Picking up the pieces after a restructure

They’ve had weeks, maybe months, of uncertainty hanging over them; they’ve finally survived the restructure, though they’ve lost some of their colleagues (and possibly friends) and now they have to adjust to new ways of working – probably including more responsibilities and a greater volume of work.  While the business focuses on back to business as usual (with a tick in the box for the lower headcount target) the ‘survivors’ are often left feeling guilty, angry and demotivated.   

During periods of restructuring and redundancy we tend to focus much more on sensitively managing the exit of employees than those who are ‘left behind’. Yet these employees need just as much – if not more – communication to make sure you retain their commitment and productivity.

‘Survivor syndrome’ – which describes the impact of redundancies on the remaining people who didn’t lose their jobs – can limit the potential financial savings of redundancies by reducing the performance and attendance of the remaining employees, and increasing staff turnover.  You can alleviate this with the following steps:

  • Acknowledge the impact on people and on teams – don’t expect everyone to just carry on as normal.  Give people the opportunity to let off some steam and air their feelings and concerns.
  • Continue to communicate openly and honestly – your communication to this point should have made clear why change is necessary, what would happen and when. This transparency must continue if you are to rebuild trust.
  • Recognise contribution – financial reward may not be possible or appropriate but there are other ways to show appreciation for the effort made to deliver business as usual during the period of change. Genuine words of thanks and small gestures can help people feel valued.
  • Regroup after the change and emphasis the ‘new’ direction – you can now collectively turn a new page but make sure everyone understands the role they have to play in this.
  • Give evidence of early successes – this will show that the pain has been worth it and provide some reassurance to remaining staff.
  • Build up skills and knowledge – help people see that there is still opportunity for them to develop and progress within the business – will help you retain the talent you managed to keep.
  • Consider the lasting impact of the change – keep the dialogue going and check regularly how people are feeling and how they and the business are adapting to the changes. 

The way the business carries itself during and immediately after a restructure and wave of redundancies will tell employees so much more about the sort of employer they work for than any well worded statement of corporate values. Leaders with high emotional intelligence who understand the value of communicating at these times, and can be genuine in doing so, will ensure that the inevitable mark left on the business is as positive as possible.

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Is your intranet a dinosaur?

Is your intranet languishing without fulfilling its potential? Are you frustrated that it is under used, lacks support and people would rather find information elsewhere? If so you are certainly not alone.  Many businesses have discovered the hard way that creating an intranet is the easy part – the real challenge is to keep it relevant, current and engaging in an ever changing business environment.

Try asking yourself these questions about your intranet:

  1. Does it serve real business needs?   Your intranet strategy must be aligned to the business’ strategic objectives and be regularly reviewed to make sure it stays that way.  Intranet objectives should be clearly defined and measurable.  The aim ‘to improve communication’ is held by intranets across the land but is worthless.   On the other hand, ‘to improve communication with frontline employees by providing access to policy and procedural information via intranet kiosks’ is specific and results can be demonstrated through usage statistics and reduced printing costs.
  2. Does it make life easier?  Whether finding a telephone number, compiling a bid document or checking the canteen menu, simplifying and speeding up everyday tasks saves time, improves efficiency and helps employee morale.  Every intranet should have at least one ‘killer application’ that keeps people coming back day after day until a habit is formed.
  3. Is it actively managed? Like a road network without the highway code, an intranet without rules will soon descend into chaos.  And yes you will need ‘enforcement officers’ to apply the rules.  While many intranets have a policy for content ownership and responsibilities few actively apply them and remove out of date and under-used material.
  4. Has it evolved?  Is your intranet a ‘living breathing organism’ or a dinosaur heading towards extinction? Too many intranets are launched with a big bang then don’t change until it’s time for a redesign 3 years later. Great intranets evolve through continuous improvement; they have a clear roadmap for new features and content that reflects changing business needs and improvements in technology.  
  5. Is it easy to find what you are looking for? Intranets usually start life being easy to use but as more content is added the navigation often becomes muddled and useful information is buried. If the search function is ineffective as well finding information becomes time consuming and frustrating. So why not apply the 80/20 rule?  If 80% of intranet traffic is generated by 20% of your pages, remove the other 80% of content.  Not only will it be quicker for users to find the most useful stuff but it will be easier to keep up to date.  Have you ever heard of an intranet fail for having too little information?
  6. Does it encourage people to get involved? How can people engage with the site? Whether it is rating content, taking part in a forum, commenting on the CEO’s blog or submitting a story, people do expect to ‘have a voice’ and be able to interact.  And while of course we know people aren’t at work to enjoy themselves (heaven forbid!) a touch of fun can lighten the day. An informal section with social news and competitions  can help build a sense of community  and keep lunchtime  traffic on the intranet rather than on YouTube.

