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Tips for communicating a restructure

While the long-term impacts of COVID continue to unfold, we are already seeing organisations having to review their strategies and the reality of their goals and aspirations, and respond to significant changes in both supply and demand - all of which affects jobs. Sadly, restructuring and downsizing is happening more frequently.

For many small to medium organisations, including not-for-profits and social enterprises, this may be the first time leaders are faced with implementing a restructure, and making staff redundant. While management may be aware of the need to adhere to Human Resources protocols and legalities, many are unsure about how to communicate this news, especially to people who are often already struggling with the uncertainty. It's important to do it in a way that doesn't affect your organisation’s reputation – and supports your remaining employees.
Like any good communication effort, it starts with a plan. By answering the following questions, you will identify how, what and to whom you need to communicate – and in the process, ensure that you think through and are fully prepared for what will be one of the hardest things you've had to do as a manager.

  1. Start with the big picture – what is the current situation. Why do things need to change? What happens if it stays the same? Understanding the broader context, as well as specifics relevant to your organisation, will help your team understand it better.
  2. How will you decide what you need to change? Who will you consult, what external support do you need? What information do you need to gather? This will help you ensure that your employees believe that you've made the decision fairly, and considered all other options.
  3. If the change involves reducing your workforce, how are you are going to decide who leaves? Will it be determined by leadership team, or does the Board need to be involved? Will you make people redundant, or can people self-nominate – i.e. take voluntary redundancy? Ensure you consult expert Human Resource and legal advisors to ensure that you understand all of your obligations, as this may affect the approach you take.
  4. Once you've made a decision to restructure, document what is going to change. When will it take effect? How many people are affected? Who will be affected - and what will those changes mean for reporting lines and day to day operations? How will things be different? This will help you think through all of the consequences of the decisions you've made.
  5. Who else needs to know about this, beyond the affected employees, the staff remaining and the board? What customer, supplier or industry contacts need to be considered? Any other key stakeholders?
  6. What support can you offer to those who are going to be leaving the organisation? Do you have an Employee Assistance Program, or offer psychological support or outplacement services, such as career advice?
  7. Who will communicate the news? Those affected should be told first of course, ideally by their manager and the head of the organisation.
  8. When will this occur? What is the timeline? Make sure you don't do it on a Friday, as people always have questions and need additional support, so don't give them this news leading into a weekend or holiday break.
  9. What follow-up activities do you have planned? What support do you have in place for those who are staying in the organisation?

It's only when you have the answers to these questions that you can start to think about the approach, tone and language you are going to use to communicate the changes. There will be people who are directly impacted, those who are indirectly impacted and those who are not affected at all. Everyone reacts differently to change, moving along the emotional curve at different rates. You won’t be able to make everyone happy, but you can mitigate and minimise the negative impact. Here are some tips to help you.

  1. Review the list of people who need to know about the changes – starting with those directly affected, then working through all stakeholders. Alongside each of them list the issues / concerns they may have and in the third column write how you can address those concerns and issues – what you can say, and what you can do.
  2. Develop simple, clear messages about what's happening, why it's happening and what it will mean for the directly affected employees, and those who are staying. Keep them simple. This means that everyone in your organisation will say the same thing in answering questions.
  3. Work with those who will communicate the changes to affected staff, and to those remaining, to ensure they are well-prepared to communicate the news. Develop a script for those doing the communicating, and encourage them to practice having the conversation.
  4. Think carefully about who needs to be informed first. Always tell those directly affected first, preferably face to face, then tell the rest of the organisation. This might involve a face to face meeting with all staff, or a telephone or Zoom call, led by the CEO, followed by a written message, so everyone has something to refer to. Managers should then speak with their teams to answer any questions. 
  5. Think carefully about where to hold face to face meetings. People may be upset, and so having to walk past all of their colleagues after a meeting isn’t ideal. Have someone ready to collect personal belongings for them if they just can't go back to their desk.
  6. Make sure that you have written information for those directly affected. When people go into shock they may not comprehend or fully hear what you are saying. We all receive information in different ways. So, you will need to repeat the same message a few times over and used in both verbal and written form. Consider if there are ways that you can use images, diagrams or charts to help explain the changes.
  7. Develop a list of potential questions and answer them ahead of time, weaving in your key messages. This means that when the questions are asked, you won't be surprised, and you'll have considered what to say. It also means people will get the same answers from anyone they ask.
  8. Allow time for people to process the information. Provide them opportunities and different ways of being able to ask questions and provide feedback. Check in regularly in the days following.
  9. Finally, think of yourself. Take time to reflect and touch base with your own emotions about the change. It will be a tough day, especially if you know and have worked with the people affected for some time. But if you plan it well, and consider how you would like to be treated if this were happening to you, then it will be easier for everyone, you included.

If you need support to manage this kind of process, get in touch with Julie Weldon for a no obligation chat.

Julie Weldon is a Specialist business member of The Xfactor Collective – an Australian-first community comprising highly experienced and pre-vetted specialist businesses across 300+ areas of specialisation.

Need help in your organisation? We run the sector’s first Specialist triage support service (our CONCIERGE) where we can help you find support from a range of services and solutions.


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