Tag Archives: PR

Get the word out first – communication during change is crucial to engagement

An IC faux pas by French car manufacturer PSA Group led to a communications backlash following their £1.9 billion purchase of General Motors’ European unit, which includes Vauxhall.

News of the deal broke in the press before it was officially announced to thousands of employees at Vauxhall’s factories in Luton and Ellesmere Port, raising questions over job security and pensions. In the confusion and worry that followed, some people even vented to the media.

“Everybody is in the dark at the moment. We just don’t know what will happen,” one worker told the BBC. “Is the pension we’ve all been paying into for years going to be protected?” asked another.

Et violà – Vauxhall (and PSA) found itself with a significant PR issue and a major blow to employee engagement, all because it had not communicated news of a major change to its workforce early enough.

So how could this situation have been prevented?

Research by the CIPD – the professional body for HR and people development – has identified some techniques common to organisations that successfully land transformational change.

These include:

• Mass engagement events – Events involving every person in the organisation are costly, challenging to organise and require senior managers to front them. However, staff participating in the CIPD research commented on the effectiveness of such events.

• Achieving clarity through brevity and translation through detail – Much is written about how change visions must be simple and memorable. However, it is increasingly recognised that the most important part of a vision statement is a shared understanding of what the words mean for the organisation, and that they translate into something tangible.

• Repeated consistent communication from the top – Consistent and continued endorsement from the top during programmes of change helps maintain momentum.

In Vauxhall’s case, many of these techniques were used (including a live presentation by senior leaders to employees in Luton), but only after the story broke. Whether things would have played out differently had they been used earlier is open for debate. Every situation is different, after all.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that an absence of communication during a period of change allows anxiety and speculation to take hold, which can harm engagement and cause resistance.

A spokesperson for Vauxhall told Headlines: “Like most organisations, telling employees first, before they read it in the media, is a key strategic objective. However, in this case, the talks were at an advanced stage when the story broke and so we had a rapid period of ‘catching up’ to do.

“We will continue to provide written information to employees and use our internal social networking site, a forthcoming webchat and face-to-face employee meetings to provide opportunities for two-way dialogue, to ensure employees feel as informed as possible and confident about the future.”

Guest blog: Employees need to be brand advocates in a digital world

Julia Brook, Director of PR Services at Lea Barn Consultancy, explains why embracing digital means businesses must safeguard their reputation with employees – not just external customers.

In today’s social media-driven world, organisations are more exposed than ever before.

Gone are the days when bad news could be buried and unethical corporate behaviour swept under the carpet. In the digital economy, businesses face higher levels of scrutiny from customers, colleagues, prospective employees, shareholders and stakeholders alike.

Companies of all sizes – and in every industry – have to be accountable for what they say and do, with instances of unethical or unjust behaviour managed proactively rather than reactively. Just ask Donald Trump.

So while there is a huge opportunity and, indeed, imperative for organisations to invest in and benefit from new communication platforms, a focus on reputational risk must be a priority.

This has obvious implications for internal communications and employee relations. Research from Accenture Strategy found that 60 per cent of employees publicly share information about their rewards, salaries and opinions of their manager’s performance on social media sites.

Similarly, websites like glassdoor.co.uk have risen to prominence, enabling professionals to share reviews on the best and worst companies to work for, as well as compare salaries and experiences.

Such sites have the potential to impact your brand not only with potential employees but also customers whom are likely to make purchase decisions based on reputation. The media furore over zero-hours contracts and backlash again Sports Direct springs to mind.

Internal communications takes on new importance in this environment. If organisations truly care about attracting and retaining the top talent, it’s vital they:

• Are in tune with their workforce
• Communicate relevant and honest information on a regular basis
• Have the overall aim of ensuring employees become brand advocates in the same way as external customers.

It’s also important that the workforce is your first port of call when crisis hits. Bearing in mind the speed of social media, internal communications have a key role to play in keeping employees informed about what has happened and what is happening.

When corporate reputation is on the line, speedy internal communications are now as important as preparing external statements. Employees should not have to read about bad news on social media before receiving the official (and honest) version of events from the senior team.

So while digital provides exciting opportunities for all organisations, we shouldn’t forget that it also needs careful management.

Companies aren’t able to hide, so they have to be open and honest with their employees – great internal process and dedicated communications platforms will mean an external crisis or threat to corporate reputation need not also be an internal one.