Posts Tagged ‘H&K; Hill & Knowlton: Change; Internal Comms; Internal Communications; restructure; sector model; specialist Practice area; clarity; meaning; messaging; compelling; dumbing down;’

10 things we’ve learnt about communicating change

posted by Scott McKenzie

I was asked recently to give my views to Communicate magazine on how we should communicate through a post-merger integration. You can read the full article here.

We’ve built up a lot of experience here at H&K over the last few years. We’ve worked on major change programmes for the likes of Shell, HP, Microsoft, Pfizer and Merck.

This is what we’ve learnt (boiled down into 10 key points!):

1) Communicate as early as possible – especially with employees from the “target” company. There are usually market rules which need to be followed and then there are various labour laws depending on the countries you are operating in.

However, as a principle you should aim to engage employees early and help them understand the vision for the new business, the culture you’re seeking to build, etc

2) Honesty is the best policy – partial truths can create rumours. When you do not yet know the details, you need to say so and explain why. You can make it your policy to say, “If you haven’t heard it from me, it’s not true.”  And if you don’t know something, admit that you don’t.  Otherwise your team may think you’re simply holding information back.

3) Give regular updates whether you have news (even small ones) or not. It is important that you keep employees involved and engaged. People will otherwise worry and speculation and rumour (probably negative) will fill any vacuum. Monitor feedback/questions as this will help you the next time you need to communicate. You need to assure employee that when you have information to share, you will do so in a timely and responsible manner.

4) Explain what it means to individuals as quickly as you can – as an employee I will want to know whether I have a job, what job is it, where will I be based, what desk will I be sitting at / part of production line will I be on, who will be my boss, colleagues, etc. The sooner you can communicate to this granular level of details the better.

5) Don’t necessarily wait until you have all the details. You may never have all the details.  What you need are the basic facts and you should only give people the information they need. If you don’t communicate then the information vacuum will almost certainly be filled with rumour and speculation.

6) Involve and equip local managers – employees still tend to see their manager as the most trusted source of information. So it’s key that you prepare the managers to be handle conversations with their employees – this could include briefing notes, key messages, frequently asked questions, etc.

7) Remember change for employees is emotional and rather than rational. But try to remind them that healthy organisations adapt to change and always examine and challenge how they work. Accept that uncertainty will affect people differently and aim your communication at those most likely to be concerned, unfocused or unproductive.

8 ) Provide practical and responsible reassurance. Start by painting the ‘big picture’ so that subsequent messages will fit into this context. Then focus on one or two key priorities that people will understand readily and be able to act upon quickly. Try to communicate messages as clearly and directly as possible. During change employees perceive “woolly” talk about vision, mission and values cynically.

9) Find opportunities to bring people from both legacy organisations together – this could mean cross-functional projects, face-to-face meetings, etc. The sooner that people realise that they are working with other human beings with similar challenges the better.

10) Communicate person to person or in smaller groups (where possible). Research proves again and again that employees prefer face-to-face communication with their managers. The value of a manager as a trustworthy communication channel should not be underestimated at any time and this is particularly true during times of change.

Finally make sure you listen to people’s views, concerns, ideas and questions. Be open and honest and don’t patronise – most employees will understand the reason for change even if they are resistant to it.

I hope you have found this useful. Drop me a line at scott.mckenzie@hillandknowlton.com if you would like to find out more about the work we’ve done.