Company Restructuring: HR expert Jo De Cock shares her experiences on working together with Square Circle

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.”


More insights? Register here to our webinar ‘The do’s and don’ts of a successful communication’ on Tuesday 7 March 2023 or subscribe to our Newsletter and you will soon receive our E-book on this topic.

Rudy Coenen joins Square Circle as a partner

Rudy Coenen joins the team of Katrien Decroos, An Dewaele and Ludovic Goethals with a communication expertise forged by 20 years of experience in leading companies in various sectors such as banking, insurance, asset management, the public sector, training, energy and associations.

With a career marked by diversity, Rudy has been able to embrace all the finer points of the professions linked to corporate communication. He has held several positions related to communication in a broad sense, up to the final responsibility of a communication department. He puts his know-how at the service of companies wishing to engage in a constructive dialogue with all their stakeholders.

At Square Circle, Rudy will use his talents to help companies facing changes and transformations to develop engaging and human communication with a particular focus on exchange, transparency and relational aspects. He will also actively participate in the communication training programme developed by Square Circle and by himself during his career.

Rudy Coenen: “What attracted me to Square Circle, apart from the solid expertise of the partners, was the integrated approach to Human Resources and Communication issues. Starting with a situation, a project or a need related to the human factor in the company, Square Circle will develop a complete solution that will encompass the typical HR or communication aspects in a totally integrated manner in line with the client’s needs. Such an approach is much more effective than the traditional approach where HR or communication experts or consultants go their separate ways”.

Beyond words only : Square Circle looks at the future

Square Circle, or the house of practical expertise in management, HR and communication, has been working closely with a business world in change for 20 years. From transformation projects, strong leadership and corporate culture, to crisis prevention and crisis management; they help realise the ambitions of tomorrow’s companies, each time using an integrated and practice-oriented approach.

Over the past 20 years, Square Circle has encountered the same needs at many companies: motivating employees to move ahead and convince them to tackle change in a constructive way.

“We often see that communication is only one aspect of the issue. People Management and HR are at least as important in the continuous changes a company faces,” Katrien Decroos points out. She herself has been advising organisations on managing their communication in business developments and transformation processes for more than 25 years, together with Ludo Goethals. Since the very beginning, both have formed the basis of Square Circle.

All too often, management has the idea that communication is simply words you utter top down. That a word creates a mental image is often forgotten. “We help management to speak a language with rational as well as emotional elements, because it is precisely the latter that gets people moving. Communication starts from people’s perception and should always be close to their own context,” says Ludo Goethals.

Square Circle consciously opts for a partnership and coaching approach and strives to provide real practical assistance and relieve the company where necessary.

At the same time, it takes time to get people and consequently whole companies moving. Often, management has been working on a specific change for a long time and employees cannot be expected to be as quick on the uptake. “Daring to show that taking time is really necessary is one of our challenges,” says Katrien Decroos.

A third partner joined in 2021. An Dewaele has been making a career in the HR sector for 30 years. “With An on board, we have an even broader base to help companies with an integrated expertise, where communication and HR come together,” indicates Ludo Goethals.

Companies knock on Square Circle’s door asking for guidance, not only in the event of major changes or when a crisis occurs, but also in positive trajectories.

An Dewaele: “The best way is to participate in a company’s project as a close partner. That way, we are not the consultants that bring the theory and then leave, instead by working hand in hand, the organisation learns and evolves and can then use the gained insights themselves going forward. In the future, we want to be able to remain a true sparring partner for the CEO or management of organisations more often. We already have this relationship with certain companies, but we are sure we can expand our role in this; we feel there is a need for it. More and more, we want to be the house where you can simply come in, where we listen to the issues, and then think and work flexibly with you on the basis of our expertise in HR and in communications. There is a noticeable evolution, a need and urge for a more integrated approach, and that is exactly what we can offer with Square Circle.”

Copyright text: HR Square

Transformation and communication: when words kill projects

Victor has to announce some changes in his department. He has spent hours preparing 58 slides to explain the objectives, the new structure and the rationale for the change. In short, Victor is very satisfied with his presentation and so is his boss. On the announcement day, his employees listened to Victor. In a deafening silence.

Silence is the primary form of resistance

In the weeks that followed Victor continued to ‘defend’ his project. Always with the same words, the same ideas, the same concepts.

