As the global marketplace continues to move faster and become more complex, near-constant organisational change has become the new norm. Global businesses are increasingly open to changing strategy, structure and even deeply-entrenched workflows all in a bid to stay relevant to customers, maintain a competitive edge and streamline costs.
According to an Economist Intelligence Unit report, 90 per cent of CEOs today say organisational agility – which is the ability to accommodate and adapt to change – is critical to business success. For large, lumbering companies, this ability to be agile and ready to respond in the face of strategic change is hard. However, it becomes even more challenging when your company has globally dispersed employees who are not engaged early enough to understand, let alone support, strategic change.
With agile companies standing to grow nearly 40 per cent faster than their non-agile counterparts and claiming 30 per cent higher profit margins, how do you ensure that your global business is agile during strategy change? More importantly, how do you ensure your global employees are actively engaged and connected with strategic change?
Strategic change almost always comes from the top. This top-led directive then trickles down the corporate food chain, usually via a plethora of well-crafted talking points, standard presentation decks and pre-written FAQs with suggested responses. While these effectively equip people leaders to communicate the change, this method is highly at risk of backfiring when managers do not cascade the message in an accurate, timely or positive manner.
This hierarchical method of strategy change also tends to turn normally engaged employees into passive recipients of a leader-led change that affects their day-to-day work. This is particularly so for employees geographically far away from the epicentre of decision-making. As a result, the message employees get from the strategy change is: “This change was made without me in mind and I don’t need to think about it until my manager tells me to.” Corporate zombie in the making - check.
Whenever possible, leaders should engage with the wider workforce right at the start of the strategic change and at the same time. Many companies employ a ‘one voice policy’, which works particularly well during a corporate crisis, to ensure that only trained, designated employees can address the bigger global team. For companies with global staff, this is usually done through a video of the Group CEO or a senior leader communicating the strategy change posted on the company intranet or a ‘live’ update via a multi-country video conference. Remember face-to-face leadership communication, as opposed to email, builds authenticity and trust in the leader as well as confidence in the organisation.
For employees located in different time zones or geographies, ensure that subtitled videos, translated video scripts and audio recordings of group calls reach them within 24 hours of the cascade. Following this, regional and country managers can discuss the change face-to-face with local teams while using the opportunity to tackle employees’ questions or feedback and address any misconceptions caused by language or cultural barriers.
Never forget that most of your employees have a vested interest to understand and connect to strategic information. They need this to stay up-to-date with the big picture, tell a convincing story to their customers and remain motivated at work. When leaders engage in early, open and honest dialogue with as many employees as possible during a strategic change, employees are far more likely to feel well-informed and entrusted. This goes a long way in building employee advocacy.
Employees become advocates of strategy change when they buy into it and then become willing mouthpieces positively representing the company and its strategy internally and externally. If your organisation has international offices, having employee advocates around the globe effectively means you have ‘Change Ambassadors’ located in a country to help reinforce corporate messages. So, make sure they are empowered with easy to understand (simple, subtitled video clips and local language translations of corporate messages go a long way) and easy to access strategic information.
Remember that all strategic change take a couple of years to cement in an organisation’s culture. When leaders maintain an ongoing and constructive dialogue using consistent messaging around the strategy change, employees, regardless of geography, get used to regular communication through standard channels to get the latest strategic information. This, in turn, builds trust that the organisation is going in the right direction and reduces any uncertainty that would lead to low morale and subsequent loss of trained, dedicated talents.