Communicating Organizational Change

Changes in your organization are all but inevitable – stick around long enough and you’ll need to (or be forced to) deal with changes that are so significant that you need to announce them to the world. Sometimes these changes are relatively benign or good, like a new company name, logo or website. Often times, it’s great news, like an exciting acquisition or new product offering. Of course, not all changes are good: departing key staff members, layoffs or changes in business structure are all much tougher to announce. (Buzzfeed’s recent announcement of mass layoffs is just one example.)

Regardless of whether the changes taking place in your business are positive or negative, it’s important that the proper steps be taken to communicate the changes. A poorly executed announcement could rub employees, customers and investors the wrong way, even if the changes you’re sharing are positive.

A well-planned strategy can help ensure your organizational changes are announced in a manner that best manages the emotions and reactions of those impacted.

Our suggestions below are what we’ve found works best for small businesses announcing organizational changes. Enterprise-level businesses should work with a consultant and/or legal counsel when developing their announcement plan.

Announcement Timeline

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of messaging and execution tasks, you need to step back and consider how you will roll out your announcement. It isn’t a “one-and-done” deal. You’ll need to communicate to different groups with messaging tailored to their relationship to your business; for many businesses, that means employees, clients, investors and the general media.

ANNOUNCING ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGES.pngWhat’s more, you’ll want to let different groups know about your announcement at different times. Although the timeline of some announcements (like a merger) may be legally regulated for publicly traded companies, we recommend following the below timeline as closely as possible:

  1. Investors
  2. Employees
  3. Clients
  4. Media
  5. General public

Internal Communications

In most situations, investors employees should know about changes impacting the company before anyone else. After your investors have been alerted, take care to ensure that employees are the next in line to hear the news– especially if those changes may impact their employment status. If they find out through any means other than direct communication, they are likely to feel betrayed. Giving employees first access to the new information will help build internal morale, give them time to ask questions and allow them to be prepared for when the announcement becomes public.

Employees and clients should be alerted to the organizational change very shortly after you announce the news to your investors – possibly even the same day.

External Communications

Once you’ve shared the news with your investors, employees, and clients, you can reach out to the media and general public (but don’t be surprised if they have already caught wind of your announcement – never forget that employees, investors and clients are all potential sources of information for the media).

At minimum, plan to share your news via the following methods:

  • Press release
  • Website copy
  • Social media posts

Be sure to keep a close eye on media mentions (Google Alerts is a great, free tool for watching this), social replies and posts and any other Internet chatter relating to your announcement. You may need to insert yourself into the conversation to provide clarification, answer questions or (in tougher cases) halt the spread of false information.

Tactical Items

Before you begin rolling out your announcement with the timeline described above, make sure you have prepared or are prepared to check off the boxes below. There are many tactical elements of an organizational announcement to consider; missing or messing up any of these items could hinder your ability to share your message the way you’d like.

Every organizational announcement has a different set of communication needs. The list below captures many items that should be considered, but it should be noted that it is possible some items may not apply to your unique situation.

  • Craft your messaging for each segment you must reach (employee, investor, client, media/general public) ensuring that each group understands the following:
    • What the change is
    • Why it is happening (what circumstances, decisions or opportunities led to this?)
    • What it means for them (even if it means business as usual for them)
    • Who they can contact if they have questions
    • Determine what channels you will use to reach each group. Channels may include:
      • Email
      • Phone calls
      • In-person meetings
      • Letters
      • Press releases
      • Social media
      • Advertising (web/print/radio/TV)
      • Update all web presences, printed collateral pieces and advertising to reflect changes, if necessary:
        • Website copy (a thorough audit of every page of your website will be needed)
        • Social media information
        • Email signatures
        • Boiler plates
        • Contact information
        • Directory listings (be sure to update all listings, even if some directories you do not actively manage or pay for)
        • PPC and display advertising
      • Review planned print, television and radio advertising initiatives to ensure they still make sense and ensure that all previously developed creative is still accurate
      • Revisit marketing and SEO strategies and make alterations if your current strategy no longer makes sense
      • Update internal processes that are impacted by your change. Some processes that could need updating include:
        • Intake
        • Sales
        • Guidelines for responding to media requests
        • Employee rules and guidelines

A lot to consider, right? While you may be tempted to pick and choose the tasks that seem most interesting, it’s important that you are thorough in your announcement planning. You could spoil big news by having some parties miss or misunderstand your announcement.