Whenever I have been involved in a change process, whether a major reorganization, a reduction round or the introduction of new processes, I learned very early on that “communication” will always be an issue. However much you think you are communicating, it will never be enough. People will always want more even if there is no more to give. Nevertheless we all know this and best practice is to do as much as possible.

The recent integration in which I have been involved, of two major Russian companies with two very different corporate cultures, has underlined this point. Indeed multiple underlinings!

The lack of any attempt at communication with staff either before or after the takeover, beyond “business as usual”, and what might be necessary for any future legal challenge, has been extremely surprising and frustrating. Luckily my Russian colleagues and co-workers felt the same so this was not necessarily cultural.

I have been using for years a simple Transition Communication Checklist for these situations. I think I got the original perhaps 20 years ago when I was certified to use William Bridge’s change management methodology. However I have amended it from time to time as well as translating it into Dutch and Russian for more local use.

So when you are thinking of what to say about a situation that is causing people to be in transition, think of these questions:

  1. What is really driving the change? What is the problem to which the change is the solution?
  2. What would happen if we didn’t change? Who says so?
  3. What will we become through the change? (Not just what will the outcome be, but what will it allow us to transform ourselves into?)
  4. How does the change fit with or grow out of the past? What does the change permit us to keep or protect?
  5. What kind of secondary changes (including side effects) are likely to occur?
  6. How could groups and individuals be affected negatively by the change?
  7. What kind of assistance will we provide to affected individuals and groups?
  8. Answers to the question: “What’s in it for me?”

Don’t imagine that it is enough to answer them once and then say “We already answered that”. Answer them again & again, in different ways, using different communication channels. And remember that communication is more than content. It is also a process.

There may be long periods of time when you don’t have much to say. If you wait, everyone may be gone before you do have something to say. While you are waiting for answers, talk.

Remember these things:

  1. When you can’t tell people what, tell them how the what is going to be determined & when
  2. When you run into a delay, explain
  3. Tell them what you are doing about the problems causing the delay
  4. Tell them what you wish you could tell them
  5. Tell them you know that this is a difficult time for them
  6. Tell them you hope that they will hang in there
  7. Don’t tell them “trust us”
  8. Don’t tell them “be loyal”
  9. Don’t tell them “stop complaining”

And when in doubt, just keep communicating

If you don’t do this however, you might have on paper the biggest oil and gas company in the world, but you will also have a demotivated, disengaged and distrustful workforce. At least those who have not yet left.

6 Comments

  1. Lisa Hall

    An informative article that leaves no doubt that everyone could learn to communicate more.

    Reply
  2. Vincent Held

    Transition’s always painful, so communication certainly is of great importance all along the process.

    Reply
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