Archive for the ‘business strategy’ Category
Monday, July 15th, 2013
This past week has seen, if true, the worst examples of the use of online communication media. One was allegedly direct emails sent to employees advising them that their job was now redundant. The second was a newsletter from a CEO which started off friendly enough but then ended with the news of pending restructures and redundancies. The CEO it was reported later apologised to staff.
When is online communication acceptable to advise employees of pending change and redundancies? NEVER. And I would expect that everyone reading this would already know that.
But the issue is not just announcing redundancies online; the ongoing issue is how organisations are ever going to get traction with change strategies with the remaining workforce. Emails, online updates, intranet stories about “productivity improvements” seriously mean absolutely nothing to employees.
There is only one way to communicate change, to get leaders at all levels to drive the change agenda and ensure that employees can connect the dots from what they do to the new business strategy. That is to design processes that are driven by leaders, linked to the change agenda and bring everyone to the “Aha” moment so that they truly understand the reason why behind change. And importantly you have to be able to say that your change communication can be measured by the impact on business outcomes. If you can’t do that, then as I always say, you are simply communicating information about the changes you are not engaging employees or leaders in the process of change.
Pending redundancies, restructures, productivity improvements, change of business strategy should come as no surprise to anyone because your change communication approach should always be focussed on business and how what I do as an employee, as a leader or team member, contributes to the current business situation. Do this well then you catch the problem early and can involve everyone in solutions.
The days of whisking away leaders to decide the new direction and then returning to tell the troops should be well and truly over. If you want change communication to produce outstanding results you design a plan that engages employees. In all my years consulting I can tell you that employees are sitting there, observing the obvious, waiting for the opportunity to tell you exactly what needs to be done to improve process, customer service, product development, competitor advantage, whatever. It is never leaders who have this wealth of information, it is those employees at the coal face who are the untapped resource that most CEO’s for some reason continue to overlook and fail to engage in the process of change.
Recently I asked you what your greatest challenge was when communicating change. Without exception each response had the lack of ownership by leaders to communicate change as the core issue. Many other issues stem from this and adversely impact change communication strategies. In the coming weeks I will address the common themes, why I think the problem occurs and what you can do differently to achieve the engagement results you are after.
As always I appreciate your comments and will respond to them here.
Monday, April 29th, 2013
If I were to pinpoint the key difference between internal communication and change communication it is that the first informs the latter engages employees. Often I talk about the need to embrace face to face dialogue for communicating change, but it is important to understand that this is more than just team briefings or CEO forums. What I am talking about is the developing a fully thought out activity being very clear about action outcomes and measured by business results. Because it is about doing something as a result of the face to face engagement not about telling employees about a change. And most importantly build into the process how leaders will drive and own the change communication activity. Here are some examples:
1. The Customer Experience – A managing director who at his weekly executive meetings invites a key customer to discuss the customer experience from their perspective and why they would consider moving to another supplier. It engages everyone around the table to understand that each aspect of what they do, whether it is billing, product, service quality, call centre assistance, and all touch points with that organisation that customer service is the whole experience. You then take that first conversation and define a specific activity and process to be driven throughout the organisation to focus on changing the customer experience. This is instead of just posting an article about why it is important on the intranet.
2. A program focussed on linking customers with staff in a face to face event and having staff ask the question, what is it that we do now that if we do even better you will always use our services and products. You then take that information and design a program that engages employees in designing and implementing solutions. This empowers employees to own and control the change rather than change being done to them.
3. Annual results – instead of just posting them on an intranet site or the CEO discussing them at a staff forum or town hall you actually teach employees about how to decide whether to invest in a company. You then turn your attention to your organisation, review the financials together and ask the team to start examining ways to improve the bottomline by growing the business. Then you design an activity that may be six months in duration but is focussed on achievement of business outcomes. Now employees have the opportunity to be clear on improvement activities because the truly understand the reason why.
