Talking UP the RIF?

So you have come to the conclusion that you need to have a reduction in force. Hopefully, you've considered alternatives (everything from work-sharing to voluntary separations to early retirement), and have met with your labor and employment attorneys.  Next, you've gotten your HR folks involved and started alerting business units, and the rumors start spreading from the chatter.  Did you know that talking up your RIF actually can help?  No, just need some tools.

Smart communication planning can help ease the RIF process.  
We keep hearing that it's hard to find really great tools to help companies through communicating during a RIF and manage rumors and other side effects.  Lots of information is available about the legal aspects of what needs to be done (thank goodness), but we find companies tend to reinvent the wheel when it comes to telling people about it.  

While we do agree there is pretty much always need to customize message and timing, having a basic toolkit for a RIF can be a huge support for participants in the process.  Here are some communications needs to consider in the process:

Know the State of Your Company, Industry, Market and Your RIF Situation.
Consider the state of your company and the factors in your company's RIF situation (which you should have gone through with your legal counsel) that inform your communications strategy.  For example:
  • What is the reason for the RIF?  (staff redundancies following an acquisition or merger, loss of clients or contracts, new technology creates increased efficiencies, something else?)
  • How did you determine who was included in it? 
  • How open have you been with information that a RIF might be on its way?
  • How many people are affected and at what level?
  • What is the current state of your industry?
  • Have you had successful or challenging RIFs in the past?
  • What's going on with recruiting efforts in your organization?
  • What are your competitors and partners doing?
  • What are your clients or consumers saying about your company?
Identify Participants - Who Needs to Know?
These factors and many, many more should be evaluated first.  The next step is to figure out who needs to be involved in the process, and who doesn't need to be involved (HR, Legal, Finance, IT, Admin, Managers, Employees, Press, Analysts, Consumers).  In the interest of managing the rumor mill, our experience has shown that transparency in the process supports a smoother RIF with lower risk and less loss of productivity.

Develop Key Messages and Delivery Mechanisms
Develop your key messages to important audiences involved in the process, and determine how they are delivered. This is a critical step as what you say and how you say it sets the stage for the success of the action. Consider that streamlining for business effectiveness and profitability might sit well with Wall Street, but smack of insensitivity to remaining employees who have lost respected colleagues in the process. Being clear with your message and delivering them through the proper channels is key.

This could include some of the following concepts, but something very different depending upon the culture of the company and the circumstances you've considered above. 
  • Human Resources staff meet with managers and deliver notification training
  • Managers notify departing employees one-on-one and discuss with remaining staff in small-group meetings
  • Company leadership addresses the larger workforce in a town meeting
  • Sales staff mentions with customers in their regular business connections
  • Communications staff issues a release and makes/manages calls from trade, business, and consumer media
  • Investor Relations and Communications groups manage analyst community and shareholder inquiries
Develop a Communication Rollout Plan (Timing)
Once you have your audiences that need to know, and your key points you need to address, you need to be smart about the timing of notifications through the delivery mechanisms you've chosen.  Does your need for compliance require particular timing with shareholders?  Do you want to 

Create a Notification Manager's Toolkit
Having a toolkit as a guide for the rollout of a RIF has proven effective for parties involved (at least with our experience).  Toolkits should include the information a manager needs to know about the RIF in order to conduct notifications in concert with your business interests identified earlier.  Here's what we've included in RIF toolkits:
  • Schedule of Events - notification timing for various groups or individuals, when messaging will go out to various parties, timing of meetings and events with leadership
  • Internal Talking Points - key points that should be leveraged in conversations with employees during the process
  • Notifying Departing Employees - manager notification scripts, HR notification scripts, severance plan guidelines, talking points around benefits, compensation and termination of special plans, manager & HR FAQ
  • Notification Training Materials - include training materials related to how to handle the notification process
  • Points of Contact - who the manager can contact for more information, HR, legal, security contacts, etc.
  • Media Relations Information - contacts of Communications staff and/or company spokespeople on the RIF or related issues, plus information about what to say if the media, analysts or shareholders contact you about it.
  • Additional Resources - including related organizational announcements, business plans, strategy documents
Identify or Create Spaces to Share Information Internally
To support the remaining workforce and those in transition, provide access to as much information as possible through an online hub or intranet, or via your company's most-frequented internal network.  Include resources for managing change, idea-sharing points, a place to ask questions and contact someone to get them answered.  As always, consider that anything you publish internally to the company can make its way outside the company with ease.

That last statement really means be cautious, but don't be afraid to be transparent.  If you're prepared and you have started with a solid reason for the RIF, being clear, consistent and transparent about it is the best thing you can do. It gives you the opportunity to manage perceptions about why you're doing it and the intended effects on your company.

Need support with communicating a RIF?  We can help...Vivazu Communications.

No comments: