Making change work at a local level

Last week’s news that Honda is to cut 300 jobs at its car plant in Swindon got me thinking.

Over recent years the manufacturing industry has been awash with a plethora of restructuring, cost saving and efficiency programmes all designed to streamline organisations ready for a sustained return to growth.

And whilst those at Honda’s HQ might be fully aligned around the strategic direction of the business, I wonder how employees on the ground in Swindon feel?  Are they properly engaged on the reason for this cost cutting exercise?

That’s the thing with delivering successful change projects – however good your master communications plan might be, it will only work if people realise that all change is local.

Take the right approach

As communicators we can spend lots of energy engaging senior stakeholders – after all they need to get the rationale for reducing headcount at a specific factory and then have the skills to communicate this to their teams.

But how can we be sure that messages then permeate through the rest of the organisation?

Over time we have found it useful to apply a simple five step model for thinking through the communications needed around change and transformation;

  • Awareness – have we explained what the change is all about?
  • Understanding – Do we know for sure that our employees get the reason for the change?
  • Excitement – Do they believe in the change?
  • Competency – are they equipped and able to deliver the change effectively?
  • Celebrate – has the change become business as usual?

With this in place, you can then begin to look at the local picture.

Tailor it locally

When it comes to rolling out a big change programme, it is important to make sure you have a communication plan at a local level – one which is aligned to the master plan, but adapted to local nuances.

This is imperative if your change programme features a phased roll out or a pilot in a specific country. Depending on the nature of the programme and the size of your business, you might want to create local plans per country, region, function or BU.

Taking the journey approach from earlier, here’s how to develop a more localised communication plan;

  • Who are your local stakeholders and how they will be impacted by the changes?  Some communities will face big changes, whilst for others nothing much will be different. But you need to cater for both
  • What is the relevance of the change to the local workforce? If there is a global cost-cutting programme in place, how will this impact the day-to-day running of local plants?  Adapt the core narrative from your master plan to address this
  • What tools and materials do local leaders need to communicate the change to their people?  Master toolkits, emails, Q&As, town hall templates and surveys will need adapting to cover local considerations – news of a new quality standard might not be relevant to staff at a factory which is about to close down. And how will you cater for factory staff who don’t speak any English?
  • How will you brief local leaders on the changes?  Emailing them a toolkit or message from their boss will only get you so far.  Make sure you organise local briefing sessions so that leaders can localise messages and test out delivery before go live
  • Are there people on the ground who can help deliver these materials?  Is there the capability to print posters locally?  Will there be a dedicated person who will upload content to a local SharePoint site?
  • How will you recognise success?  Will there be a local celebration when the changes have been implemented? (if appropriate)  How will you ensure that local stories make it into corporate channels such as videos, newsletters, and blogs or on the intranet news page?

By being sure to plan communications at both a corporate and local level you can greatly improve the chances of success for your change programme – even if it is as challenging as cutting a factory workforce.

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