These questions will help you identify the priority areas to tackle to revitalise your intranet and prevent it heading the way of the dinosaurs – in to extinction.

We’d love to hear how you keep your intranet alive and essential to the business –use the comments box below to share your thoughts.

When internal communications go external

In yet another case of an internal memo being made public, a major law firm last weekend found its stance on short skirts and high heels analysed in some detail in the newspapers. While their policy might be considered appropriate for a professional practice, the communication of it was not; the media coverage was unhelpful and damaging to the company’s image and employer brand.

In an age where private becomes public at the click of a ‘forward’ button, how can companies balance open communication with damage limitation? By having a robust internal communication policy you can:

1. Minimise the risk of your internal communications being leaked:

  • Use an appropriate channel – sensitive communication is always better handled face to face.
  • Target your audience – avoid general messages if you can specifically address those concerned.
  • Adopt the correct tone and language – patronising, indignant or emotive messages are more likely to be leaked by aggrieved employees.
  • Ensure that employees have a voice – if they can make their opinions heard within the business employees are less likely to feel they need to go outside to make their point.

2. Minimise the damage that can be done if they are leaked:

  • Expect the worst – assume that anything published internally could be released externally and write accordingly.
  • Make sure that managers understand communication policy:
    • what should be communicated and the best channel to do so
    • responsibilities for checking and approval of large scale communication
    • language – the importance of appropriate tone and vocabulary
    • where to get advice and help

The fact is the majority of internal communication remains just that. Where leaked items are reported this is normally where the company is already the subject of media interest or where the content can be sensationalised when taken out of context.

A well written, empathetic message could actually show your business in a very positive light if published externally – however by its very nature this would be un-newsworthy!

Building trust through communication

Listening to the radio last week I heard a Japanese woman being interviewed about the latest health scare in Tokyo. Referring to the government she said ‘I just don’t trust what they tell us any more’.

Trust is hard to win but easily lost.  Once that trust is lost your job as leader becomes at best hard, at worst impossible.  Business leaders will never have to lead their people through a crisis of the magnitude of that facing Japan but how will you get your employees behind you to work together to a common goal if they don’t trust you?

In times of crisis people look to trusted leaders for direction. An essential element of building and maintaining trust amongst your people is the way that you communicate.  To inspire trust communication should:

  • Be open and honest – people want to hear the truth not corporate spin that avoids or conceals the true situation. If you don’t have all the answers, say so.
  • Reinforce the common challenge – emphasise the shared purpose and risks.  Stress the ‘we’ rather than the ‘you’ – we all face this together.     
  • Respond to people’s concerns –listening to your people to understand their concerns will enable you to address them in your communication.  Once these have been acknowledged people are better able to focus on your key messages about what you need them to do.
  • Be personal and natural – allow people to ‘see’ you in the message – this is a message from their leader – not the legal department.  Add clarity by avoiding corporate speak and jargon but don’t dumb down so much as to seem patronising.
  • Reflect your behaviours – if you say one thing yet do another you become untrustworthy – there should be a consistency between your messages and your actions
  • Build confidence in your competence – reinforce why people should trust you – your track record, your approach, particular skills appropriate to the situation.

As in any relationship, trust between leader and employees needs to be nurtured and once established it needs to be carefully maintained. Each time it is broken it becomes more difficult to repair.  Good communication can help cement the trust that provides a solid foundation for engaging employees in good times as well as bad.

3 rules for employee communication during a merger or acquisition

Of all corporate change scenarios company merger or acquisition is one of the most unsettling for employees. It triggers all possible fear responses – is my job safe? For how long? What about my colleagues’? If I do keep my job what else might change – how we do things, new responsibilities, new manager, change in location?

At this time more than any other good internal communication is vital to minimise the risk to the business by maintaining productivity, customer service levels and employee motivation.

Of course the challenge is that all the answers aren’t available on day one. It can take time to establish what the new business model will look like and in the meantime to maintain business as usual you need to communicate – quickly, honestly and regularly.

Act quickly

Even if they are negatively affected people prefer certainty as it allows them to move on. It doesn’t make it easier on anyone to delay communication of difficult decisions and in the interim the business will be distracted, unproductive and disaffection will quickly spread. The disaffected will hedge their bets by looking elsewhere and quickly disengage;

Communicating quickly also means telling employees news before you tell the outside world – or at least, if there are regulatory constraints, simultaneously. Employees discovering news that affects them via a Google alert seriously damages trust.

Be honest

There can be a temptation to try to downplay the situation with ambiguous or non-committal statements in the hope of keeping people calm and playing for time while critical decisions are made. These seldom work. Statements like ‘we will be taking the best of both companies’ or ‘we hope to avoid any redundancies’ should not be used if they are based only on good intentions. You will be left having to dash the hopes you have raised and your credibility will be seriously undermined.

