Employee Communication in Business Transformation

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Employee Communication and Business Transformation

Insights on effective communication during a business/digital transformation are organized and presented by who should deliver the message, what the message should be. Where the message should be kept, how the information is helping the transformation, and when the communication strategy should be implemented in the digital transformation initiative.

Right People for the Right Message

  • A financial management company called Sura embarked on a massive business transformation, which included product changes, new sales, and employee evaluation processes and a major digital transformation. One of the insights surrounding the positive effects of employee communication in the change was the concept of "Using the preferred senders to deliver communications,"
  • Benchmarking research has shown that employees react most positively when they hear messages from two people in the organization. The first is the sponsor of the change, who needs to make clear the business issues and the reasons for the change. The second is the employee's immediate supervisor to explain the personal impact of the change.
  • Following that model, Sura's front line staff quickly became proficient on their new tablets. The company met its regulatory requirements for digitization six months ahead of the competition. At the same time, a 60% increase in employee performance in the areas of adaptability, participation, and consistency was seen.

Communication Training — Content

  • Mortgage Guarantee Insurance Company came out of the great recession of 2008, knowing that they were going to be hit by many changes, some from playing catch up and some from impending technological changes. To prepare for this expected tsunami, one of their key communication requirements was to ensure adequate training for the executive sponsors, project managers, change managers on the best ways to communicate.
  • The company selected its trainees based on the visibility of the changes they led and their opportunity to immediately apply the training. It was made clear that the company was not adding to their responsibilities in their leadership roles, but were asking them to approach their communication tasks differently.
  • The company soon noticed that more messages were including the "why", that communications were more frequent, and new channels of communication other than email were being used. There was a more open dialog between managers, and the practices became embedded in the language and training in the organization.

Assessing Success of Communication

  • Crowley Maritime Corporation operates a marine solution, transportation, and logistics company in over seven countries and reports over two billion dollars in annual revenue. Crowley understood that a multi-pronged business transformation strategy, which included acquisitions, new technology, and business goals, would involve a lot of change being imposed on their employees.
  • Crowley, therefore, conducted a company-wide awareness campaign about change management. This communication project not only helped supervisors understand their roles but helped employees understand what they should reasonably expect in the form of communication.
  • These training exercises began in 2015 and ran through 2017.
  • Before they began, the company established a baseline change management maturity score of 1.8. After one year, their score in all five capabilities was 3.0. Even more significantly, employees reported overall satisfaction with the transformation initiative of 88%, compared with 72% the year before.

Integrated Workforce Communications Platform

  • In planning enterprise communication strategies, many companies focus on roles and channels — and those items are essential. Equally important, and often overlooked, is ensuring a single authoritative source for information.
  • Differing sources can become challenging because employees gossip and get information wrong. They need one place where they can find the actual answer.
  • The challenge for the organization is that different communication tools in place in the organization can have different information if not tightly managed. For example, different messages can exist concurrently in Yammer, Slack, emails, and the company intranet.
  • A single authoritative source for information, and processes to ensure its accuracy, is the most critical part of effective employee communication.
  • Employee end-user data shows that the best transformation communication programs have a 70/30 publishing rate, 70 percent admin posts, and 30 percent employee-generated content.

Communication Strategy First

  • In planning a digital transformation, internal communication is the best place to start. Having the infrastructure, communication processes, and resources in place will make it easier for the organization to deal with the issues that will arise in a large transformation project.
  • When the organization already has the communication tools installed and the lines of communication mapped out for when teams members have questions, the transformation process becomes easier to manage,
  • All kinds of information move through a company, but investing in the right communication tools ensures the information is useful.

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Employee Communication Case Studies

Two case studies presented below include a change in business model in a health center and an office location move.

Two Canoes



  • The current "sick model" of cardiac treatment at a US hospital involved initial diagnoses and handoffs to multiple subspecialties.
  • While there was a clear flow, the treatment was expensive for the patients and the insurance companies and caused backups in patient treatments due to a lack of resources.
  • With the advent of the ACA, proactive wellness treatment was seen as a viable and positive alternative to the current model.
  • This suggested model threatened the established revenue streams that had maintained the organization for years. The resistance shown by the organization when introduced to the change was significant.

Communication Issues

  • In this case, the facilitative or change management role was responsible for informing others about their responsibilities as it related to the proposed change and detailing the steps needed to complete that change.
  • Successful facilitation requires strong interpersonal skills, as well as the ability to communicate the needs and processes for change across domains effectively.
  • Without this role being executed, the project will fail even with strong evidence of its value of the change.
  • In this example, the role of the facilitator was not adequately defined, which led to confused communications and inefficiencies in the implementation process.
  • During the development of the new business model, team members would hold separate meetings with stakeholders.
  • The messages communicated in these meetings was not cohesive, and the actions required from these stakeholders were not adequately described or followed up.
  • Exacerbating the problem was the fact that the results of these meetings were often not communicated to other members of the project team.
  • These breakdowns in communication and the mixed messaging with external stakeholders stopped the team from moving in a unified direction. Consequently, the necessary steps in the process were not being completed correctly.
  • Finally, the problems in communication were not relayed in a timely manner up the ladder to the project sponsors for remediation.