Engagement is not about reading or listening, it is about doing. Design a change communication strategy that has processes, actions, activities, reward and recognition, is measured by impact on business outcomes and impacts all levels of the organisation and you get engagement. Design the content for intranets, CEO forums and emails and so on and you get a well informed workforce ready to move forward with the engagement process. The two go hand in hand, you cannot inform without engagement, you cannot engage your workforce without information. Change communication is specific alignment of the two focussed on agreed business outcomes and achievement of business strategy. Most importantly you need to be creative and specific in your design of the change communication activity as it needs to be directly relevant to your organisational culture.
As always I am interested in your thoughts and experience with change communication strategies you have implemented. Feel free to share them in your comments on this blog.
Monday, February 20th, 2012
Change management is such a widely thrown around term these days. Everyone is a change manager, HR, Organisational development, Employee Communication, Operations Managers, Project Managers, IT managers…the list goes on. None of these roles in my view are change managers, what they do has an impact on changing something, whether it is roles, capabilities, productivity etc, but essentially the core skill is what their title implies.
We all know that projects have “change managers” on them to help design and implement the changes that the project is focussed on. However the most significant contribution change managers can make to an organisation in my view is enterprise wide change. This is where there is a significant difference from change on projects as the focus is on helping the organisation manage the implementation of strategy across the organisation.
Essentially you are the conductor of the orchestra ensuring that there are no wrong notes played during the performance. It is about change governance and essentially risk management for the entire organisation.
So what does an enterprise change manager do? Here are a few of the key responsibilities:
1. Provide an overview of dependencies between key projects, if one project is delayed what is the impact on another project and therefore risk.
2. A change management heat map, how many key projects are on at any one time, can you identify the key stakeholders that will be impacted for each, when will they be impacted, is it all at once or transitioned over a number of months, is the change process manageable?
3. Key high level risks and issues from an enterprise wide perspective, what are they, who is managing them, what are the mitigation strategies?
4. Enterprise wide communication to all stakeholders, are you helping them connect the dots or hoping they will figure it out for themselves. If the organisation has no idea why it is doing what it is doing it is difficult for stakeholders, whether employees, customers and suppliers to understand what direction the company is headed and how it is all coming together.
5. Integrate change with business as usual. At the enterprise level it is not about a series of projects with names that have start and end dates it is just about business, if the organisation doesn’t innovate it will go out of business so it is about keeping the focus on leading and managing the business with an overview of business activity at the enterprise level.
6. And most important of all…make change happen. You need to be able to advise how to get traction with strategy, there are so many variables that can stop momentum, the most common is resilience by leaders to keep on with the change process when there is noise coming from all corners about why it can’t happen or the risks associate with it.
We all know of projects that have been going for years with no real progress, I am constantly amazed at the efforts that some people go to, especially at leadership levels to make sure that nothing changes. And that’s because the engagement process has been poor from the outset, there is fear of the unknown, they feel it is being imposed rather than engaging their experience and knowledge and it is “safe” staying with the status quo. Helping organisations get traction with strategy means that you see behaviours before they have an impact on change and advise on action to be taken to help move innovation forward. Enterprise change is at its core about change governance and making it happen.
Thursday, January 19th, 2012
I don’t like templates for change communication plans. Why? Because no two organisational cultures are the same and you cannot just lift one approach from one organisation to another and assume it will produce the same results.
Also speaking of results I am not interested in results such as awards for well designed intranet sites, number of visitors to portals, the number of people that turned up to a CEO presentation or later said it was good or the worse I have seen, asking staff to recall what the key points were in a presentation.
And the reason why is that none of the above can directly be linked to bringing about results in terms of business outcomes, all they will ever do is measure the quality of your information strategies not your communication strategies and the difference is huge.
A bit provocative – let me explain why. Let’s suppose you are meeting with the CEO of your organisation, his concern is that the value he is looking for from change communication is that you have been able to connect with the audience, that you have been able to engage them, bring them to that “Aha” moment when they finally understand why things are changing and what they can do differently to contribute to this, the what is the easy stuff, it is information, it engages no one it simply informs them about what is changing. Even if you write stories, post interview videos online all about the why as well as the what, unless you design strategies that can be measured by business impact not by readership then your change communication strategies will not produce exceptional results.
Here’s a simple example.
The Business Objective:
This hospital wanted to cut costs while at the same time ensuring that its patients were not adversely affected by the changes. The hospital was also a major provider of healthcare in a small community, so it was essential that its reputation of high-quality care was not reduced.