Keep talking

There is nothing more unsettling during a period of change than silence. To say ‘We will update you as soon as there is something to report’ leaves a vacuum and that vacuum will be filled by rumour and speculation that is difficult to control. There may well be nothing new that you can report but you can take control by talking regularly to people.

With each communication tell them when the next update will be issued – and then make sure you do so. If there is nothing new to say then repeating and reinforcing existing messages can be reassuring. You should also take the opportunity to respond some of the concerns you are picking up via your feedback channels – a dedicated email box for example can help employees and help you keep your finger on the pulse of employee sentiment.

Do you agree? What are your tips for communicating during a merger?

It’s good to talk – 10 tips for great team briefings

In this age of technology regular face to face communication sometimes gets overlooked. Worse still it can be seen as a chore – a special effort to communicate with ‘hard to reach’ field, factory or shop based employees.

Yet regular team briefings give managers a means to engage their teams and to strengthen their role as leaders. Briefings are as beneficial for ‘connected’ teams as those without access to technology – providing the opportunity for sharing information, gathering feedback and building team spirit. In our experience we have seen teams that have regular, well-managed briefings outperform those who don’t.

So how can you make your team talks as effective as possible?

1. Commit – schedule them in to make sure they happen regularly.

2. Prepare – be clear on what you want people to DO differently as a result of your team talk.

3. Be natural – a fairly informal basis approach works best – try to avoid death by PowerPoint.

4. Give context – talk about the overall business strategy but remember to translate it in to ‘so what does this mean for me’. Customer satisfaction, team performance and key competitor information can all provide the context for understanding ‘how my work contributes to company performance’.

5. Focus – what are the 3 key messages you want them to take away? Sign post to other sources of information if necessary – don’t overwhelm your people in the team talk.

6. Clarify – round up any procedural or policy changes that have taken place since the last meeting to ensure employees understand if and how they are affected.

7. Listen – listening is as important as talking. If  you are not getting  feedback or queries are not forthcoming ask some questions to build dialog and gauge understanding

8. Be honest – don’t be afraid of not having all the answers. It’s ok to say “I don’t know the answer to that but I’ll get back to you by X”. Just make sure that you do!

9. Connect – think about how your team talk can build team spirit eg welcoming new members of the team; how can we improve performance together etc. Celebrate success – individual or team – and don’t use the briefing for telling off.

10. Follow up – each team talk should flow from the previous one (“last time, we said we needed to do better on xyz – well done! Now we need to…”)

What are your top tips for effective team briefings? You can tell us using the comments box below.

Communication trends from this year’s ‘best companies to work for’

Reading through the first instalment of the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For guide this week it would be easy to believe that the secret of success must be to incorporate sporting events, charity projects or team away-days into the working week.

Of course who wouldn’t want to work for a company that took you on a weekend in Ibiza, paid for you to develop a hobby or offered free manicures! It’s not at all surprising that people who work here rate the companies as great places to work.

But look behind these headline grabbing initiatives and you will see some rather more realistic and decidedly less sexy practices taking place. Quite clearly this year there is a trend for improved communication which as well as raising employee satisfaction actually improves employee engagement (where employees understand what they need to do, and willingly give their discretionary effort to do it).

The communication trends that are clear this year are that:

Companies are doing more of it –consciously increasing communication during challenging times. They are keeping employees informed through periods of uncertainty and are building trust by being open and honest even when the news is not good. Some have involved employees where cost cutting has been required and this has increased understanding and acceptance of the measures.

Managers are listening –at all levels (line managers as well as senior managers) they listen rather than just tell people what to do. They engage in dialogue, encouraging feedback and ideas – some via structured suggestion schemes, others with more informal brainstorming lunches or inter- departmental breakfasts. These companies recognise that some of the best ideas for improvement can come from those working at the coal face.

Leaders are visible – regularly communicating with employees. Some run breakfast briefings; others use technology such as webcasting. They all offer employees the opportunity to raise their concerns and ask questions no matter how difficult the answers might be.

Employees are being recognised – whether acknowledging a good idea or recognising a job well done, saying thank you reinforces positive behaviours. The act of recognition can be more significant than the actual reward so incentives do not need to be costly – a thank you card, a mention in the company magazine or a profile on the intranet. Some companies offer vouchers, lunch with the boss or even use of a special chair for a month!

Using eye-catching benefits to create workplaces where people want to work will undoubtedly help attract and retain talent. However solid management and communication best practice will really drive employee engagement and reap the business benefits this can bring. You can read more about why employee engagement makes good business sense in our briefing available on our website.

What communication practices do you think make companies better places to work in? Tell us using the comments box below…