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From mergers and takeovers to a leadership change or major transformation programme, corporate change is a big deal – for internal communicators and for employees. At Voice Live, a panel of experts who have seen it, lived it and bear the scars talk about their experiences of delivering change communication.

Corporate change creates disruption or, at least, new ways of doing things. Sometimes, this is, ultimately, to make life easier, faster or more effective for employees. In other situations, it could mean hundreds of people losing their jobs. Either way, the entire workforce needs honest and timely information and support.  

At Voice Live in London in November, an expert panel of internal communication practitioners will be talking in-depth, and answering your questions, on how to motivate and communicate with employees during periods of change.

Paul Osgood, now head of internal communications at law firm Clifford Chance, will share his lessons from navigating BG Group through a challenging transformation in 2015. As head of IC, he had a key role in monitoring, measuring and responding to employee sentiment when the oil and gas company was acquired by Shell in one of the largest corporate transactions of recent times.

One of the main things he learned is that everything you do will be subject to scrutiny and discussion. “Always work with this in mind,” he advises.

Listen and explain

There are, Paul feels, two key questions employees will need answers to during a major change. 

“Firstly, people will ask, have I still got a job? This is a fundamental consideration in all change communication and forgotten at your peril. Line managers who understand that this is the most important question will perform better than those who don't, regardless of whether they have the answer.”

People also want to know when they will hear more. 

“The volume of communications and the reliability of channels and cadence go a long way towards managing change – and will always beat gloss.”

Leaders need to be visible

Aligning leadership and then encouraging and nurturing that alignment is critical. Communication during change is most likely to fail when leaders fail to step up, warns Paul.

“Leaders sometimes feel they have nothing to say – but you will always benefit from leaders being seen and heard, even if they are not able to progress the change story. Internal communicators must bridge the gap between the voice of the employee and the voice of the organisation – the leaders.”

To truly understand how employees are feeling, it’s important to listen – and sometimes that means finding new ways of listening to what people are saying.

“I once learned about the reaction to a change programme in the changing room of the corporate gym,” says Paul. “That told me more than any focus group had revealed.”

Put people before milestones

David Norton, founder of engagement and change communication specialists CommsQuest Consulting, agrees listening to and considering the audience from the outset is the key to your change programme being as successful as possible. This means thinking through how the change will impact employees – positively and negatively – and how they’ll feel, and what they’ll want and need to know. 

“We’re often programmed to build a massive list of milestones, actions and deliverables, but we don’t think about the people aspect until the end,” says David. “In fairness, there is rarely a ‘people’ or ‘engagement’ measure or KPI in the first place. So start with the people – and articulate what the change will mean and how they’re likely to react. Then create an engagement plan that supports the change plan and keeps people informed and involved.”

Aside from job security, David believes people want to hear more about the big picture.

“Few people will care if a new IT system rolls out next month instead of next week – but they will care if that system fundamentally changes the way they work. 

“Then there are the cultural questions: If I’m part of the post-change future, will I like it? How will the future feel? Will I feel part of something great, or will this change be the start of a cascade of change that never ends?”

Adding value behind the visuals

At Voice Live, David will talk about his involvement in mergers and smaller changes and what he’s learned about what employees really care about during a period of transition.

“I can say without any doubt that no one is worrying about the slickness of the integration intranet site or the production standards of the corporate video. That’s typically where budgets are allocated, so we want to do this well, but we also need to be confident in our value. The clever bit is what people usually don’t see – the advice, the scripting, the planning and the supporting of leaders to create and deliver sometimes difficult content. Educating teams that messaging isn’t the same as spin is critical.

“Our true value comes from knowing what’s on the minds of our audience and then helping the people driving change to connect the dots so that we give people the content they need and fast.”

Have distinct communication goals

Emma Ridgeon, internal communications consultant at The Body Shop, joins the panel for Voice Live to talk about the change strategy when the iconic beauty brand was put up for sale in February 2017. 

After a period of uncertainty and media speculation, the sale to Brazilian company Natura was completed in September 2017 – and followed by a phased communication programme to build trust, raise awareness of the new parent company and migrate teams to a new infrastructure.

Emma reflects that her main learning is that supporting change programmes can be “a bit like driving at night”. 

“You may know the overall direction of travel but quite often you can only see what’s in the headlights as far as the next bend in the road,” she says. “It can be helpful to agree upfront some core principles with your stakeholders in terms of how you will communicate. If you keep these in mind as you develop your approach, the right activities usually become clearer.” 

Join us at Voice Live in London on 20 November, where Paul, David and Emma will be joined on the panel by Emma Collins, client relationship director at Top Banana and Zoe Spinks, communications and engagement manager at Stansted Airport.
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