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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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?