
Check-pointing the progress of your communications is always difficult. But during a major change such as a reorganization, it’s an imperative. You need to be able to adjust your communications—including messaging or the tools—in real time, as needed.
One obvious step is to encourage managers to assess their team’s understanding of the reorg process—what they do and don’t understand—and then share that feedback with the communications team. Another method is to conduct a formal or informal survey. We’ve seen organizations conduct these “pulse surveys” at the beginning of a major change to get a baseline sense of employee’s perceptions. While such surveys cover more than just communications, communications questions seem to dominate them. A company should then periodically, often quarterly, survey employees throughout the reorganization process.
It’s ideal if such surveys can be done by a research firm, as that helps ensure they’re built and administered consistently each time. Most importantly, it reassures staff that their answers will be kept confidential and their identity stays anonymous. But, if budget doesn’t allow you to hire an external firm, you can develop and administer these surveys internally by using an online survey tool. The most important thing is to get the information!
If you plan to do these internally, we recommend keeping the survey short, given you might be administering it multiple times. Survey questions should center on finding out if employees:
- Understand the reasons behind the reorg
- Are receiving appropriate and timely communications
- Are getting the support they need from their managers (e.g., are their questions being answered)
In addition, the questions should help you understand employees’ overall perceptions and attitudes toward the reorg and their engagement in their work.
Communicating consistently and authentically is important to maintaining trust during a reorganization. One of your most important assets is two-way communications. After all, the people who remain after a reorganization must carry on the mission and vision of the organization. And how they were treated during this time will help determine their level of engagement going forward. Also, companies who treat people poorly during times of high change within organizations develop a bad rap, hurting future recruitment.
In our last article in this series, we tackle the inevitable detours that occur during a reorganization and provide strategies for managing them. Got a good story to share about a reorg that went well, or not, from a communications standpoint? We’d love to hear your story.