Several years ago as part of a promotion, I was recruited to oversee a start up organization within a newly realigned department. I had to build this organization, its structure and framework from scratch. Hard work for sure but I was surrounded by outstanding leadership and excited about the opportunity to do things right from the start in terms of developing operating principles and building staff.
My direct reports and I worked hard to create models for performance and staffing and linked them to the overall mission of the organization. We recruited our team and embarked on the inevitable “road show” to introduce ourselves to key stakeholders and energize our new direct reports around the mission. We were ready to effect positive change, exceed objectives and sustain success.
Within twelve months of start up, we unexpectedly had to realign due to a reduction in force. Although our initial results were positive, budget constraints put my team on the chopping block to the tune of a 37% reduction. I was devastated. We had just completed a whirlwind tour of internal client and employee locations showing them how we would provide a much needed change and enhancement to the new product introduction process. Our employees felt empowered and valued and were energized to make positive and lasting change to improve the company’s bottom line. So – I was devastated and embarrassed but not off the hook to implement the reduction in force and transition. We still had the same objectives but needed to view those objectives in the context of a smaller, more efficient organization and determine which operating principles were most critical to getting us to those objectives. And strangely, in our own view, while we looked and felt like a start up we had to think of ourselves as an organization in a turnaround process.
In any turnaround or, for that matter, any major change situation, communication is essential. It’s important that you shape the message to impacted employees and stakeholders and deliver it in a way that while they might not like or agree with it, they understand it. In this case, our management team met immediately to create our message – without sugar coating - and delivered it as quickly as possible to minimize the impact of the “rumor mill”. Our communication was focused on facts and issues and was delivered in a direct straightforward manner. Communication continued weekly and as needed, until the turnaround was in place.
In parallel we worked to re-define our organization based on our new structure and how that would translate into support for our clients and demonstrate our continued value-add. Our emphasis was on our contribution going forward rather than what could no longer be accomplished with the smaller staff. The message was delivered to stakeholders early and often, again, to establish control and minimize disruptive misinformation. The company processes in place for a reduction in force were leveraged to administer this painful process as best we could – no freelancing or self serving explanations were permitted by those delivering the good or bad news – we stuck to an organized process that took us from start to finish.
I won’t deny that this was a painful and lousy experience. But, in the end our new organizational model was in place and functioning. We were back in business with a leaner, re-energized staff and a more selective area of responsibility.
The takeaway here is this: When your business or organization is undergoing a major change, communication and focus on process is crucial.
- Assess your current state, the change impact and your future state by focusing on the edict and issues
- Determine impacts and define the future state for each constituent group, e.g., bosses, subordinates, peers, stakeholders, clients
- Design and deliver relevant communication for each group – not en masse.
- Communicate more rather than less to bosses, stakeholders and employees during the transition period on a regularly scheduled basis
- If appropriate, deconstruct the message into manageable bites to facilitate delivery and understanding of the message and its impact
- Ensure that you have an organized process to move from your current to future state
- If the change is uncomfortable and you are the boss – don’t disappear. You need to see and be seen.
Change initiatives will be flooding our reality as we manage our health and the rearrangements businesses will undertake to keep employees safe and the business itself viable during the Covid19 Pandemic. Being thoughtful, flexible and correct will be your default mode as leaders in any enterprise. Real Leadership Associates can help you manage your change initiatives. Our approach is direct and simple as well as systematic. It is designed to restore…
Predictability by communicating as much information as needed about what will happen and when
- Understanding by explaining why change is needed
- Control by deconstructing a complex challenge into smaller “quick win” opportunities, and
- Empathy through awareness of how change impacts individuals and teams from their perspective.
for more information. The summer is just around the corner. Enjoy and relax with masks and social distancing! Embrace the new normal as wishing for the old normal just increases negative energy. Stay safe and I'll talk to you next month.