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Successful change communication in dispersed workplaces

01 Jun, 2020 Change communication

This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.

Sometimes you feel your organization is making good progress in the business environment – floating smoothly along through the skies. Other times you feel you are fighting against head winds and turbulence. The past few years have seen organizations everywhere struggling with turbulence – 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.
  • You need to have 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.

An important action for you is to check on the delivery of your messages at the various dispersed workplaces. Cultivate some contacts you can trust in each of the locations, and when you send key messages to all such workplaces, phone your contacts to check on the content of the message passed on from the relevant manager, the timing of the message, and the tone of the message (a manager may repeat a message word-for-word, but may possibly undermine it by their facial  expression or other body language). Phoning is better than emailing because it enables you to ask follow-up questions, and it is harder for the receiver to disguise how the message was treated by their manager or supervisor.

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

Photo: Ricardo-Gomez-Angel LZEVpsbSI9k at Unsplash

About the author Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in the eBooks available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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