Key Learnings

  • There were three key learnings surrounding communication from this failed project.
  • Communication between the facilitator and the leaders/sponsors did not happen often enough during the development process. Often months would pass between meetings. Updates on the progress and future needs of the team should be communicated weekly to ensure the project remains visible to the leadership.
  • Project stakeholders that responded positively to the suggested changes expressed a willingness to help, but the lag time between subsequent communications resulted in diminished enthusiasm. A communication plan with timely interactions to maintain interest and commitment is necessary.
  • Better communication techniques, at the beginning and throughout the project, could have uncovered beds of resistance and provided opportunities for an explanation of the value and adjustments to the model. Members of the leadership team must communicate more explicitly the vision, goal, and value of a project to better shape change initiatives.

Office Relocation


  • The goal of this change was to move the majority of the office staff to a cheaper location and cut corporate costs.


  • The current headquarters was in a luxury office building in the center of metropolitan areas near shops, restaurants, hotels, and theaters. Renewal of the lease would mean a significant increase in rent. Also, under consideration was the fact that there was a high fixed cost for direct telephone lines to the company's refinery and bulk-storage terminal.
  • Management decided to relocate about 80 percent of its offices back to a large, currently empty building in the existing refinery and bulk storage complex. Located in a general area of docks and shipyards, warehouses, factories, and other oil terminals, this was the original headquarters building.
  • The building was upgraded to bring it up to modern standards.
  • Unrest developed among office employees. The usual banter and kidding disappeared, performance deteriorated, and the group was unenthusiastic about the move.

Communication Issues

  • Little information had been communicated to the employees about the upcoming move. An email was sent out, and a quick meeting was held to answer questions. As a result, the management team was hearing that some wildly exaggerated rumors about the move were circulating.
  • Employees were complaining about the time they will waste driving to work and about the noise and the dirt at the new location.
  • There was unhappiness about the time constraints of the lunch period, which would mean eating at nearby lunch counters. They were used to eating at the better restaurants uptown, where the clientele is more upscale and does not include factory laborers, truck drivers, and other industrial workers.
  • Conversations about the company "going to the dogs" and losing its competitive spirit were spreading through the company.
  • Others were complaining about the "penny-pinching" approach of the company. One of the best salesmen was overheard commenting, "The company is on the down-grade; we are no longer pushing ahead; it's all 'retrenchment.'"

Key Learnings

  • A British study supported the fact that two of the six barriers identified in failing changes were present in this case. They include a lack of adequate communications (not being kept properly informed, hearing conflicting messages, wanting to understand but receiving no explanations), and lack of consultation.
  • The vision of the future was not clear and motivating, and it did not answer the most crucial question: "What's in it for me?" To be successful, the company should have communicated a shared vision through various media to develop an organizational commitment to the change.
  • Communication throughout an organizational transformation is not a single event. "A memo is not enough, a big organizational meeting is not enough, and certainly, an email blast is not enough."
  • It is a tough job to make sure everyone understands the change and accepts it. If the organization does not have a change leader with the required communication expertise that can be assigned to the project full-time, it should engage an expert consultant. It is vital to understand that "communications must start at the very beginning of the change and continue right through to the end. If not, your change will be in jeopardy."

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Insights on Employee Alignment

There are five major activities involving communication which are crucial to employee alignment. They include communicating the vision, the purpose, the metrics to be measured and the results of the measurement. It also includes a discussion on including the whole organization in the communication plan.

Make the vision a part of the company's processes

  • For an employee to be aligned with their company's vision, they must hear it repeatedly. The vision should be communicated during the hiring process, be discussed again as part of the onboarding process, and be consistently referenced during the term of their employment.
  • For the company vision to accessible, it needs to be "concise and relatable to every employee at every level." The four steps to making an effective vision statement are:
1. Define the Company's Output
2. State the Unique Twist
3. Define metrics for success
4. Add "Human" Aspects

Purpose beyond profit

  • Employees do not go to work to make their company profitable. It is imperative to communicate clearly to employees about a purpose in which they can believe and support.
  • Employees that have heard about, agree with and that are aligned with company goals, and feel good about those goals, feel good about the company.
  • This alignment is important because "there is a direct correlation between companies that hold onto their best employees and those that hold onto their best customers."

Involve the whole organization

Measure early and often

  • Clearly defined metrics that measure alignment are necessary to ensure not only the alignment but to track the improvement.
  • Each company should define and communicate the metrics that are meaningful to its operation, are within the employee's control and which support the vision of the company.
  • Both benchmarking and gap measurement are practical tools to use to measure success.
  • Appropriate benchmarking metrics for employee alignment can include employee turnover and unplanned absences to measure employee buy-in to the vision.

Communicate the numbers

  • A recent Forbes poll revealed that 50% of employees believe their organizations are being held back by a lack of transparency.
  • Sharing metrics with employees can help create a sense of ownership among the employees and align them to company goals.
  • Transparency builds trust in the organization and its vision.
  • A recent Atlassian survey reported that 87% of people want to work for transparent companies.