Planning an organizational restructure? Here’s the ONE thing you must do.
Whether you’re remaining agile to get ahead of the competition or facing no other option due to factors beyond your control, an organizational restructure can be a tremendous undertaking for any business. Here’s how to nail it.
No organization is set in stone. To remain competitive, to deal with the hands dealt to us or simply to survive, change is a necessity.
Restructuring your business or any part of it is a significant undertaking. It will often involve difficult decisions, trigger some strong reactions, and goes far beyond the physical restructure: it requires a cultural change to be successful.
Despite our best intentions, it can also be something we’re under pressure to pull out of the bag pretty quickly.
The decision to restructure is often driven by a bottom-line business issue or need; whether that’s an impending merger, a financial trigger such as debt or need to cut costs, or perhaps a new market opportunity that needs capitalizing on. The pressure mounts on all sides to get achieving the desired results in the shortest possible time.
If you’re not blessed with a three to six-month grace period to develop, evaluate and execute a comprehensive change management strategy for your restructure, there’s just ONE thing you must do: communicate, communicate, communicate. And then communicate some more.
We explore the different elements of your restructure HR comms plan and how to overcome inevitable challenges as part of the process.
Communicating change in your business
The only thing that is certain…
Organizational restructure can be triggered by a host of different circumstances or reasons. It’s important to recognize that not all are negative. However, if they aren’t communicated the right way, even the most seemingly positive change can spark a bad reaction.
Commonly cited reasons may range from strategic decisions – to concentrate on a key product, account or territory, for example – through to external economic or political factors, like the infamous 2008 banking crash and recession, or perhaps the Brexit fever sweeping through the United Kingdom and Europe as we speak.
Restructuring also tends to follow other significant changes: like a change in leadership, the introduction of new technology, or perhaps the merger with or split of subsidiary companies. It may impact just one area of your business – one particular team, one location – or it could have a ripple effect that spreads out to every area.
No matter the reason for restructuring, your staff are human: and doubt, fear, or distrust are pretty normal default reactions, no matter how engaged and connected your business and its employees may appear.
To help address and mitigate their concerns, here are our 10 communication ‘To Dos’ for your restructuring plan.
#1. Communicate quickly
Admittedly it’s a bit of a balancing act; rushing to market with a statement before you clearly understand what’s going to be taking place will be regarded as ill-prepared and may make things worse, causing a panic. However, sitting on information while you wait for every i to be dotted and t to be crossed is just as counterintuitive.
In today’s digitally connected world, it’s also far more likely that a breach or rumor will take hold and spread; risking staff hearing first from outside the business, or worse still, being misinformed.
With that in mind, make a measured and considered decision to communicate as quickly as reasonably possible, when you have enough core information and a timeline for when further details will be given.
Even if it’s just to say, “this external factor is going to have an impact on how we operate as a business. We’re currently exploring different options and will be talking with staff to make sure we fully understand what is open to us. We’ll keep you updated,” this establishes transparency upfront, prevents a speculative panic, and manages expectations.
Communicating change in your business
#2. Keep communicating
Communicate even when you’ve nothing new to say. Trust me.
Keeping those channels of communication open and showing staff you take the responsibility of keeping them in the loop seriously can make a huge difference. If you don’t have any new updates to share, tell them that.
Consider setting a timescale for the frequency of updates and sticking to it: once a week, for example, even if it’s to say, “Unfortunately we have no new updates this week due to X, the next step is…”. The consistency, frequency, and transparency will ensure employees continue to see leadership as effective and dependable.
#3. Get senior leaders overcommunicating
In the same vein, it’s crucial that your senior leaders are completely visible and communicating with staff during periods of change and restructure. In fact, there is no such thing as ‘over’ communicating during this time.
Ensure there’s no sense of an ‘exclusive club’ when it comes to access to leadership updates or communication. Those staff who are on the front lines, remotely based, or keeping up your logistics or supply chain are often those most likely to be impacted. They’re also the hardest to reach. Select channels that are accessible and reach across those boundaries; ensure you’re not defaulting to ‘head office only’ comms, or giving the feeling of ‘last to know’ among grass-roots employees.
Remember that employees also engage and respond with communication in different ways. Some may not even have a corporate email address. Experiment with different mediums including video, town halls on the ground, micro-blogging, broadcasting, and more.
#4. Communicate the why
Minimize doubt and nip the rumor mill in the bud by addressing the pink elephant as soon as possible.
Communicating to staff not just what the restructure will look like, but the real reason why it’s come about, is crucial. Set out clearly the driving force for the change and be transparent in the motives governing the decision.
Why is this taking place? Why now? Why is this better for the business? Set out the vision or big picture for the change to help your staff visualize the future and buy-in to the end goal.
Treat your people with the respect they’re due and include them in the process behind the decision; in turn, they’re more likely to return that respect and provide support in the long-run.
