Don’t treat your employees like mushrooms; The importance of internal comms during times of change

Redundancies, restructuring and reassuring staff. Change management in the time of Covid-19 has been challenging for many businesses to navigate. But, as John Boyd explains, having an effective internal comms strategy in place makes managing the process that much easier.

As we head into the second half of the year, our workforces look a lot different to the start of 2020, thanks for the most part to Covid-19.

With the majority of employees forced to work from home, and management having to update their operation strategies almost daily, organisations have had to evolve and redefine their offerings both externally and internally. Ensuring the entire organisation is being kept up to date on these developments has forced many to adapt and strengthen the way in which they communicate internally.

Often used as a blanket term, internal comms refers to the different types of communication happening in an organisation used to promote effective communications among people within the organisation. It involves producing and delivering messages and campaigns on behalf of management, as well as facilitating a dialogue with the people who make up the organisation. Something that Covid-19 has made somewhat challenging given the fragmented nature of working and indeed communication in recent months.

One company that prides itself on helping organisations manage their internal comms plan is Auckland-based full service agency, Boyd PR. Managing director, John Boyd, says that initially Covid-19 created a high level of uncertainty and anxiety for employees and business owners, resulting in mixed messaging and inconsistent internal communication. “That is why it was imperative companies had an effective internal communications programme in place prior to such a crisis,” he says.

Communicating change management

With all the uncertainty around the nationwide lockdown and the operational changes this would result in, it took business owners and management teams a while to work out what the changes meant for their companies. The next challenge was how to effectively communicate these with the rest of the team.

“One of the most important elements our clients focussed on was communicating effectively with their teams and conveying information in a clear and consistent way. We provided our clients with weekly updates on Covid-19 trends, changes to media landscape and other relevant insights to help them navigate through what were uncertain and difficult times.” 

John Boyd

Boyd adds that during times of such change, it’s important not to sugar coat things.

“People want to know the truth and respect employers who tell it like it is. So, don’t treat your employees like mushrooms, but also don’t be all doom and gloom. Highlight the challenges but also the opportunities that exist,” he says.

Doing internal communications right means happy, effective, productive employees that positively contribute to the employee experience; while doing it wrong can leave employees confused, unproductive, and disconnected from company initiatives.

This is often why organisations make the use of external companies specialising in this type of change management communication. The likes of Boyd PR will help organisations assess the state of their internal comms strategy and implementation of new measures to build on or improve these structures – often with an eye to the future and crises such as Covid-19.

“For some businesses internal comms is a missing part of the puzzle and it will have a significant impact of the future growth and ability to attract and retain good employees. We work with them to implement programmes that create the culture and environment where people feel valued and want to contribute to the company’s and their own growth,” Boyd says.

Over the course of his 30 plus years in PR, Boyd says that he has seen the industry (external and internal comms) evolve to where it has become viewed by management as an essential part of their business. In many instances, PR now has a seat at the table. 

Boyd believes that as a result, PR companies have had an impact on the way brands think about their internal comms, “because they must know how damaging it can be if they ignore it,” he says.

There have been a number of examples since the lockdown of companies who have been criticised for the way they handled communications with their employees especially when it was related to redundancies – the example of Bauer immediately comes to mind. So just how do organisations get buy-in from both employees and those external to the brand? Because, customers will be sure to judge companies on how they manage this process and will react accordingly.

“If a company is left with no other option but to restructure, then this is where people need internal communications most. How it handles redundancies is crucial. Employers need to ensure they demonstrate they have looked at all the options and it’s not an overreaction or a quick cost saving exercise. When a long-term employee is made redundant that is a lot of experience and knowledge walking out the door and may not be easy to replace,” says Boyd.

Boyd adds says that people understand the need for companies to make change in difficult times but they want companies to act in a transparent and compassionate way. “If employers get this wrong, it not only impacts on the employees but customers will question whether they want to continue the relationship with the company.”

Strategies for success

Boyd offers this advice to companies looking to strengthen their internal comms:

  • You need to ensure all management are on the same page so each manager is reporting the same message to their direct reports. 
  • Have consistent on-going communication with the team. 
  • There is a strong need to recognise all employees have a contribution to make and they need to have a forum/ opportunity to share their views and ideas. 
  • Companies need to ensure everyone is made aware of the goals the company wants to achieve and how important their role is in helping the company achieve them. 
  • Employees also want to know there is an opportunity grow and develop and the company has programmes in place to help them achieve this.

This story is part of a StopPress series celebrating the ever changing PR landscape. To read more on Storyteller Month, click here.

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