Accepting change is the hardest ask of all – understanding it is easier. A change in a large organisation is usually a smoother process than driving change in a mid to small entity. One takeaway for us, as communicators, is this: change management is more than internal communication and the emotional component of the change process needs to be far stronger in smaller organisations than in larger ones.
A change, regardless of the sector or size of business, has three main components: people, processes and environment. What internal communicators should excel at is understanding the informal complaints of the staff, knowing what would take to make the business processes smoother and forecasting how the status-quo may negatively impact the financial performance or reputation of the business. We, the communicators by trade, are like a radar: we scan for information, we sift through it, we discern what is important and what is not, we make an informed decision on whether we need to make a recommendation to the leadership and, then, we follow it through.
Sitting inside an office and monitoring the intranet conversations or the Twitter interactions of the staff is much less important than talking, face-to-face, to the people in your organisation – from the highest ranking individual to the lowest one. Very often, in my career, I have found that the conversations with the cleaners or canteen staff are priceless in gaining a snapshot of the business reality. Explore this untapped source of information as much as you can.
If the change is a positive one for the business but detrimental to some of the staff and leading to lay-offs, having processes in place to offer alternative placements or training opportunities (including redundancy packages) is a must. You need to help your organisation think of all the possible scenarios of staff discontent and make sure that the language and information style used are appropriate, proportionate and formal, allowing for plenty of one-to-one interaction.
If the change immediately impacts a small group of individuals – for instance, the appointment of a new executive or chairman/CEO – keep your distance unless you are a Board member. Your duty, first and foremost, would be to present the new appointee with a synopsis of the entire communication processes and style used until then, making sure you emphasize the risks and opportunities presented by these activities. Check what the newcomer’s priorities are and provide the much needed advice of how these would be presented internally and externally.
If the change relates to business expansion (especially in the case of mergers, acquisitions, overseas markets etc.), be very well prepared: you need to provide the current staff with the comfort that their jobs are secure, with a picture of what the change means for various business units and their long term plans, with the rationale for upscaling or downscaling various departments and, most of all, with an outline of how the larger business culture will be like. Externally, your arguments for expansion need to be grounded in reality and make sure you have plenty of figures and statistics to offer – nothing screams more ‘there’s something wrong happening’ than having a poorly prepared business argument for this type of business change.
Image courtesy of flickr user tracyshaun