The hospital wanted to ensure that its personal care remained at the highest standard. So they sought feedback through focus groups, telephone surveys and directly contacting the carers. Three key attributes in patient care emerged as the main contributors to patient satisfaction. The hospital staff concentrated on improving these three areas while simultaneously reducing costs. Cross-functional teams were then established with employees who volunteered to take part. An employee with strong project management skills was selected to lead each team. They then presented management with a list of options to improve the experience of the patients, with details of the costs and timeframes for implementation. Agreement was reached on the changes and the senior management team ensured line managers were not barriers to the implementation.
As a result of the changes implemented, patient satisfaction rose to 98%. This significantly high score contributed to a great lift in employee morale and increased motivation despite the cost-cutting activities. Employees were directly involved in implementing the improvements, and a staff survey indicated greater levels of job satisfaction.
Now the usual change communication approach would have been a CEO forum where the head of the hospital would have explained to employees why they needed to cut costs, then updates would be provided via email and the intranet on changes, there would have been face to face communication between team leaders and staff on cost cutting – all of this would just have been information. But by communicating and engaging the audience, both staff employed by the hospital and carers a change communication strategy was implemented that could be measured by achieving the business objectives.
In my manual, The Future of Employee Communication – 50 Case Studies of Excellence you will find more ideas on exceptional strategies you can implement that can be measured by business outcomes.
I look forward to reading your comments on strategies you have implemented and how they contributed to business results.
Tuesday, November 15th, 2011
The best approach to implementing change is identifying your unique approach for each particular situation. Even within organizations it is risky to have a one size fits all approach yet many organizations aim to have one methodology for all situations.
Take for example a sales division, this most likely will have a different culture from the IT department just based on the skill set, the type of work and environment in which employees work therefore the best approach is to define specifically what will work within an organization not the organization as a whole.
Here are 5 tips to get you started.
1. The first is to understand the business context. This goes almost without saying that you need to understand what the business reason is for the change, what are the business impacts both within the organization and externally and what is the goal and vision for the organization as a result of the changes implemented.
2. What is the scope of the change, is it a new way of doing business, new technology, new markets, or a new organizational structure? These are just some of the questions you need to ask as the impact will be on employees and other stakeholders and by analysing the impact you will understand begin to understand the scope of your change strategy.
3. Once you have done this analysis you are ready to identify the best approach to implement the changes. This includes the communication strategy which is nearly always about information, the engagement strategy which is about designing activities aimed at getting the buy-in and support of all levels of employees including the leadership team and then identifying the business measures.
4. Implement the change strategy for all levels including the leadership team and assess continuously and monitor the success or otherwise of change interventions and alter as the need arises and continue to measure.
5. Change should be seamless and become part of business as usual activities. Where change processes fail is when they are labelled and treated as something happening over there and separate to the business. Seamless integration into the new way we do business is the most difficult but necessary aspect of managing change so ensure that the engagement activities designed in step 3 are designed to become a new process so that behaviour changes.
Change management is difficult, stories abound of change strategies that fail, either due to lack of support by the leadership team, the inability to explain in very simple terms that mean something to individuals why the change is occurring and the miscalculation in timing of the change interventions whether they be key messages or engagement strategies. To find out more about how to implement change and engage employees click here.
Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011
One of the best ways to create momentum to bring strategy to life is to connect employees with the customer experience. So practically what does this mean and how do you do it? What this means is that you are looking for opportunities that demonstrate the connection between the work that employees do and the impact it has directly on the customer – whether that be with an internal or external customer. For more ideas on how to do this click here.
Today we’ll explore a few case studies that illustrate how this can be implemented regardless of your industry sector.
Healthcare Sector Case Study:
This hospital wanted to cut costs whilst at the same time ensuring that its patients were not adversely affected by the changes. The hospital was also a major provider of healthcare in a small community, so it was essential that its reputation of high-quality care was not reduced.
