Hello. Today I’m thinking about change management and how to handle those first few months after you’ve joined a company. What if you’re asked to be a change agent, but even your bosses resist your suggestions? I learned by doing it wrong, that it takes time to get to know a new company, and even more time to build managers’ trust in your ideas and judgment. In my second employee communications job, I tried to change too many things too quickly. My managers eventually began to approve of my work, but they never relaxed enough to really trust me—a problem I might have avoided if I’d started more slowly.
That company was more than 150 years old, but no one had written its history. I wish I’d written about the company's heritage as my first project. Not only would it have helped me do my job better, but it would have signaled my trustworthy intentions and pro-company stance to my managers. As “advocacy journalists,” we create a storyline that shows a company in its best light. That story is its culture, its heritage. Done right, it’s a source of pride for employees and trust for customers and shareholders. Has that story been written at your company? Was it offered to you during your job interview?
Communications professionals working with older companies generally have lots of material to draw from. However, there are ways to tell the story of a newer company—and it’s extremely helpful to start creating a compelling narrative as soon as possible.
See if this sounds familiar: You’ve joined a great young company. Exciting! Maybe next year it’ll go public, but in the meantime, the 50 or so employees are working crazy hours to do the best job ever. You know the CEO and top employees personally; everyone is on a first-name basis. Morale is high. Six months later there are 300 employees, and after a year, more than 1,000.
In a fast-growing company, a CEO who is accustomed to working directly with employees will lose that personal connection. Unless there’s a communications professional and plan in place, morale will suffer. Even your top executives will feel a sense of loss when they walk down a hall full of busy strangers, where once they recognized everyone. Aspects of company culture, seemingly learned by osmosis when there were 70 employees, will be lost when those 70 people make up only 10 percent of the workforce. This is a risky time for the company's reputation, when a misunderstanding can lead to a post on social media … and just like that, a company’s shiny brand is not so shiny any more.
Founders, please hire communications professionals early on. Choose someone you like and respect, and give them access to you. Create an employee communications plan. You’ll be glad you did.
Thank you for your time today.
Past travels with a trusty camera; current work on James E. Brewton Foundation research and memoir
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