Now that the votes have been counted and the UK has chosen to leave the EU; HR and comms teams must take steps to plan, respond and communicate what BREXIT will mean to employees. There are many articles and guidelines out there that help HR prepare for BREXIT, but now, after the fact, how do you as a business communicate the potential effects to employees, when the impact is still unclear to everyone? There are now some nuggets of advice appearing online to advise HR on possible outcomes and changes, but getting your communications to employees right during this time of uncertainty is critical to ensure motivation and productivity don’t diminish.
In order to do this correctly and ensure minimal disruptive impact to a business, HR and internal comms teams alike must take some crucial steps to ensure the information they deliver is accurate, timely and communicated in the appropriate way.
BREXIT communications timing
The first step is to figure out the appropriate timing to deliver the information, especially as there are no clear facts on how this may affect businesses and employees alike. Consensus in change management is that delaying internal announcements can prove hugely detrimental to morale and uptake; avoid accusations of sitting on information and endeavour to act quickly. However, knee-jerk announcements that aren’t effectively planned can equally cause considerable issues further down the line, particularly when an announcement has negative implications or consequences for those it concerns.
In light of there being no immediate, clear facts on how BREXIT will affect your business, it may be wise to consult legal outlets like Allen & Overy’s BREXIT contingency guidelines with a plan to do an initial “holding” response until more information becomes available.
BREXIT communications process
Next you need to consider the process. Map out a flow for your internal communications process, defining what needs to happen and who needs to be involved.
Begin with the definition of the message, then map out your ‘route to market’ for delivering your communication and ensure you are reaching everyone you need to as efficiently and effectively as possible. For example, do you have European offices operating in a different time zone or in different languages that may also need to be notified? Or remote workers who may not have access to your internal systems and would miss out on a ‘town hall’ announcement? Additionally, consider the follow-up to the delivery of your message. Any senior members of staff associated with the message, for example, HR or line managers, should be readily available and prepared to receive questions.
BREXIT communications content
Once you have prepared the timing and process, you need to define the message. Often, ironically, the message itself is the one thing that gets forgotten. In the rush to get information out or in the fixation on ‘how’ to deliver, it can be easy to lose sight of what we actually need to communicate. Begin by clearly defining the message and its objectives:
- What is the top-level message?
- What do your employees actually need to know?
- How will this impact their roles and the business as a whole?
- What questions are they most likely to ask?
- What actions or outcomes do you require from your employees?
At this stage, it will be difficult to give definitive answers for what BREXIT means for business and employees, so it would be advisable to keep your message concise, try to minimise worry and invite feedback and questions. Even if you cannot answer the questions immediately, it shows you are listening to your employees, being empathic and can at least research and come back with an answer at a later stage.
BREXIT communications channel
Once the initial message has been determined and you have decided who will deliver it and at what time; the most important decision is around how you deliver this information. This is very much dependent on the culture and structure of the organisation in question – alongside the nature of the news to be delivered. The most important consideration is how to communicate change in a way that it will be understood and engaged with by your audience.
Interact did a poll on their customer community surveying what Internal Comms and HR teams felt were the most appropriate channels for communicating an announcement of change or uncertainty, like that of the BREXIT outcome we all now face.
A majority response put a cascade of information via managers as the favoured channel of choice, amounting to 69.4% of votes. This was followed by a town hall announcement at 24.2% and intranet announcements, which received 6.6% of the vote.
However, when mapping out a route to communicate BREXIT internally, it is important to consider the demographic of your employees, seek feedback on their preferred channels of communication and adapt for the different groups. No single channel is the holy grail for communicating change or sensitive information; nor will any decision please everyone. Instead, a multi-faceted, multi-channel approach may be the best option to ensure information is received and interpreted by individuals as consistently as possible.