The hospital wanted to ensure that its personal care remained at the highest standard. So they sought feedback through focus groups, telephone surveys and directly contacting the carers. Three key attributes in patient care emerged as the main contributors to patient satisfaction. The hospital staff concentrated on improving these three areas while simultaneously reducing costs. Cross-functional teams were then established with employees who volunteered to take part. An employee with strong project management skills was selected to lead each team. They then presented management with a list of options to improve the experience of the patients, with details of costings and timeframes for implementation. Agreement was reached on the changes and the senior management team ensured line managers were not barriers to the implementation.
As a result of the changes implemented, patient satisfaction rose to 98%. This significantly high score contributed to a great lift to employee morale and increased motivation despite the cost-cutting activities. Employees were directly involved in implementing the improvements, and a staff survey indicated greater levels of job satisfaction.
Identify whether your customer research can indicate top three factors that will have the greatest impact on customer satisfaction.
Involve employees in the implementation of some of these changes.
Measure customer satisfaction and communicate this to employees. It will be an endorsement of their efforts and thus improve staff morale.
Media Sector Case Study:
This media organization was concerned that as it grew, the level of customer satisfaction varied considerably across the businesses. The organisation wanted to dramatically improve its service levels and to become more customer-focused, but they also needed to involve employees in the process.
The first aspect of the project was to survey employees in focus groups about what they thought the level of service was. The survey highlighted interesting results: most employees felt that red tape hindered customer satisfaction; half the employees commented that excellence in customer service was not recognized; and, a large number of employees felt that managers did not focus on customer satisfaction. The focus group results highlighted the areas for improvement. The first was putting together cross-functional teams to identify opportunities for eliminating red tape and improving customer satisfaction. Then, the employees designed what they felt were appropriate reward and recognition for excellence in customer service. And finally to address the issue of managers not being focussed on customer satisfaction they were integrated into the cross functional teams and had accountability for making them successful. The approach was driven by the CEO and the executive management team. It created a focus around customer satisfaction that permeated every aspect of the customer experience and was the main driver of the organization.
Over 150 ideas on ways to enhance customer satisfaction were received from the cross-functional teams. Nearly all the suggestions were implemented, which reinforced the support the organization had for the project. Continued focus on customer satisfaction reinforced it as the key driver in the organization’s culture.
Conduct some focus groups and find out what employees think about customer satisfaction levels.
Implement cross-functional teams for employees to address some of the issues raised in the focus groups.
When designing a rewards and recognition programme, give employees the opportunity to indicate what would be a motivator for them.
Strategic employee communication is so much more than updating intranet sites, organising CEO forums, company blogs and sending out information via email. The true value is in finding ways to engage employees by doing something differently and seeing the direct impact of the decisions and actions that they take at work. For more case studies click here.
Saturday, July 16th, 2011
To have credibility when discussing strategic employee communication with senior management, proposals need to be supported by facts. Focus groups are usually held to gauge opinions about certain issues and ideas for solutions to problems. On occasion they are used to form the basis of the questions on staff surveys and customer surveys. Externally research firms use focus groups either to gauge public opinion about products or services. It is a good format as it allows you to explore issues further and sometimes you will discover issues or ideas you hadn’t considered prior to the session. As the facilitator, your role is to lead the discussion but leave the actual dialogue to the participants, bringing them back to the main issue if they have gone off on a tangent or ensure that all the topics that you wanted to cover within the allocated timeframe are covered.
Basically groups of 8 – 10 people are selected with the same selection parameters such as job level, type of job, or with customers of the market segment they represent. When interviewing employees using focus groups you need to compare the outcomes of different groups, i.e., sales managers, sales representatives, call centre sales staff. This will provide a more accurate indication of what all levels of employees who interact with a particular customer segment consider an accurate reflection of customer opinion.
