Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Time for communicators to challenge the expected

Cath Murphy from ChangeMaker International provides a good summary on HRZone this week on why organisations shouldn't neglect their employees in the economic downturn. She offers plenty of solid advice to leaders on staying agile, leading by example and relentlessly communicating.

It's all good stuff - but so often hard to do for leaders who are faced with the dilemma of satisfying investors while maintaining staff morale. It's a tough situation to be in, and many leaders too often confronted by the balance sheets rather than their front-line staff resort to command and control mentality, where all effort is focused on cutting costs to maximise profits. This has a tendency to be repeated throughout the levels of the organisation as teams are cut and those left inside the organisation are faced with more to do for no more reward.

Such a policy may provide a short-term fix for shareholders, but the downside is demotivated employees, haunted by the fear of not delivering enough - and the perceived consequence that this may lead to losing their own job. It's a downward spiral that tends to lead first of all to the best people in the organisation leaving, and second to the organisation being weak and exhausted even if it gets through the immediate recession.

I'm working on a training programme at the moment aimed at communicators who are dealing with those having to manage through the current economic mess. It's nothing revolutionary, but my experience is that many communicators have never had to communicate through bad times before in their careers - and too many are falling back into passive roles, simply doing what their leaders tell them rather than challenging the command:control fallback.

Essentially I'm covering:

  • How IC adds value in tough times

  • Assessing what the IC team does - and the value it brings the organisation

  • Maintaining your employer brand

  • Dealing with difficult situations - closures, redundancies, mergers etc.

  • Focusing on those left after redundancies etc.

  • Planning for the upturn.

Three things really jump out at me on this. First, the need to bring internal and external communication together so that all communicators have a complete picture of what needs to be done and can plan to address the needs of each stakeholder group in full knowledge of the impact on others. Second, the vital need to maintain the Employer Brand - it's far too easy to sacrifice all that's good and distinctive about an organisation when the going gets tough. Finally, my experience is that we're too quick to focus all our efforts on the people losing their jobs, and neglect the huge impact job losses, changing roles and reorganised departments have on those left to soldier on. Very quickly in the change process these people have to become the focus for our support and efforts - whether we're line managers, business leaders or communicators.

Overall, my view is that communicators have to be far more proactive both in counselling leadership and in understanding and militating the front line issues organisations face at present. Cath's plea for 'relentless' communication' shouldn't mean a raft of new media or costly events - or even wheeling out the big leadership guns without purpose. It's much more about being open, honest and doing a few things really well.

Find the communication channels that people see as credible - often face to face with direct line management - and give those directly involved the tools and skills they need to make such channels work.

I'll post details of the training package shortly.


Holger Nauheimer said...

Hi Mark, good post! Please check my posts on the same issue: Don't Hit the Iceberg and Change Management in Times of Crisis. Want to cooperate? Please get in touch.


Mark Shanahan said...

Thanks Holgar - interesting stuff on your site. I'll be in touch.