Thanks for following us through this three-part series on communicating during a reorganization. So far, we’ve touched on the role of communications during a reorganization, how to identify your key audiences and formulating key messaging. And we covered some strategic and tactical communications for a reorganization. In this post, we tackle some of the potential blind spots and detours that invariably show up during complex reorganizations. Plus, we scratch the surface on how the communications function can support the business post-reorganization. There’s so much to cover with this topic. So let’s get to it! First up: examples of blind spots and detours.
Blind spot: Too much naval gazing
Earlier in this blogpost series, we told you that your employees should be your #1 audience. On the other hand, you don’t want to be too inwardly focused and naval gaze too long. You need to keep the wide view. If you don’t, you might miss out on the fact that other audiences are feeling alienated.
You probably won’t lose sight of your customers. But what about your suppliers? For example, what if the suppliers you’ve had long-standing relationships with have grown weary of watching your company go through the reorg. Or, worse, they’re experiencing negative fallout from it. For example, due to a reorg and changes, you might have put into place new processes that make it harder to do business with you.
Much like employees, suppliers need to know that the future state of the company is going to be better than the current one. And then they actually need to have that experience! Will the future state be more streamlined and efficient for suppliers? Will there be more or less suppliers than currently? If they’re looking at a future state that’s more complex, why would they choose to continuing doing business with you? Why not work with a competitor who makes it easier?
Removing your blinders
One way to keep a strong pulse on the supply chain is to have a dedicated resource available to them during the reorganization. A dedicated contact might be a more streamlined approach. Consider a known and trusted contact who can take the temperature of suppliers on a regular basis through ongoing pulse surveys and a variety of proactive communications. Another option is to have the supplier’s current contact within your organization continue to be the “face” to the supplier regarding questions about the reorganization. If you go the latter route, make sure these contacts are adequately trained and have the time to be focused on this important need. An expense? Yes. Worthwhile? We think so!
Detour: Government agencies go on alert
You should consider how government officials might react to the changes during your communications planning. Because issues can arise and upend all your good planning. You can’t predict every scenario that could disrupt a reorganization. And even if you could, you likely don’t have the time to build out contingency plans for all of them anyway.
Let’s look at an example of something unexpected that might happen. You’re going through a reorg and know job losses are certain. Your organization is doing a great job keeping key government officials in the know. You’re keeping a pulse on the situation through others in your organization who have relationships with these elected officials. You know several officials aren’t happy. After all, your organization received tax incentives and has “promised” a certain number of jobs or other business boosts because of that investment. Government officials are always concerned about potential layoffs and their impact on the community.
To make matter worse, you find out that one of the key people leading the reorg—the second in command to the CEO—had a serious lapse of judgment a year ago. This person now faces internal disciplinary action, and perhaps even criminal charges, because of an ethics violation. Suddenly, the integrity of one of the key leaders in your organization is in question. Now what?
Getting back on track
The best course of action is for your company to go into overdrive and proactively inform your key stakeholders. Don’t mince words, obfuscate. From a strategic standpoint, you should encourage your leadership to deal with the matter swiftly (the disciplinary action) rather than let it fester.
Unfortunately, this scenario is not a stretch. According to a May 2017 Washington Post article, CEO ousters for ethical violations such as fraud, bribery or misrepresentation are on the rise. The article suggests a variety of reasons for the intense scrutiny of business leaders’ ethics, from the 2008 financial crisis to the rise of social media. Nothing taints a clean pool faster than an employee who goes rogue. For the good of employee morale and company reputation, clean the water immediately.
Supporting the business post-reorganization
A lot is said about informing and engaging key stakeholders during a reorganization, yet more could be done to engage these same audiences on the backend, post-reorganization. Changes to department structures and processes can be hard on employees and have a ripple effect on vendors and suppliers. And if your reorganization led to people losing their jobs, the employees who stay might be carrying a sense of relief, yet guilt that they still have a job. Regardless, they must carry on and be productive.
Now, let’s dive into a few areas that communications can influence post-reorganization—with specific focus on employees.
Acclimating to new leadership
While top leadership might have shifted during your reorg, we’d like to focus here on functional leaders, or those in HR, Finance and other middle managers. Why? According to many studies, job satisfaction and engagement is driven more by direct supervisors than top leadership. Line managers have a significant impact on employees—whether they produce, whether they stay with the company and more. If you don’t believe us and you get excited about reports and studies like we do, check out this study by the American Psychological Association.
But the bottom line is that middle managers act as a bridge between what the organization wants and what the individual employee wants. When middle managers are authentic, employees view them as more trustworthy than top executives. They sustain employees in tough times. And they often serve as the “translator” for the CEO, sharing what the CEO is really saying.
For these reasons, we think communicators should support middle managers well beyond the reorganization. This can take many forms, too many to go into here, but a leadership communications plan should be developed to jumpstart the efforts.
If a new manager has come in and someone else departed, the getting-to-know-you phase will take some time. Hopefully you’ve laid the groundwork during the reorganization implementation phase. And even if the same manager is in place, he or she might have some rebuilding to do if a lot of change has taken place within the department. It’s important that any new expectations for the post-reorganization department be reinforced—and rewarded—often. By “rewarded” we don’t necessarily mean monetarily. What we mean is calling good attention to those employees who show the behaviors and actions leadership wants to see or realize from the reorg.
Acclimating to “merged” employees
You might be in a situation where two departments were separate pre-reorg and have now merged. Throwing a team together that has different ways of working can be painful. It becomes a matter of helping individuals acclimate to not only new people, but also new processes. More on this in just a bit.
From a strategic standpoint, communicators can be valuable in offering counsel to middle managers on ways to help employees get to know one another. We’re not talking about a personality test and broadcasting your letters. No. We mean getting people together to break the ice and keep that ice melting. This is where a fantastic team builder and coach can pay dividends. Someone internally or, more likely, an external professional you hire on an as-needed basis. These professionals empower individuals to become their best and can be great partners to middle managers who’re moving into new roles.
Acclimating to new processes
Another way communications can support the company post-reorganization is to help explain how a department does business now (to help “merged” employees) or to communicate new ways of doing business in general. This can happen several ways. One idea is to be a liaison to your training and instructional design teams to help them develop visuals that convey the processes. Do they communicate clearly? Are they engaging? Is any training set up to guide employees in learning? How are you measuring the effectiveness of that training? We aren’t suggesting you take on the function of training, but you can serve as an important sounding board to those who hold that responsibility.
Communications is important through all phases of a reorganization—planning, implementation and post-reorganization. Many times, organizations taper their communications efforts and resources too soon after a reorganization. It’s important to maintain dedicated or intentional communications focus on the needs of key stakeholders post-reorganization. How much time will depend on the complexity and nuances of the changes within your organization. What experience have you had with maintaining resourcing and support for a reorganization once it’s in play? We’d love to hear from you!