CHECKLIST FOR IMPLEMENTING FOCUS GROUPS
When implementing focus groups for an employee communication strategy you need to do the following:
- Be aware that focus groups are not the same for each organisation, they need to be tailored to suit individual circumstances
- The focus groups should be held in like groups, for instance managers in one team, supervisors another, employee groups by department in others
- You should interview 10% of the employee base where possible to form an accurate sample of employee views, alternatively if you have a large number of employees, then at least a representative sample will provide the data to form the basis of a questionnaire
- When focus groups with employees are held there is a perception that something will happen as a result. Therefore you need the support of the CEO and reinforce that the reason for the focus groups is supported at the highest level in the organisation. For instance you maybe about to implement a customer focussed strategy and the focus groups will provide you with the data you need to set the platform for the project. The worse case scenario is setting expectations amongst employees and then not delivering and with focus groups as the employees have taken time out from their work and participated in discussions they will expect to see an outcome
- Greater objectivity is achieved when the focus groups are conducted by an external firm as participants are more likely to open up and express the way they really feel
THE MAIN STEPS IN FOCUS GROUP RESEARCH
- A planning meeting to identify the objectives, problem areas and scope of the research
- Guideline timetable to develop the selection of focus group participants and timetable for interviews
- Individual management interviews
- Preparation of the employee communication strategy
- Presentation of findings to senior management
- Implementation of recommendations
STAGES OF THIS RESEARCH
A minimum number of individual half hour interviews with management are held to find out what they think about the issue you are researching and what level of employee involvement they would support.
Employee Focus Groups
Ten percent of employees from all areas of the company are interviewed in focus groups, eight to ten participants in each group. Each session is of one and one half hours duration and rather than a structured questionnaire being used, a subject outline is introduced and questioning follows on from this point.
Focus Group Research Interpreted
When interpreting the findings from the management interviews you need to identify what they will support in terms of employee involvement programs and why or why not, opinions on the business issue you are researching and the basis for that view. The focus groups will provide you with trends in answers and also indicate which areas of the organisation are most supportive and enthusiastic and will be a good starting point for your strategy. Focus groups of employees will provide you not only with information about what they know about a new initiative but also on what basis they have come to that conclusion.
The most important piece of information for any employee communication professional is to find out why employees have a certain view on a particular topic. Once you know this you can start to put together the pieces like a jigsaw puzzle and will quickly identify the key pieces that are missing. It is on this basis you then put together your employee communication strategy for any new initiative, whether implementation of an IT system to major business transformation.
Tuesday, July 5th, 2011
Trying to keep momentum going during long periods of change implementation is one of the greatest challenges organisations face. This is especially true for major information technology system projects where significant engagement activity can take place during the design phase and the implementation phase but it is in the quiet of the build phase that momentum and engagement tends to lag. Here are some suggestions of what you can do to ensure that leaders as well as employees remain focussed on the changes ahead.
1. Implement team briefing.
Ensure that regular meetings take place with consistent messaging that incorporate change with business as usual activities. You can easily dovetail messages about the system changes and the reason why they are happening by connecting to the everyday business transformation that is going on. By ensuring consistency in messages team briefing allows you to ensure the focus remains on change and most importantly the reason why.
2. Link to customer service feedback and measures.
There are some powerful ways of linking the customer experience to innovation and change at the workplace. Access to market research on the customer experience can be a great starting point for wider business as usual transformation. The changes implemented are then measured for improvement in the customer research taken again six months later.
3. Connect with the wider business strategy.
What else is happening in the organisation, what is the bigger picture of what is changing and why and how will the system change enable some improvements in achievement of the organisation’s vision. By always connecting to the why the rest of the story will fall into place and the momentum for change will continue because there is always something happening.
4. Identify what employees know about the changes.
Measure feedback via focus groups to find out what employees are actually saying about the changes, what they know, identify what they don’t and what they want to know. You will only ever find this out by conducting the focus groups – questionnaires will not give you the answers you are seeking. Once you have this information it is easy to continue to plan your strategy to keep the momentum for change going.
5. Celebrate milestones.
It is important to keep reminding leaders as well as employees of the milestones in any change process and why they are significant. By integrating the general changes in business as usual activities and the specific system changes, this constant recognition of progress will keep the focus on movement towards the desired business goals.
If you keep the focus on business as usual and integrate messages about change and the project’s achievements then all you need to do is a subtle shift in balance when you get into implementation phase after the quiet of the build phase of your Information Technology system change. To have all the detailed information at your fingers tips on how to do this visit http://www.marciaxenitelis.com/products.html and scroll to the end of the page and order the complete employee communication kit and save 10% on the purchase price.
