A quarter of companies in the northern Netherlands expect to have to cut jobs in the next three months. It was revealed this week that both unions and employers’ associations are on edge (RTVN). As it stands, companies see reorganisation as the logical step in the coming period despite maintaining a redundancy penalty from more than 20 redundancies. If you are forced to take such a step, then besides thinking about the reorganisation approach and strategy, all HR-related and administrative matters, it is also important to think carefully about the communication approach.
What do we tell them?
In our practice and the multitude of reorganisations we have been involved in, we see roughly two ways of communicating. The first is the least pleasant for employees, namely the so-called “kick out with the box” method. We see that employees have to leave the organization quickly, almost hidden. Communication is minimal and to avoid having to make agreements with the Works Council or unions, individual settlement agreements are sometimes concluded between employees and employers. Often such a way of acting leaves a black hole for those who stay behind and on the other hand leaves an undesirable and skeptical feeling for those who leave.
The second focuses more on transparency and employee involvement (both stayers and those who need to look further). In this approach you try to pay attention to informing and involving all stakeholders. So in addition to employees, works councils and unions are also in scope as much as possible from the start. Explain, ensure a clear, fair trial and clarify what considerations are and what the ultimate direction is. Employees who leave the organization with a positive feeling, no matter how annoying the outcome, are more likely to act as ambassadors, which in turn benefits the reputation of the organization. It almost goes without saying that we see that the second way of communicating leads to better results. But how do you do that? We outline the main points for attention.
Ben Tiggelaar recently stated in an article that in a conversation he had with Henry Mintzberg that Mitzberg has long disliked the premise that leadership is separate from (and superior to) management (NRC 23 May): “Management and leadership cannot actually be separated. If you have a leader who doesn’t manage, he has no feeling for the company. People like that are so busy at the top that they don’t know what’s going on at the bottom of the organisation. ” This also applies to reorganisations. It cannot be the case that a middle manager (or the HR advisor) delivers the message and the director gets away with it.
It is important that leadership takes responsibility and is approachable or approachable for all employees. That means telling the story yourself and making a connection between the need for the reorganisation and its significance for employees.
Making a connection is not the same as crying. Make sure you know what emotions are going on and make your employees’ way of thinking your own. Emotions are now mainly the property of the employees and much less that of the leadership.
Give room for emotions, without putting your own emotions first
Dutch Prime Minister Rutte shows a good example in the recent period. It is important to get the message clear, to give space to the emotions of your audience (especially drop silences), but avoid talking about your own worries. Nobody needs to hear how difficult it is for you personally. Above all, provide a suitable tone, which shows that you understand the situation and appreciate it. Also pay attention, but above all be clear. Repeat your message without exaggeration and show confidence in the process and the chosen way. Stay behind your own approach.
Transparency prevents annoyance
Envisaging a future without a clear and well-defined plan is simply unthinkable during a period of organisational reorganisation. If the only thing communicated is the end goal, it’s like handing employees a blurry map where all they see are potential obstacles ahead. Even worse, they might start making wild guesses about the necessary steps to reach that destination. This can lead to a lack of alignment and a breeding ground for rumours and negative office politics.
To prevent this, it’s crucial to lay out a transparent plan that outlines the specific steps you intend to take and when you intend to take them. Equally important is keeping your team informed about the ongoing progress. Consistency in both your actions and communications is key; it demonstrates reliability and fosters trust among your employees.
In summary, when navigating through times of change and transformation, providing a clear and well-communicated plan with regular updates is not just advisable—it’s essential for a smooth and successful transition.
- Keep the long-term story clear for the people who stay; involve them. Don’t make them an outsider.
- Drop silences to let the message sink in. Avoid discussions and keep the goal in mind: getting the message across. “Don’t comfort, don’t raise expectations and keep the conversation short.”
- The non-verbal is just as important as the verbal; take your words seriously.
- Also pay attention to whether your message has been received and always put it in writing to be sure, because usually a bad message comes across badly. Even when you narrate the story elegantly, people tend to deny, belittle, or become irritated by bothersome statements.
- Tell your story from the perception of your audience: how do they feel, what are they looking for? Think of the stayers and the goers.
- Ensure clarity regarding your current understanding and your planned path forward. Additionally, be forthright about areas where your knowledge is still incomplete.
- Make it clear when new information is being told again and stick to it. Be consistent.
- After plenary communication, make sure that there is room for giving meaning to the message in teams or departments. Prepare your managers or supervisors to do this well in advance.
Continuity is central to the content of your story. You want to indicate that reorganisation is necessary for the continuity of the organizsation. But you also want employees to experience continuity in their work. Business continues during the renovation. Customers still need to be well served. To ensure that it is necessary to make the connection between the future model and how this is the only way that contributes to the continuity of the organisation. Make it clear that it is really necessary. Unions will also be interested in this.
Take care of your employees. Actually as always, but now with even more attention and pro-activity. A good example is organising so-called breakout sessions after plenary meetings. Ensure that employees are well received and can express their emotions in smaller groups. Provide space there for asking questions. At the same time, ensure that leaders are well equipped for this role.
From work to work effort! PS. the government helps
Perhaps more difficult to realise and not directly in the interest of the company, but try to help your employees find new work. Various measures (in addition to the government’s message to play a role in this) show that employers are expected to help and support the transition from work to work. Incidentally, from July the dutch cabinet will make € 50 million euro’s available under the heading “NL learns by” for online training of employees of companies affected by the Corona crisis.