How to Effectively Manage Challenging (Yet Unavoidable) Business Changes

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By now we’ve all grown accustomed to the notion that business change is constant.  Whether through sale, acquisition or launching of an entirely new initiative, businesses need to change to stay competitive.  Like a great white shark, it’s swim or die.  Yet in the course of constant change, as senior leadership and financial experts assess the balance sheet and combined synergies, too little time is spent on developing the communications strategies and rationales to ensure ongoing comfort and security of the two greatest assets an organization has – its employees and its customers.

During my career, I’ve had the opportunity to experience four mergers – the first three as an employee and the fourth as a leader bringing two organizations under a single umbrella.  While my vantage was different in each circumstance, I still sensed a common theme: pending and enduring uncertainty.   My sense as an employee in the first three is that despite myriad memos, emails and town hall meetings, I never left the room certain of what the future held.  And if I was uncertain in my own environment, imagine the vibe my clients were feeling.

So when it came time to orchestrate the merger of Racepoint Group and Digital Influence Group into Racepoint Global, my concerns were first, and foremost, the feelings of our staff and our clients.  I knew that not all employees would favor the change and that it was critical to address this challenge head on, striving to create a culture of inclusiveness and unity.  To accomplish this, we resorted to the time tested approach of full disclosure and complete transparency.  If this sounds obvious, it’s because it is.  Yet the obvious path is not the one most organizations always follow.  Yet by mapping our path with clarity and sharing the business rationale – warts and all – we were able to build mindshare and support amongst our employees, even as certain individuals departed from the organization.

This strength of unity was the first step in creating a strategy for client communications.  By having believers across the organization, we were better able to formulate authentic, resonant messages to communicate with clients.  This resulted in a situation where employees at every level were able to reinforce the messages communicated by others, thereby cementing client confidence.  As a result, we not only retained all clients, but by conveying a shared sense of our new value proposition, we were able to scale up certain engagements.

I’m not here to tell you that every major change is seamless and that the process is easy.  Change is difficult and at the end of the day, we are dealing with human beings and emotions.  So as we gather this week to discuss change management and related communications strategies, I urge everyone in attendance to start with an audience of one – themselves – and think about how you formulate a strategy that would appeal to you.  If you can do this, you are more than halfway to creating a strategy that will underpin any and every change management program.