Protecting Your Brand During Change

(Source Article: Employment Today)

If the global financial crisis of recent years has taught employers anything, it has to be that the way in which change is managed is critical to future business success. Regardless of the commercial imperatives that drive the need for change, at no other time is an organisation likely to be so vulnerable.

Some employees relish change and the opportunities it might create both personally and professionally. Many, however, resist it, especially if the proposed change seems to make little sense and when personal job security is likely to be threatened. The perceived loss of control, the fear of the unknown and unresolved past or current personal ‘losses’ will likely feed an employee’s negative response to change.

When business change leads to redundancy, business risk escalates significantly. Those employees who face retrenchment will often have strong opinions as to how the internal process was managed. As part of the natural process when dealing with loss, many will look to criticise or blame and will often seek out others who are willing to support and share in their negative and sometimes emotionally charged reactions.

Enter social media—yesterday’s ‘word of mouth’. It has forever changed the corporate landscape. Ten years ago, an aggrieved employee would have turned to a handful of close friends, or to family or colleagues to share their experience. Today, social networking enables that same employee to communicate to the world. It’s simple to do, the message never goes away, and the damaging effect on a company’s brand is often irreversible.

Research carried out by Convergys Corporation, a leader in customer management, has shown that just one negative blog by an employee, a loyal friend of an employee, a disgruntled customer or an unhappy client, posted on You Tube, Twitter or Facebook, can result in the loss of about 30 customers to a business. Sadly, when change is being implemented as a result of the need for greater cost efficiency, such negative publicity takes place at a point in time when the company can seldom afford the financial impact.

So what is the connection between brand equity and change management? The following points provide an insight into the issues at play:

  • At the heart of brand protection lies trust. As consumers, we buy from a particular brand because we trust that brand to uphold its corporate values and to deliver on the promises it makes. The employee’s relationship with their employer is no different. Every employee, whether they remain or depart as a consequence of workplace change, is either an advocate or an opponent of the business. How the business manages people through the tough times and the extent to which their employer can be trusted to ‘walk the talk’ of corporate responsibility will either reinforce or compromise the strength of the business brand and the reputation of its management team.
  • Change within any business creates uncertainty and doubt. Often productivity levels decline, rumours about the future abound and employees at all levels naturally begin to fear that this is ‘the beginning of the end’ of their job security. Some people wait out the change to understand its full impact, many begin to explore greener pastures—including those regarded as ‘key talent’ on whom the future success of the business relies. The engagement and retention of those remaining is a commercial imperative that is often neglected during change.
  • When the company is ready to attract industry high performers as an ‘employer of choice’, a simple Google search of a former employee’s experiences of the company can be easily found, and no matter how dated, out of context or misguided the commentary might be, the brand message can easily send a ‘must have’ applicant running to the competition.
  • New Zealand is a relatively small and geographically isolated country. The media frequently looks for whatever ‘bad news’ stories it can find and redundancy is often a headliner. In the last 24 months we have all been witness to countless media interviews with stunned workers who have just been told that they no longer have a job. In local communities where the level of employment is dependent on just one or two companies, the impact will be more strongly felt. Public perception and bad press have a major impact on the value and profitability of a business. In contrast, a well-managed change process can maintain or even strengthen employee, community and investor relations.
  • While employee retention levels have been relatively static in the last few years due to a recessive economy, this is all set to change. Many businesses are already facing skill shortages, about to be made far worse by the looming ‘turnover tsunami’. In a recent recruitment industry study, surveying more than 10,000 employers and employees across New Zealand and Australia, seven out of ten staff reported that they were considering moving jobs this year, with two-thirds of employers worried about losing high performers as a result.
  • Outplacement, as one aspect of change management, should always sensitively balance the personal needs of the individual with minimising risk for the business. When individual needs are met, it’s difficult to find good reason to criticise the employer who has shown genuine intent to help employees move forward with confidence. The cost benefits that come with protecting brand and upholding the reputation of management far outweigh the investment associated with best practice outplacement.

Prudent intervention

As the importance of protecting brand and minimising the multiple risks associated with change has been recognised, outplacement, in its truest form, is coming full circle. What started in the 1960s as a way for managers to personally avoid giving an employee ‘bad news’ is now, 50 years later, again being viewed as a prudent business intervention, albeit for slightly different reasons.

The often transactional ‘soften the blow’ view of outplacement that has been evident in New Zealand for the last few years is being replaced by the view of outplacement today as a key business marketing strategy. Employers now realise that when people exit a business as a result of change, an outplacement specialist is often the only remaining link between the retrenched employee and the sustainability of a positive business brand. As a result, outplacement assistance is now strongly supported within a business, rather than being viewed as a contractual obligation that must be met at the least possible cost.

To minimise risk when redundancy is an outcome of change— whether one or one hundred people are affected—the roller coaster of emotion that many people experience, sometimes for weeks on end, must be effectively addressed.

There is a close link between the length of time that an employee has access to outplacement and the confirmation of a quick and positive result in terms of career and job search success. When this critical outcome is realised, brand is protected and commercial risk is mitigated—the departing employee will have already started to focus on the future, rather than reflecting back on the past.

CDL has supported and advised literally thousands of employees, from directors and CEOs right across all levels of seniority through to employees who work part time in a production environment.

Our focus is always on identifying and addressing both business and people ‘unique pressure points’ through change. Sometimes it can be a delicate balance!

For the individual, the opportunity to restore lost self confidence, especially if there has been a ‘difficult’ exit from the business, to have a sense of personal control reinstated when redundancy has felt so disempowering, and to receive expert advice that helps to foster career development and/or immediately provides ‘a competitive edge’ in a tough job market, really makes the difference.

For the business that is looking to achieve a tangible return on investment, expectations are equally as clear. In our experience of partnering with more than 850 private and public sector organisations experiencing change and redundancy, irrespective of industry, the following are just a few of the more typical commercial must-haves from our clients’ perspective:

Trust in the business-to-business relationship and quality of service deliverables at both a business and individual level;

  • Customisation in terms of approach, content and fee;
  • Results that not only protect but also endorse brand and reputation, and
  • Proven outcomes that will motivate, engage and retain those who are remaining.
  • Change management can be a difficult process for any business to manage. When change results in redundancy, even greater stakeholder and shareholder needs are presented and have to be met.

Ensuring that the business adopts both a commercial and people focus—and getting the balance between the two ‘just right’—is what will undoubtedly define the level of success.

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