Six months later, the project is still not operational. Three employees have left. There are still gaps in the structure. Nothing is going well. The morale of the troops is close to zero. And Victor is seriously thinking of leaving the company too. ‘They don’t want to change’, he told his boss. ‘They don’t want to understand’. ‘They are resisting’.

Words and numbers

The presentation’s 3,400 words, 27 tables and graphs did not convince his employees. Worse still, they sowed doubt in the minds of the employees. Because the story Victor told was about him, the management and the company. Not them. They felt excluded from the project from the start.

On the very day of the presentation, the project took a nosedive. What followed was the chronicle of a predicted failure.

Victor did not know:

  • That words create mental images, produced by our brain
  • That only strong mental images, which resonate within us, make us ‘move’
  • because they appeal to our reason but also to the emotion we feel
  • That an emotion that is well experienced by employees opens the door to trust and commitment, a requirement for any change
  • That the majority of ‘managerial’ words commonly used in communication during transformations do not succeed in convincing because of their lack of content and human feeling: in short, they do not create the mental images that will have an impact.

Convincing is about making words speak

Victor signed up for a ‘convincing through communication’ training course. He wants to learn how to use the words that will create the right mental images to engage employees in change. In other words, he wants to learn how to communicate for them and not for himself. He is ready to abandon his classic managerial lexicon which does not work, because it is meaningless for most people. Starting from what his employees feel, he will focus on the ‘real’ words, the mental images that speak and that will make his team evolve.

In short, Victor will learn to convince by communicating!

He has made it his mission to succeed in the next change mission. Because he has changed employer. And he has been given a major transformation project.

If you have to communicate in your professional life, wake up the Victor in you… you’ll be surprised by the result!


Barry Callebaut and Ferrero back in production. What do we learn from the chocolate crisis ?

A crisis is always the ultimate test to expose the true soul of a company.

Salmonella contamination occurs frequently in Belgium but the majority never makes the news.  Very occasionally a message appears in the newspaper to announce a recall. Not so with Ferrero.

The core of crisis communication: VALUES!

The key component of any crisis communication is to show the company’s attitude toward a society value that is compromised by the crisis. In this case, the health of consumers and more specifically of the children who were victims of the Salmonella contamination. In our crisis masterclass and media training, we teach our clients to focus their communications on these values from the very first minute.

Safety and health are general values that apply to all human activities. The protection of families as the cornerstone of society is also at the top as well as ethical conduct and the protection of the environment with attention to the climate. These values are universal, so to speak.  Further values are the right of consumers to get adequate products and services and to be properly informed about them. The protection of the weak and the right to work are also part of the series. This is very topical, for example, within the immigration theme. Quality of life has risen sharply in recent years as a value, including the search for balance between private and professional life. Culture is also a value, and specifically local culture. Local norms and customs that determine how communities interact.

Murphy’s Law

A few weeks after Ferrero, salmonella also struck chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut. The company reacted decisively, leaving no doubt about its approach to protecting consumers with a clear communication. A company can emerge positively from a crisis if it cares about these social values and acts accordingly. In the case of Ferrero, all we heard was the deafening noise of silence. The perfect storm that could have been avoided.

Entropy and disorder: the fate of all human enterprises?

She is there, everywhere, at all times. She affects your private and professional life.

She is little known and little contested. Yet she consumes a lot of energy.

Her name? ENTROPY.

Entropy is a natural and irreversible phenomenon. The energy initially present in a system is transformed and ‘goes away’.

Entropy comes to us from physics but it is also perfectly visible in business.

To keep it simple: what is structured becomes de-structured, what is organized becomes disorganized, what is conceived becomes forgotten, continuously and naturally.

No one escapes this.

How do we fight against entropy? A few examples.

➡️ You want to encourage feedback in your team? Systematically put the topic on the agenda of your team meetings.

➡️ You want to reduce the number of accidents at work? After safety trainings, ask your employees to regularly review the situation on the floor in person with colleagues.

➡️ Are you starting a project? Consider “new blood” from the beginning if the project is going to be long and build up the “reserves” in the project team in time.

Fighting against entropy is within everyone’s reach.

1️⃣  Accept that it is universal and inescapable.

2️⃣  Make your colleagues aware of its existence.

3️⃣  You will be attentive to its effects on those around you and on yourself.

The Square Circle team guides people and organizations in growth, development and transformation. Supporting business dynamics is one of our great passions.