Communicating with staff during times of rapid change

The one thing that we can always be sure about in business is that change is constant.

There are so many factors that influence different market sectors in lots of ways. Whether that be the introduction of disruptive technologies that make old business models obsolete, the collapse in the oil price and the impact that has on the supply chain in terms of investment and redundancies or, perhaps, how companies operating in the burgeoning construction sector take advantage of new opportunities while maintaining quality and price competitiveness.

Critical to all aspects of change – whether it be downsizing to adjust to market pressures or investing in new premises and capital equipment – is how all of this is received by staff.

Staff morale can be just as easily affected when working for a fast paced, successful business as it can be for one that is in trouble. Either way, staff can feel out-of-touch, uncertain, concerned and even frightened. The impact this can have on productivity and profitability is obvious.

When it comes to tackling internal communications, it is interesting how many companies make the decision to develop a plan of action without firstly investigating the extent of the problem.

There is often just the feeling that ‘we are getting it wrong’ based on a perception that morale is low or that staff feel generally disengaged.

Just as a mechanic cannot fix a car without knowing what has caused the problem, you will not be able to provide a sustainable and successful solution without a bit of investigation.

Successful companies have a baseline for communications and they use this to check how well their strategies are working and whether or not they need to refine them as they continue to move forward. This enables them to make informed decisions with regards to the next step to take in to continue/kick start communication within the business.

So, in developing a first class internal communications strategy the starting point is to measure the level of engagement that exists within the business so that you clearly understand what obstacles and challenges need to be tackled.

Traditionally, this was undertaken by surveys, face-to face or by group discussions, which all remain highly appropriate tactics. Today, thanks to online technology there are some very good, low cost, diagnostic tools that allow a company to gather the views and thoughts of staff on a wide range of subjects that are important to them. These can include a measure of the understanding as to where they feel the business is going to how they are valued as individuals.

Once this information is gathered, management will have a much clearer feel for those issues and concerns that need more concentrated levels of effort. At the same time, the data will also provide a clear guide as to whether those issues that a company may feel critically important to its success – good health and safety record, outstanding customer service – are actually being picked up by staff.

It is then important to survey staff on a regular basis to verify if the communications plan is effective and to judge if the programme needs to be tweaked or modified.

I have studied many businesses that are successful in attaining and maintaining healthy communications and have found that they are constantly measuring how communication is flowing. Through this, they are able to pick out what works for their business and what needs more attention in order to help the business continue to grow.

Try to keep in mind that the reason for implementing communication measurement isn’t just to see where things need to be improved, it is also to highlight what is working and why. Staff like to be praised and to know when they are doing well and if their efforts are recognised and acknowledged they will want to keep achieving!