For modern companies, stable order often means stagnation rather than blazing a path toward a desirable goal. Change, on the other hand, is becoming more and more of an everyday business. But with it comes an ever-growing sense of insecurity, especially for those who aren’t directly involved in the change processes, but feel its effects nonetheless. For them, you as internal communicator can make the difference. You have the position to define how well change is communicated and thus perceived within your company.
And because we hear inspirational change communication stories from great companies all the time, we decided to develop a short guide for communicators that provides you with arguments, methods, and examples to help make change of any kind more transparent and less stressful for everyone.
Why do transformations fail?
Research from McKinsey and Company shows that 70% of all complex, large-scale change programs don’t reach their stated goals and thus fail. There are many reasons for these high numbers, including a lack of support and engagement from managers, or bad collaboration between departments and teams. But the most staggering reason is a lack of employee engagement due to bad or non-existing internal communication.
Here are a few of the most common reasons why effective employee communication is so essential during periods of transformation.
Unengaged employees won’t drive change
It’s not systems or tools, it’s always people who drive change. If organizations fail to involve their people and communicate everything that is relevant to them during organizational transformation, they won’t be drivers of anything. It will affect your employees’ work and engagement if they don’t know the reasons behind the changes being implemented. Without understanding a clear objective, it’s likely they will think more about how new processes will affect them in the short term, distracting them from their day-to-day tasks.
Even though employee engagement in the US seems to be slightly on the rise, Gallup found that 53% of workers still aren’t emotionally connected to their work and will usually just do the minimum required. That’s a huge fail when you need all hands on deck during a big change process. Unengaged employees stand in the way of change.
Disgruntled employee ambassadors
Having a weak company culture before, during, and after a transformation process will most likely result in even lower employee morale. Given that employees are a company’s most valuable brand ambassadors, their sense of uncertainty and unhappiness is sure to reflect badly on your company, and not only its employer brand, but as an overall business.
ORC International’s Global Perspectives Survey revealed that 45% of job seekers research companies by talking to people who already work there. And according to a Nielsen study, 84% of people trust recommendations from friends, family, and colleagues over other forms of marketing. With online review portals as well as social media, your employees also have massive platforms to speak their mind about what’s not right within your company. What do you want them to say instead.
Poor communication during change causes uncertainty among employees, which more often than not leads to unhappiness and dissatisfaction. If you don’t involve all of your employees in the processes and give them all a voice, not only will they be unengaged, but they’re very likely to leave your company.
Good riddance, you say? Well, consider that employee turnover already costs US companies $160 billion a year, money which would be far better spent on a smooth change process. You also need to think about changes outside of your organization: There are now more than 60 million members of Generation Z in the US and many of them have already entered the workforce. They know that the old paradigm of employee loyalty doesn’t work in a mercenary work environment, where companies sacrifice employees whenever necessary for the bottom line.
During transformation processes, retaining your workforce is a key factor, especially since they’re more than ready to just pack their bags and move on to the next job opportunity if they feel they aren’t aligned with a company’s values and culture.
Clearly, innovative measures are necessary in order to reach a generation of employees who have new values in regard to both work and communication. And what better way to appeal to people who already look at their smartphones for the better part of the day than with a mobile app like the one chosen by RHI Magnesita?
How one company avoided the pitfalls of transformation with an employee app
When Austria’s RHI and Brazil’s Magnesita, two leaders in the refractory industry, decided to merge in 2017, it was clear that two different cultures would be joining together. An initial employee survey revealed very conflicting images from both sides: RHI stood for solidity, technical competence, expertise, but also slowness. Magnesita stood for speed and performance thinking, but they were seen as being more chaotic and unstructured.
From the beginning, it was clear that effective communication for managing the upcoming change was necessary to align everyone with a shared understanding of the new company culture.
The bottom line here is that change is ultimately all about people. Many organizational transformations fail because companies don’t take into account how their people are going to react to change. This is why internal communications play such a vital role during transformation processes. Communicators are in the best position to guide employees through change and enable them to cope with new things ahead.
Here are a few tips how you as a communications professional can manage change within your own organization.
How can internal communication make the difference during organizational change? Three ground rules
People are more likely to embrace change if they feel like they are a part of it. They want to feel involved, they want to feel like their opinion is important. How can you avoid the problems that people often have with change?
1. Build information bridges in the right places
First and foremost, internal communication teams need to be the link between leaders and employees. To get everyone on board with what’s happening, key information must be provided directly and in a timely manner. And it needs to answer the most important questions employees have at the beginning of a change process:
- What are the goals the company is trying to achieve with its proposed changes?
- How is my job and my role in the company directly affected by this change? What about that of my team?
- Who can I ask if I have more questions? Will someone listen to my concerns?
Providing answers to these critical questions makes the transition from the status quo easier for everyone. Management needs to give employees all necessary information, but in a way that makes it relevant to them.
This is where internal communicators play a vital role: they are in the best position to build bridges between the complexities of change with which leaders are dealing and the very concerned employees who need to understand what is expected of them. There is nothing worse for the stability of your organization than having a workforce that is uncertain about the company’s situation as well as the security of their own jobs.
