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Getting the balance right

How to manage change in a time of crisis

Communicating a major change programme is challenging enough without factoring in a global pandemic.

For many organisations, pressing pause on certain projects hasn’t been an option – let’s face it you don’t embark on major change programmes unless it’s integral to business success, not to mention we have no idea when this crisis will end. But forging ahead as your employees adapt to new ways of working against a climate of fear and uncertainty, is no mean feat.

This is the position many internal communicators find themselves in, especially now that the initial frenzy of coronavirus has calmed down and organisations have put measures in place to support workers during these surreal times. Change programmes are coming back into focus but that’s not to say that we can just pick up from where we left off in March.

Covid-19 isn’t going anywhere, and we won’t be returning to normal anytime soon. So, how do we communicate crisis and change simultaneously in a world that looks and feels very different? Here our three top tips to consider:

 

Adjust the narrative

With any change programme, it’s important to have an overarching rationale that people can understand and buy into. And it’s even more important now to put it in the context of Covid-19.

You may need to adjust your narrative and create additional communication opportunities to help people understand why your change programme is going ahead and why it’s going ahead right now.

For some, the pandemic may have provided a perfect case study for why being able to adapt and change is a key part of doing business. Covid-19 has dragged many organisations kicking and screaming into the 21st century – there’s been no option but to enable remote and flexible working and to implement new technologies that were previously seen as too risky.

As internal communicators, we have an opportunity to demonstrate why change is necessary – we can’t predict the future, but we can put ourselves into the best position to respond to what may come our way. That’s a powerful argument for change and we are living with the reality of that right now.

And let’s not forget to thank people for their willingness to adapt and acknowledge what was collectively achieved in a very short period of time.

 

Be prepared to challenge

There are many different types of change programmes and there are some that need to be handled very carefully right now. People will remember how businesses treated their employees during this crisis, and while some decisions are unavoidable, it would be remiss for internal communicators to not raise reputational risk when required.

Alignment with our external colleagues and strong relationships with senior stakeholders is critical as we navigate the next few months. We have a real moment to be heard – the results of poor communication are hitting the headlines every day and now more than ever, leadership will be looking to us for guidance and insight – now is the time for us to step forward, be bold and to challenge.

 

Take the time to listen

We’re all familiar with the Kubler-Ross change curve and present thinking is that people don’t simply follow the curve step by step but move back and forth, often multiple times as they adjust to change.

For some of us, it can feel like the pandemic has been going on forever and it’s time to move our focus back to key projects and programmes, for example a restructure that will create more efficient ways of working or implementing a new technology that will differentiate you in the market. Whatever it is, it could be viewed as a welcome distraction and a sign that things are returning to normal.

But for others that might not be the case. For many, the last few months have involved illness, fear, grief and isolation. They might not be ready to go back to ‘normal’ (if such a thing exists anymore!) just yet.

This is where employee voice is essential. Take time to listen and understand how people feel, address their concerns, and share this insight to inform decision making. It’s not to say that existing change programmes should cease to exist, but that the messaging around them needs to be handled carefully and sensitively.

 

There are plenty of change models, frameworks, books and courses, etc that we can refer to but it’s worth mentioning that sometimes we just have to roll with what each day brings and do the best we can.

And that’s not meant to sound defeatist – simply realistic. We’re in the midst of a crisis that may last years and information changes by the minute. And when you’re working in a global organisation where governments around the world are all handling the situation differently, it presents a whole new set of challenges.

So, try to take a breath – you’re doing a great job and without internal comms, organisations would be in a far worse place right now.

 

Helen Deverell for Alive with Ideas

“The guys at Alive understand the complexities of our business which means we don’t need to explain the detail of every project or design piece – they’re already on it, which keeps things moving and delivers the results we need.”

Emily Stoten — Head of Marketing, Selecta

“I feel like they own and care for the project as much as we do! I would not use anyone else for my creative work and think Alive is ahead of the game.”

Jo Hobbs — Communications Manager

“Thanks for all your help. We are delighted with the campaign, both in terms of the creativity and messaging but also the thought taken over the rollout of the materials. All looks absolutely fabulous!”

Sarah Crowdy — Campaign and Media Officer Communications, South East Water

“We went to ‘Alive’ for ideas on how to run a specific employee program in Europe. Alan and his team were brilliant in coming up with fresh, creative and practical approaches. The team took charge and executed brilliantly. We are pleased with the progress made so far and hope to have the same level of partnership and commitment going forward.”

Sobha Varghese — Tata Consultancy Services

“So glad that we chose Alive to create our new website. As well as taking the time to get the visual side of our requirement right, they worked with us to understand us, our business and our clients and reflect this across the site. We loved their flexible approach, which, coupled with the right level of challenge has replaced our old, clunky site with one we can be proud of. ”

Victoria Ford — Perago

“Alive were there to help when we were working every hour to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. They gave us the creativity, ideas and support we needed to deliver campaigns which empowered our residents in the most difficult time most of us have ever seen, personally and professionally. The team understood what we needed, worked closely with us and delivered fast without any compromise on quality. Working with Alive has been a joy in the darkest of times and I have no doubt will have helped to save lives. Thanks team x”

Julie Odams, Assistant Director of Communications & Customers — Derbyshire County Council

“‘We worked with the team at Alive to create our staff recognition video.
At a time like this, its never been more important to share the amazing work that our staff have done and continue to do on a daily basis under very difficult circumstances. We wanted to shout about this and recognise that when the time came, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue stepped up to the plate. We didn’t want an ordinary thank you post on social media or a basic email sent out internally, we wanted something special. Enter Alive. ”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“The (Alive) team were able to creatively pull together and document (in just over 2minutes) everything our service has achieved over the last few months, from thousands of prescriptions deliveries to hundreds of phone calls made to the vulnerable. The final product was so powerful and reflective of what our service has and continues to achieve. It couldn’t have been better received within the service – thanks Alive for once again helping us to communicate our vision!’”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire & Rescue

“Boom!
Thank you so much. Incredible work done at incredible speed by incredible people.
Outstanding work as ever and what a turnaround. As for the concepts – wow. These are that good it would be an insult to describe them as just good. It’s a joke, quite frankly. This is exactly the Alive effect I was after. Right now I feel like I am living in an Alive With Ideas wonderland. Thank you!”

Jack Grasby, Campaigns Manager — SYFR

“Our company is fun, we have great brands, but most importantly we’re all about our people – and I wanted an agency who would understand that and help us bring it to life through our website and other comms. Straight away I felt that Alive ‘got’ us and provided the creative inspiration exactly where we needed it, as well as the technical expertise to deliver a well-functioning website.”

Keren McCarron — KP Snacks

“Alive were professional, friendly and great to work with. Most importantly they were creative, helping us to bring an extremely important safety campaign to life.”

Jack Grasby — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“We got 'Alive' involved to help us shift mindsets across our organisation and they delivered! Using simple, clear and creative ideas the team have delivered us a campaign which has seen a dramatic increase in idea sharing and development. They’ve also played a significant role in creating a culture of shared success. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with again, in fact, we already are!”

Gavin Buckle — B&Q