PD Event Recap: Communicating During Change

As the old saying goes “the only constant is change.” As mankind continuously pushes forward in all facets of life, corporations often face the harsh reality that if they fail to adapt to their changing surroundings, that they will fall off the radars of their consumers and watch as their competitors squeeze them out. However, not only do corporations need to find ways to stay relevant, but they also need to develop in-depth internal communications strategies in order to successfully transition through the periods of change. While the notion of corporate change often emphasizes new technological advances, software updates, rebranding, or new creating new sets of advertisements/marketing campaigns, it can also mean corporate restructuring, layoffs, buyouts, mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, and labour agreements. This is where Priya Bates comes in.

On Monday March 30th 2015, IABC had the opportunity to host, not one, but two events with Priya Bates, President of Inner Strength Communications Inc. After a morning filled with insightful discussions regarding branding (including the re-brand of IABC Ottawa), Priya switched gears to discuss the notion of communicating during periods of change to a group of eager listeners at the Velvet Room in the Byward Market. Having devoted over 20 years to the field, Priya bought forth a plethora of information as well as case study examples from her time working on the HP/Compaq merger in 2002 and leading the Internal Communications at Loblaw Companies Limited during the company’s transformation.

Priya began her discussion by emphasizing how today’s rate of change is faster than ever before, and how communicators have taken on more responsibility during times of change, for when there is an “absence of communication people make up their own stories and theories.” As such it is imperative for companies to communicate what they want their audience be aware of, understand, do and believe. They must use internal communications in order to communicate for better business outcomes; create trusted tools to help influence the conversation and impact the results; ensure colleagues are aware, understand, respond and believe and to be stewards of the brand through words, images, design and action.

Priya then delved into her first case study – the HP/Compaq merge, which was regarded as one of the most successful mergers for a plethora of reasons. During the merger, they had values led integration and strong pre-existing internal communications infrastructure in place; developed key messages; and integrated both teams (HP incorporated thoughts and dialogue from Compaq throughout the process). The merger demonstrated how “communication through change is about keeping the lights on” and keeping everyone informed and involved.

Priya’s second case study on the SunSpun Divestiture demonstrated yet another smooth transition during a period of reorganization. When Loblaws decided to get out of the B2B business for SunSpun, it sold its affiliated sales staff and client relationships to Gordon Food Service. As such, the internal communications team worked closely with HR to ensure that everyone involved in the divestiture understood the situation, and that the stakeholders also knew what was in it for them (and what they needed to do). Priya explained that by involving employees, companies are able to generate greater accountability and ownership, and that by launching a set of shared values, they were able to be proactive, open, honest and transparent.

Priya then discussed her third and final case study regarding the Shoppers acquisition that demonstrated proactive communications and stakeholder involvement, before reviewing the

key points of her presentation. These points included:

  • Without internal communication, people wonder what’s happening, make up their own truths, get scared, leave or stop performing.
  • As a communicator, one needs to ask “what does today look like, what does tomorrow look like, and what do we need to do.”
  • Having a communications infrastructure in place during the good times is important to the success during times of change.
  • The more adaptable you are to change, the better you are to react to it.
  • “Change is a law of life and those who cannot accept that or only look to the past are certain to miss the future.” JFK

IABC would like to thank Priya for providing us with two informative sessions, as well as everyone who came out to hear Priya speak.