Tuesday, June 28th, 2011
One of the interesting aspects I find in the work I do with clients is the amount of vertical communication that takes place rather than horizontal communication.
With most topics we communicate it logically from the top – the CEO down and we think that we’ve done a great job because everyone at the front line is understands how their roles connects with the organization’s focus. And in most instances we have feedback loops to check whether the audience understood what we have communicated.
However I suggest that the real value in employee communication is the horizontal conversations that we often neglect. For more examples of what I mean by horizontal communication that demonstrates the enterprise wide story click here. This is what gives an enterprise life because the focus in how the sum of each contributes to the whole.
Instead of focussing on silos by division everyone starts to focus on the enterprise as a whole. Here’s an example of what I mean in this case study from the motor industry.
This organization decided to use videoconferencing to reach five of its major corporate offices.
The company was introducing a new vehicle line, and wanted to spread the news on how excited the employees were about it to their dealer network. Although they could have chosen a newsletter or DVD to get this message across, it would not have been as credible as this choice. One of the main target audiences was a 400-strong dealer network, and the organization wanted them to see first-hand how enthusiastic the 400 employees at the business headquarters were about this new line.
So an interactive link was established between these two groups. The opportunity was there for conversation and direct answers to any questions the dealers might want to put forward. Another key factor to the success of this approach was the installation of television monitors at the organizations’ other four regional offices, which enabled 400 more employees to be included in the dealer meeting for the first time. Although they were not able to communicate with the other two groups, they were able to experience the essence of the company and how it sells its product.
This was the first time the employees had the opportunity to be a part of the organization’s “big picture.” Another reason for having the employees present was for them to hear the senior management speeches from their location. Therefore, the benefits of this operation were threefold: the dealers were able to feel and hear the employees’ enthusiasm for the new vehicle; the employees were able to see how the company communicated with its dealership to obtain maximum sales; and, the employees and dealers were able to hear the speeches of senior management.
This approach is as example of a communication approach for companies that want to communicate the enterprise wide story and connect the dots for their audience. By demonstrating to employees the “other side” of the business, specifically marketing and distribution, all the elements that make this organization successful are clearly outlined.
No matter what size organization the concept on communicating horizontally and not just vertically will make a significant impact on your organizations’ goals and achievements of the company vision. For more examples of how many other sectors have implemented enterprise wide communication click here.
Monday, May 23rd, 2011
One of the balancing acts in employee communication is how to convey the message of strategy to all levels of employees, so that it is relevant, exciting, fresh and meaningful.
So the question with strategy is how do you communicate it so that it is a message that employees truly understand and feel engaged with, rather than yet another corporate communiqué with little connection with anyone other than the leader who requested the message go out.
In my experience, strategy is only communicated successfully when it is integrated with the way we do business at every level. So what I mean by this is that you should not talk about strategy as if it is something happening over there, but rather integrate it with all your other communication and processes so that it becomes integrated with everything else we do at work. Whether I am a member of the senior executive team, a supervisor or frontline staff member it is critically important to ensure that strategy is communicated so that each level understands how it relates to the everyday work that they do and therefore how they can contribute to it.
Think in terms of layers, there are many ways of communicating and integrating strategy within your organisation’s everyday processes. Here are a few ideas that are easy to implement:
1. Identify how can you integrate the message about your organisation’s strategy and achievements to date in the communication that is distributed by human resources, finance, marketing and operations? You might consider performance measures linked to strategic outcomes (HR), financial business performance by business unit and state location (financial), marketing campaigns and response rates (marketing) and operational issues.
2. Consider the key milestones achieved to date with the strategy and at regular team meetings discuss how the next milestones will be achieved based on team performance and contribution to the bigger organisational picture.
3. Whenever you are communicating the strategy ensure that it is linked to the organisation’s vision and mission – think of it as “connecting the dots” don’t assume employees, even your leaders understand how it all links together. And more importantly always think how to make it relevant to the work people do every day.
If you think of strategy as yet another input into your employee communication then constantly seek information on updates and achievements and how that can be contextualised in a message about the work employees do every day. I’m interested to share what you do to communicate strategy to employees so welcome your comments.