There’s no doubt that all of this can be overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to be aware of change fatigue. If employees feel overwhelmed with information about new strategies and processes that are not immediately relevant to them, it may lead to passivity or even resignation. This can take the steam out of your communication efforts, so plan to distribute your information well. Use different channels and platforms to get information and messages across to everyone.
During their very complex merger, the aforementioned RHI Magnesita needed a tool that would reach their white collar and blue collar workers around the world. Localization of news and information needed to be possible so that employees would only get information important to their specific country, location, or department.
An app that employees could use on their private smartphones was the best way to meet all these demands. With specific channels and a Spaces function for pinpoint messaging, personalized video messages, overviews of processes, as well as important announcements from the CEO or plant managers, an app allowed targeted information to find its way to a majority of the workforce of 14,000 people in more than 100 locations.
2. Listen, motivate, and react
Make it a habit to listen to people. Your company’s workforce very likely has great ideas about the new processes. And they’re the ones driving the change forward by adapting to it and acting accordingly. So it only makes sense to ask them to take part in the transformation strategy. Encourage conversations and ask employees for their opinions and ideas.
With the right platforms and channels, you can make it easier for senior and middle management to be available for chat sessions or open office video hours to personally answer pressing questions. Such measures encourage an open and transparent culture within your organization.
Of course, you need to do more than just gather ideas, opinions, and suggestions. Only by putting them to good use can you can be the game changer. Focus groups or even just the comments under an article can help you see situations from an employee’s point of view. If they think certain actions won’t work for them, then react by finding solutions that fit. Change can only be agile when as many people as possible are on board.
It was an employee app that was the game changer for our champions at RHI Magnesita during this crucial phase. After finding out that the views of the merging companies differed so greatly, it was clear that they needed to align everyone under one culture. This was one of the most important tasks during the merger process. They wanted to bring communication to a new, modern, and collaborative level at which every employee had the chance to participate in the conversation and be part of the change.
3. Find and unleash your internal change influencers
Influencers are one of the biggest phenomena of the social media age. And not without reason. The reach of their opinions and ideas can go well beyond what that of a normal marketing campaign can do for your brand. So why not use that mechanism internally? Find ambassadors who can champion your company’s change efforts and train them to be your voice within their team, location, or department. Employee engagement specialist Lauren Jameson from Instinctif Partners has shared three helpful ways about how you can unleash your internal influencers:
One method for actually finding internal influencers is Snowball Sampling, which is a principle originally developed by McKinsey&Company that you can apply in a corporate environment. Get your people to answer a few simple questions:
- Who do they trust?
- Who do they look up to or aspire to?
- Who would they go to if they had a question?
As names are put forward, you will find that certain ones appear more frequently than others—those people are the influencers within your business. This group of people can then be used to drive an agenda forward or to test the ground for an approach.
The next step would be to align them behind a common cause. Finding influencers alone is not enough. Once you know who they are within your organization, you need to engage and unite them behind a common cause. And what better cause is there than a change that will ultimately be better for everyone? Influencers can carry the company’s transformation message deep into the organization and convince the most doubtful employees of its benefits—if they themselves stand behind them. Here, it is up to you as the communicator to provide the link between leadership and employees by convincing your influencers of the advantages of transformation and getting them excited about the overall benefits. This is vital. Remember, these influencers have the power to really sidetrack any change project in which they don’t believe.
Influencers need all the information, so create an inner circle. Make influencers your trusted advisors while planning and implementing the change campaigns. Give them advanced access and insight into planned communications and get them involved in shaping engagement approaches in order to get your message across to all employees. Give them a voice and a say in how the company should connect with its employees on the matter of transformation. Take their advice and make adjustments and changes if they bring valuable arguments to the table. Remember, your colleagues selected them because they trust them, look up to them, or seek them out when they have questions. Influencers have credibility.
RHI Magnesita adapted this method during the merger process and established a wide network of culture champions from every country in which they operate. These culture ambassadors and influencers were the ones carrying their colleague’s concerns to the right people. They provided essential information for the internal comms teams and drove the process with their own great ideas.
Managing Change is all about enabling people
We cannot stress this enough, because we see it all the time in the companies with whom we work: If you don’t involve your people, every project, campaign or process that has anything to do with change or transformation will fail. That is why most of our customers, when they plan to implement an employee app, form focus groups, run polls and surveys, or find influencers to make the introduction of a new communication tool a success. Which ultimately also is a big change. When you as an internal communicator play a vital role during transformations like that, you can make your position in the company a key one, not only during times of change or crisis.
RHI Magnesita went through one of the biggest mergers in company history and had to overcome many organizational barriers. Nevertheless, by making communication with their employees one of the most important priorities during the change process, they were able to align their workforce under a unified company culture while at the same time establishing modern and collaborative internal communication that involves everyone. The fusion was a huge success and worth every penny, as the company is now looking at a solid business development and highly efficient operational processes.
For more information about the tools to make you successful in internal communication, check out the following articles: