News of large-scale redundancies have been firmly in the headlines this year, with announcements regarding large restructures at Telecom and the Department of Conservation. While inevitably stressful for staff involved, getting the communication right can make an unpleasant process at least less unpleasant.
When the former pharmacists’ professional body in the UK split into a professional arm and a regulatory body, Zoe Mounsey took on the challenging role of managing internal communications regarding the restructure and redundancies.
Key to the process were both the formal and informal means of communication. The formal communications plan included a section on the intranet dedicated to all the documents related to the process and regular ‘town hall’ meetings. “Even pretty much when we didn’t have a lot new else to say, we kind of made sure that the senior team were in front of people,” Mounsey said.
While staff reported that they wanted to have these meetings, the lack of dialogue at them led to the establishment of follow-up departmental meetings. Directors who led these were coached to ensure that they were approachable and that the meetings were informal.
However, this created a new problem – ensuring consistency and cohesion in the messages that were communicated to staff. “You’re constantly kind of balancing the, ‘We want people to hear this stuff and we want them to listen’, but ‘We want to make sure that they’re hearing the right stuff’. So, it was always a balancing act,” Mounsey explained.
A formal employee consultation group was set up, in accordance with UK law, and the staff newsletter was transformed into a more regular, email-based communication that linked people to the information on the intranet.
And while these elements were important, Mounsey described the informal aspect of her job as even more essential to the change process. “When I was in the office, I did a lot of floor-walking. I spent a lot of time around coffee machines, I spent a lot of time talking to colleagues, and I would be constantly getting feedback, finding out how messages had been interpreted, basically picking up on the rumours,” she said.
The information she gathered, would be fed back to the senior management team so that it could be used to improve the formal communications plan. “I suppose the idea was that I had my finger on the pulse of the organisation, I knew how the organisation was feeling … [and] I really think that that was the most valuable thing I did,” Mounsey added.
Key HR takeaways:
Get the formal communications plan right so that information on the process is readily available to staff during the change process.
Don’t forget your informal communications. If you really want to get a feel for an organisation, make sure that there are people who employees can talk to and trust.
Look after the people who are going to stay because the uncertainty affects them just as much as it affects those who are going.