Getting a company restructuring right requires a lot of knowledge and skill. Why exactly is it useful to call on external expertise? Katrien Decroos, Senior Communication Expert at Square Circle, asked Jo De Cock, currently Head of HR Western Europe at H.Essers. At two other companies, she coordinated a reorganisation with the guidance of Square Circle.
Katrien: Why did you find it necessary to engage Square Circle?
Jo: “I have experienced two reorganisations in recent years: a closure with collective redundancies where the Renault Act applied, and another case where several people were made redundant for economic reasons but there was no collective redundancy in the legal sense of the word. In both cases, we realised we needed external help in terms of communication and mapping out all the stakeholders and the actions you take towards them. As a team, you’ve been working on it behind the scenes for a while and then some things seem obvious, while to the employees or the outside world it might not be. That’s when you need someone to hold up a mirror to you and help you take a few steps back and revisit your story. And that’s how I ended up at Square Circle.”
What was the biggest challenge?
“The main question was: how do we best articulate this, taking into account the feelings of each person involved? And: ‘how do you bring a valid story to the press with a balance between the business and human side of the story‘?
After all, your story must make sense on all sides. Because what do people read in the newspaper? X number of jobs are disappearing, nothing more. In the media, the human part of the story is often underexposed. It is important to have that story co-written by someone who has not lived through the whole preparation phase and looks at it with a new perspective.
In the last case, Square Circle also helped to draft a letter to all employees appropriately: on the one hand, explaining why the company is taking such a decision and, on the other, stating that you sincerely realise that this is tough for the employees involved and their families.
In addition, the practical script and roadmap that Square Circle prepares are also incredibly valuable, in addition to the compact but very insightful training for executives.”
How did this roadmap help you?
“It helps to bring structure to the process. The Square Circle team consist of communication professionals and at the same time they know the legislation well and what steps to take.
The existence of such a roadmap that indicates from day to day and sometimes even hour to hour what actions you take to each stakeholder gives you a good grip on things as it can be quite hectic when you are in the midstof a difficult announcement and the weeks that follow. Square Circle has guided such crisis situations very often.
There were actions we didn’t think of, but which they pointed out to us based on their experience. The roadmap structures the communication and legal process in a very good way…”
Can you outline how stressful such a company reorganisation can be?
“An intention to close a part of the business and collectively dismiss employees is never announced lightly. The weeks before are therefore quite intense. The day of the announcement itself certainly causes stress: for the first time, you confront employees with an intention that will have dire consequences for them if the intention is confirmed. The realisation that a lot of employees may lose their jobs then comes in sharply. Even in those difficult circumstances, you want to handle things with the utmost respect for the staff. Square Circle has helped us here as well: ensuring that the whole process is done with the right empathy. You must be able to focus on people, which is not always obvious when you are in the middle of a process that also has very strict legal rules.
The role of the press is often problematic in reorganisations. How did that work out for you?
“Both HR and a few top management members have received training from Square Circle on how to deal with the press. That helps to stay in your own story and not get caught up in their questions. I would recommend such a training to anyone. It prepares you to make your own point in the very short time a journalist allows you and show the human side of the story.
How did the HR department experience Square Circle’s help?
“As an HR department, when there is a collective redundancy, you are very busy dealing with the unions, the information and consultation procedure and afterwards negotiating a social plan. Of course, an announcement that there is an intention to make collective redundancies affects all employees in a company. Managers are often as surprised as employees. Their employees then look to them for support and seek reassurance and clarity. The Square Circle training ‘Communication in Uncertain Times’ gave them a very good framework to handle this. It gave them insights into how people react to such news and how to deal with it as a manager. I received very positive feedback from the managers about training. It is valuable that the direct managers also have someone outside HR to take them by the hand for a moment and say: look, this is how you can make it a little easier for your people.”