Communicating change in your business
#5. Communicate the why not
All stakeholders – employees included – are more likely to get onboard with your proposed restructuring plan if you not only explain the what and why, but also the alternative solutions you didn’t choose and why.
Many staff who are affected by or potentially unhappy with the changes will try to imagine or even propose alternatives. If they believe a different approach is more likely to be successful, it will harbor distrust or misunderstanding of your solution. They may believe you have ulterior motives or even question the competence of those charged with decision-making.
Set out any other options that were on the table and why they weren’t the right fit. Weigh in the pros and cons as transparently as possible to answer those inevitable questions upfront.
#6. Get staff communicating
No matter the reason or the particulars of your organizational restructure, it’s a new state of things that your people will need to help create, embed, and live as a new normal. So, get them weighing in.
Empowering employees with a voice to both shape the new vision, and be heard when they have feedback or concerns, is one of the most powerful forms of communication during this type of change.
If they play an active role in defining what this new version of your organization looks like, they’re far more likely to buy-in to the change. If they’re able to air their concerns, ask questions, or provide their thoughts and feedback, they’re more likely to feel their opinions have been taken seriously and that they’ve been heard.
They may also throw up considerations that leadership was unaware of, given their on-the-ground experience. Getting employees involved can actually help identify and mitigate risk, make for a smoother transition, and identify much-needed staff advocates or champions who can get their peers onboard.
#7. Communicate clearly
It can be tempting to resort to the trustworthy corporate speak when communicating change – particularly if there are legal considerations and you have senior management, HR or the company lawyer breathing down your neck.
Language is important. There is a world of difference between ‘shutting down’ and ‘relocating’. If you need to choose particular wording to protect from any potential legal repercussions, absolutely – don’t say you’ll “never” lay anyone off if it can’t be guaranteed.
But. Your staff are not robots; and lapsing into complex, technical or flamboyant language, or simply hiding behind an impersonal corporate tone will all lose your audience rapidly. Speak to them as human beings; employ tact, don’t overstep, but ensure honesty.
If a restructure change is undeniably negative, don’t go to the other extreme and try to dress it up as positive.
It’s far more likely to be well-received when you say, “we’re really sorry that it’s come to this, and all other options were considered fully before this decision was made”, rather than rubbing salt in the wound when announcing redundancies with “this marks an exciting new chapter for our organization!” Humility and humanity aren’t to be underestimated.
Communicating change in your business
#8. Communicate the potential disadvantages – and how you’ll mitigate these
Following on from clarity is the need to own the truth and address it upfront. Almost every restructure without exception will include some difficult decisions and negative impact, even if only for particular employee groups.
These will likely be highlighted early on the process at management level and discussed in detail. So, share the top-level points or outcomes with your staff. By demonstrating that you’ve considered the impact, talked or thought it through, and will take steps to minimize or address those challenges or issues will instill greater trust and respect among staff.
Admittedly, you won’t stop all negativity altogether; however, every the smallest of gestures and acknowledgments can go a long way.
#9. Equip your managers to communicate effectively
Your middle and line managers are the crucial link in any business change management initiative. They will be the default go-to for grassroots staff when they need clarification or have questions to ask; in some instances, they may be the ones responsible for delivering the news in more detail after an initial announcement. Make sure they’re up to the task.
Before manager cascades take place, arrange for a briefing. Provide managers with all the necessary information and materials required to answer staff questions, and conduct a FAQ session to identify potential questions that will come from staff.
Remember that they aren’t just messengers: they may be impacted by the changes personally, and therefore addressing their concerns will be a priority before they can be depended upon to gain staff support.
Most importantly, however, remind them that it’s OK to say “I don’t know.” If managers don’t have the necessary information, they should feel confident enough to say as such – but know where to go to find the answers.
#10. Tailor your communications
We’ve written regularly about the power and demand for personalization or tailoring of internal communication. It never has more value and importance than during an organizational restructure.
Perhaps most obviously, this is due to the fact that restructures will impact each different role, department, and area of the organization differently. Blanket communications, therefore, aren’t going to cut it. While this requires more time and resource upfront, it will dramatically cut on potential misunderstanding, frequently repeated questions, risks and more.
Provide the organization as a whole with top-level what and why. Then, address the question of how it will impact your employees on a more individual level.
It should go without saying that any staff who may face layoff or significant job changes should have a one-to-one individual meeting; for others, small group discussions with peers will ensure that not only is the content relevant, but individual employees feel more confident speaking out or asking questions where needed.
Communication is key to change
Like any major organizational change, a restructure will bring both challenges and opportunities. Employees are likely to experience everything from anticipation and excitement to anxiety, anger, and suspicion, and everything in-between.
As such, it should never be taken lightly. The longer teams have to strategically plan and prepare for any major change, the more likely they are to minimize disruption or backlash; however, time isn’t always freely available.
If you do nothing else, place internal communication at the heart of your organizational restructure plan. No other tactic can have such a significant impact on the final outcome, as talking.