The best way to commmunicate change

HR has crucial role to play in easing fears during change process
By Sharon Hooper
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/30/2001

If there is one thing today’s tumultuous business climate has told us, it’s that change is absolutely inevitable.

HR professionals must oversee the people management process during change, and implement proactive communication activities that inform and educate employees before, during and after the change is implemented.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Employees can never have too much information. But where to begin?

First, develop a strategic plan, key messages and positioning. Be sure to address the strategic rationale for the change, the benefits to the employees and any other workforce issues that may arise. Most importantly, address the changes that will affect the corporate culture of the organization.

A powerful culture and a strong, consistent image creates belief and trust in the organization and its products or services.

If employees are excited about their organization, they will promote its positive image when dealing with customers.

When it comes time to develop a communication strategy, figure out what the new organization will look like and how employees can embrace the new entity. In other words, know the vision for the new operation and strive to build credibility, stability and security for the new organization and nurture confidence among employees.

To start off right, inform employees of the changes prior to releasing any details publicly. If employees learn of these initiatives through the news or the Internet before they hear of it from their own organization, issues of distrust, disinterest and miscommunication will arise right off the bat and create additional challenges for the organization to overcome.

Next, engage employees and provide them with a sense of ownership in the new organization. Let them know that the role they play in the day-to-day operation of the business has contributed to the success and growth of the company. Hold regular employee meetings, ask for their questions and their feedback and share organizational goals and objectives with them.

Provide employees with a timeline that outlines the integration process and when key decisions will be made.

Also inform them of any changes to managerial staff, internal appointments, new hires and the role they will play in the company.

Send the right message

Offer employees a confidential forum where they can ask questions and share their comments about the changes to their work environment. Consider setting up a suggestion box or an internal e-mail address or toll-free number where employees can forward their concerns.

Having a senior management representative answer all submitted questions as quickly and candidly as possible sends the message to employees that they are important to the organization.

An effective tool to reinforce key messages is an internal newsletter dedicated to the organizational change. Newsletters connect employees to one another and to the organization and help promote morale and camaraderie between employees and departments.

Follow-up the newsletter with other documents such as question and answer sheets. Written communication pieces can be the most reliable, accurate and credible sources of information. Some employees benefit from hearing messages several times and frequent communication shows a willingness to share information openly and honestly.

Employees will appreciate efforts to include them in the planning, integration and transition processes of restructuring. This helps create a positive environment, where employees have confidence in the vision and are willing to work to develop a new enterprise.

Whether it’s an acquisition, merger or internal reorganization, the goal is to create a larger business entity and to hold a stronger position in the marketplace. In order for this to be a smooth transition, it is important to continuously interact with your employees throughout the process. Communicate to them that their presence, loyalty and dedication during this period is crucial, and that their knowledge and expertise provide the company with the advantage of making the integration a success.

Sharon Hooper is vice-president of human resources and corporate communications at Ceridian Canada Ltd.

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