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Successful change communication in dispersed workplaces

by Kim Harrison

Consultant, Author and Principal of

The past few years have seen organizations everywhere struggling with tough economic conditions. As a result, almost every industry has its draining experiences of restructuring, cost saving and efficiency programs intended to prepare organizations to return to growth.

One of the toughest tasks for internal communicators is trying to translate organizational strategy to dispersed workforces - in other countries, states, regions, cities, functions or business units. Employees need to understand how their own efforts impact on organizational results. Change needs to happen locally.

Prepare the way

Initially, managers understand the need to tighten costs via 'reform' programs, but people at ground level need to be persuaded. A useful start for the change process is to build the following into communication efforts:

  • Awareness - explaining the market forces affecting the organization.
  • Understanding - employees need to realize the urgent reasons for organizational change.
  • Support - identify and empower stakeholders to support the changes.
  • Capability - employees should be able to deliver the changes effectively.
  • Consolidation and institutionalization - so the changes become the regular way of doing things.

Customize for local workplaces

Change communication expert Daniel Grafton from Agenda Strategies, advocates preparing a local communication plan that is aligned with the overall organizational strategy, but adjusted to the local workplace. This is especially important for phased roll outs or a pilot programs

Here's how to develop a change communication plan suited to the local level:

  • Identify internal and external local stakeholders and how they will be affected by the changes. Communicate with them about the implications.
  • Consider how the changes will affect local employees. In international companies, cost-cutting programs will impact the operations of local plants. Adapt the core story from your master plan to address this.
  • You will need to provide appropriate materials for local leaders to communicate the change to their staff. Master toolkits, emails, Q&As, town hall templates and surveys will need adapting to cover local factors such as workers whose English is a second language.
  • Local leaders need to be briefed on the changes. Local briefing sessions are important so leaders can localize messages.
  • There needs to be people on the ground who can help with the logistics.
  • You need to consider what you will do to celebrate success. Local stories will need to be included in corporate channels such as videos, newsletters, and blogs or on the intranet news page.

By thinking through the communication approach at both a corporate and local level you can greatly improve the chances of success for your change program.

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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