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The message and mechanics of engaging employees post pandemic
When rules around facemasks are fluctuating faster than a flimsy fitting room curtain, retail leaders need a concise and consistent approach to communicating change.
It’s not just facemask policy that’s in flux of course. As we gingerly tread on post-Covid ground, the working approaches we took for granted last year are constantly shifting today.
How retailers engage with and communicate change to employees influences not only how rapidly the virus is controlled, but how effectively retailers serve the public, recover lost revenue and reconfigure their stores for a successful tomorrow.
Logistically, engaging retail employees as the pandemic continues has its challenges. Email is rarely used, contact details aren’t up to date and rotas exist in WhatsApp groups. Furloughed staff aren’t sure where and when to turn up. Managers are overloaded with complex messages.
And because sales assistants have direct contact with customers, consistency of message is key. Uniform messaging must flow from the shop floor, to social media, to the customer support centre. How can retailers make that happen?
The messaging and mechanics of communicating change
For effective employee engagement let the principles of change management be your guide.
These two disciplines are typically siloed in organisations, yet it’s your people who will implement change. Without an engaged workforce, change grinds to a halt or doesn’t happen at all. Leaders who combine these functions build strategic and robust approaches to community communications that hold water in uncertain times.
To lead the pack and inspire your employees, follow our four-step approach to the messaging and mechanics of communicating change.
1. Conduct an impact assessment
Perspective and planning are your foundations. Begin with an impact assessment that determines where you are now and where you want to get to. The gap between here and there maps your plan for change and how to communicate it.
This needs to be credible
Your impact assessment should be well considered, involve the right stakeholders and examine available resources.
HR will be key, for example. It’s central to managing your workforce. Technology will also be important. You’ll need to understand how current IT provisions might enable and prevent you from engaging your teams.
Now bring in context
What else is going on inside your organisation? Macro and micro alterations prior to and during the pandemic will impact how you’ll communicate change and these must be aligned.
Perhaps you made a strategic decision in 2019 to cut your store estate in 2020. In light of the pandemic, this may be perceived as positive or negative depending on who hears it, how and when.
Maybe new leadership was brought in, or a change of management has recently occurred. Who’s left? Who’s joined?
And of course, a mandatory change stipulated by the industry or government will be perceived differently to a business change driven by commercial needs.
2. Consider your communities
With a map towards change in hand, it’s time to ask, ‘What’s in it for me?’,
on behalf of every role or person you are communicating with. Truly interrogate what they need to hear, how and when. Both the message and delivery mechanic need to be assessed.
This will enable you to draft a series of briefings for each role type or employee community group according to what they need to hear and know, and how. It will also shape your mechanics for communication.
3. Compile a comms pack
A comms pack contains everything that needs to happen to execute the change. The actions to take, the artefacts to create, the messages each of your employee communities need to receive and how they should receive them.
With a solid impact assessment, your change management team can compile a comms pack in a matter of hours. Leadership teams can then confidently cascade messages across the organisation, in the right way at the right time.
4. Choose your mechanics for communication
Your message and mechanics go hand in hand. A poorly articulated message through a robust and well-used mechanic (such as an employee app) will do no better than a perfectly pitched message on a rarely-accessed intranet.
Employees who feel connected to a business will respond differently to those who do not. And, as discussed, in order to deliver effective change, employees need to be engaged.
In an ideal scenario, you’ll have an excellent and well-established tech stack used by a workforce that’s bought-in to the values and leadership of the company.
But when this utopia is a distant dream, do what you can and must to deliver the message. Phone calls might be inefficient but they might also be the most effective means of reaching your employees. Be sure to consider the efficacy of an audit trail in whichever channels you choose.
The ultimate state
Whether it’s a global pandemic or a new technology implementation, there’s always something new to launch and communicate. Being prepared with the right tools in place will get you ahead of the change impact and prepare your teams for success.