employee communication during an organizational design process
Last night I ran a 2-hour Organizational Design introduction course. Time and again the question of how to effectively communicate comes up. Some of the questions included:
- How to manage the data and see people in a spreadsheet being ‘dragged’ around in OrgVue vs. seeing them as people with emotions, uncertainties and career aspirations?
- How do you manage the politics and balance that with the need to drive the change through?
- How do you get a clear idea of the skills and history that people bring with them?
- What are the tools and techniques for managing the communication?
This is clearly a huge topic. One far too large for any blog post. But here are a couple of tips and perspectives. This is not an exhaustive list – there are only 7 tips/perspectives so it’s easier to remember.
But before getting to my list, I thought it would be worthwhile getting the ideas of a communication expert from a totally different field. Someone who communicates for a living. Ian Spencer has been a Creative Director of several Advertising Agencies in a career spanning 30+ years and is also a highly talented script writer.
In Ian’s words; “The most important thing is; the communicator should to be a social comedian”. The communicator really needs to understand its market. What resonates? “Imagine yourself where they are, not where you want them to go”. This applies for all stakeholders, for all employees.
“It is about empathy and understanding”. That is the starting point. By understanding, what it is that will “turn on” the people you are reaching out. It is like a conversation. Imagine when you walk into a room at a cocktail party. Imagine you’re a sales person. The first thing you do is get people to talk about themselves and things that are important to them. Things they are keenly interested in. Only after then can you start any “sales” process.
So, what is their psychology? Touch the triggers that you know are the most important. This requires “Subtle interplay”. Communication is the art of selling. “Keep coming back to their interests and their base”. What are their greatest interests, their priorities, their ambitions, their fears…
In a sales perspective, a lot of people think what is the “product” and the “features”… and if you repeat the message often enough, you will start to shift the product. But this just doesn’t work. “You have to lead people through empathy points”. Points of real interest to them.
So now to the list:
1. Build real empathy
As Stephen Covey said in his bestseller “The 7-Habits of highly successful people”: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. Aim to feel what it is like from their perspective, not yours.
A useful framework for this is the WIFM and WAMI analysis. WIFM stands for, “What’s In it For Me” while “WAMI” is “What’s Against My Interest”. Once you understand, then and only then, start trying to persuade of the value.
2. Acknowledge and plan for the communication challenge from the very start
Accept that communication starts from the very first moment as soon as a decision is made, and that is mentioned from one person to another, communication has started. From that moment, that fleeting moment, neurons are firing as to what it could mean. So from the first second, start by thinking and planning:
- Who is told what, when?
- Who knows what, when? Be clear that we “humans” are experts in reading body language and picking up on a vibe that something is “up”. Assume that a handful of people know something will get out. Control the process
- How to build the case for change and how the design is driven by a positive set of criteria that will significantly improve the situation
- If there are going to be redundancies, then think through the consultation process. Again, don’t wait to the end. Start early, even if off the record. The key is to build trust. If something is “done” to you, then you are more likely to end-up in a volatile conflicted process
3. The design process is a communication process
By its very nature, you will need to be engaging with people who are going to be affected by the design. The more professional, open (in terms of being open to the ideas of those involved in the process) and logical/fact driven the process is, the better. Be serious and care to get to the right answers for the right reasons.
This last point probably sounds weird. But the number of times things are done on a whim or political horse trading between power brokers is hard to believe.
4. Understand from all angles what the change is going to be
Who is affected by the change and in what way? How many, by function, geography, grade… often an analysis of by gender, tenure or age is requested – make sure you know your facts.
Know all the changes:
- Who have a change in role (accountabilities)
- Reporting lines
- Job title
- Risk of redundancy
If there is a change in where someone sits, know about it. (Last night, one of the participants had been impacted twice by an org change. The only impact was a desk change. There was no communication as to what the change meant to him or in general what it was all about. Just a; “please move”. It wasn’t a big deal to move, but it left him “miffed”).
5. Make it as fact & reason based as humanely possible
- What are the design criteria and how did they translate into the design
- What is the business case? How does it enable the strategy of the business?
- If employees are going to be put at risk, what are the objective selection criteria? What are you doing to provide other opportunities or support? Is this meaningful or just lip service?
6. What are the messages, who give them, when and how?
- Use a variety of channels
- The person-to-person communication is the most impactful, so think about how you will cascade the coms and that the person delivering the message:
- Make sure the message resonates with the audience – reference point one about Empathy.
7. Provide feedback loops and do something with the feedback
Good communication is a two way street. Many of our grandparents have taught us; “We have two ears and one mouth” for a reason. But organization wide listening isn’t as easy as that. It requires the creation of listening tools such as fast feedback surveys (e.g. 5 simple questions that take 2-min to complete where the analysis is automatically generated so that action can be immediate). It requires giving the person receiving the message time to receive, reflect, understand and then the respond back with questions, comments, ideas or a simply burst of emotion.
If you provide a feedback loop and act on it! This is clearly a totally obvious point. But like all obvious points, it is about having the discipline to actually do it. Simple to say, hard to achieve.