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”.
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
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!
An Dewaele, former CHRO of Barco, is becoming a partner at Square Circle adding a vast expertise to the team to fulfill a common mission: support companies with business driven people solutions to be successful in an increasingly volatile, mobile and complex world.
An has over 30 years of human resources experience in global companies, where she held several senior HR positions in multiple European and Global Roles in the automotive and high-tech industry, based in Sweden and Belgium.
An Dewaele: “Being successful in executing the strategy is what a company makes or breaks. Making this happen is all about culture, leadership, engagement and talent. Throughout my career, I have supported several transformations working with these key elements, that play a vital role in driving business performance and growth. Within Square Circle, my focus will be on supporting companies in leveraging the existing capabilities and create the platform for long term results.”
During several decades, An has covered the breadth of HR activities on operational and on strategic level with a passion for leadership, talent, culture, team performance and employee engagement. Having worked both on local sites and in headquarters, in multicultural environments, she understands the different dynamics that are at play and that should not be ignored.
An Dewaele : “In today’s fast changing world you have to actively manage culture as it defines how your company behaves and strives for results. With the aim of harnessing its full potential, growing leadership and talent and coaching leaders so that they can build a culture of engagement should be high on the agenda of every management team. Every company is different and should see what works best for them. There is no magic formula that can be applied unilaterally. My priority at Square Circle, therefore, is to share my experience helping organizations as a true “compagnon de route” in developing their human potential effectively and powerfully.”
The range of services delivered by An within Square Circle will focus on following topics:
- Development of leaders and talents through hands on and customized training, mentoring and coaching.
- Accelerate the development of a productive working relationship between new leaders and their team through Leadership Assimilation workshops.
- Boost learning with and from others through self-managed learning, a powerful method that starts from concrete and real situations people are facing in their job.
- Coach leaders to build engagement, giving them tools to listen to their teams, defining a shared view, a way of working where all team members adhere to and feel proud to contribute.
- Support in transforming organizational culture, going from word to action and bring the new desired culture to live.
Founded in 2002, Square Circle brings hands-on management and communication expertise with a pragmatic approach to drive successful transformational change projects, manage constructive labor relations, build strong company cultures, prevent operational risks, manage crises and engage employees as key drivers of performance.
Necessary and painful evil or laying the foundation for your future?
The present economic consequences of the severe health crisis are leading to many social negotiations between the social partners in organizations. Leadership and employee representatives should aim to get most out of these social negotiations in order to do what is best for their customers, their employees and their shareholders.
Since decades this process is difficult and considered painful by both sides, a ‘necessary evil’. Clever companies and employee representatives are getting much more out of this versus those that are stuck in the old rhetoric of us and them. After two decades of multiple negotiations I have seen organizations who come out of this stronger and those who are merely solving an immediate problem and very often end up in the same situation sooner than later.
Abandoning the old roads of conflict in social negotiations
There is a best way of approaching negotiations and leaving decades of conflictual relationships behind us. More and more participants in such negotiations are courageous enough to abandon the old roads of conflict: putting each other under pressure, getting upset with each other and then eventually reaching an agreement because they have no other choice. That is what I call the lose/lose scenario. In such a set up employee representatives say they never get involved correctly and management sees the process as something painful and difficult delaying the necessary changes that need to take place.
Presently many negotiations about organizational changes and restructurings are on the drawing tables so it is timely to look into this. Company and employee representatives who do this well have the capacity to look at the bigger picture. They do not just focus on the issue at hand and try to understand why they are where they are and what needs to be done to get back on track building the longer term future for their customers, employees and shareholders. They find out how to engage in a new social contract after the present negotiation, they look at work to be done as an investment into the future, even in case of layoffs or heavy restructuring. The realize this is not just an administrative process to go through, on the contrary they know it is putting in place the foundation for their future.
You don’t necessarily need to agree on everything
Effective negotiation processes are done with parties at the table who get each other involved, who get input from all around the table, who realize that those involved do not necessarily need to agree on everything, they just need to make sure they move forward together for the benefit of all stakeholders in the process. Individuals who can put their ego’s aside and focus on the essence are key to success. They inform each other correctly and communicate openly about their issues. They also make sure they do not put the other side with the back against the wall and do not have white rabbits jumping out of hats.
Surprising each other in such negotiation exercises is really not advisable. Parties need to keep their cool and need to realize that getting out of this process together, not leaving the other one behind is the only way forward in the long term. If one stakeholder gets it all and the other one does not get anything it is merely a matter of time before you are back at the negotiation table.
Employee representatives most often defend the status quo, no change and no big departure from how things are happening so far. That is obviously not very realistic with the economic damage a lot of organizations are experiencing today. Leaders very often put plans on the table they have worked for months at and do not realize that for employee representatives it is just undoable to understand and agree with them in some meetings.
It always takes two to tango
A well negotiated and balanced deal always gets the better long term consequences. Trying to understand each other’s position and frame of reference is crucial. At the negotiation table there is no place for people who are dogmatic, not able to listen and not able to depart from existing views on the situation.
It always takes two to tango. The most ideal profile for a social negotiator is just a decent human being who is able to listen, learn, share, respect differences of opinion and looking for a solution where all parties can find themselves in. It is also a person who has a sense of urgency as most of the time the topics on the table require rather fast action. Interestingly enough this is the description for both employee and management representatives at the table, there is no distinction between parties with regard to the personal characteristics they should have.
When preparing for such a negotiation, think about what you would do if you were in the shoes of the other party, it will help you get well prepared. However difficult things get never lose your calm, stay focused and always keep the door open. Decisions will come faster and agreements will be reached earlier working like this. This is not about putting the other party as much as possible under pressure through getting the press involved for instance, or to drop service to the customers of the business, tactics unions often use, this is also not about forcing predefined actions down the negotiation tube and explaining there is no other alternative.
The beneficial effect of professional communication in any organizational restructuring, and especially when there are mass redundancies involved, is now widely recognized, backed up by facts and figures. The effect operates at a number of levels.
1. Being in control of the project right from the beginning and keeping control throughout the process
There is a saying: “If you want peace, prepare for war.” Preparing for a corporate restructuring must avoid all amateurishness and ensure the inclusion of all the target groups on which the firm depends. Specific preparation must be made to back up the internal announcement, handle the press and other mass media, and manage external communication.
Crisis scenarios will have to be studied in advance and borne in mind when formulating a crisis plan. There must be provision to train people in handling the media and uncertainty. All of this will have to be included in specific arrangements for organization and planning. A professional approach to communication will give the firm a significantly greater chance of succeeding in its plan.
2. Ensuring the senior managers’ credibility and protecting the firm’s reputation when dealing with the media in difficult circumstances, while also retaining trust among customers, banks, strategic suppliers, governmental authorities, etc.
At times of corporate restructuring, the press and other media primarily focus on the attitude the firm adopts towards the staff, rather than looking at the basic problem. A journalist knows that a firm’s announcement of an “intention” actually means that it is determined, and that nothing will prevent it from carrying out the plan! On the other hand, all eyes will be on the firm’s attitude towards industrial-relations problems. Specific training in handling the media will make it possible to frame messages that correspond with the media’s values while meeting the firm’s aims. The same is true in relation to customers, banks, important suppliers and the authorities. A proactive and personalized approach will make all the difference in terms of trust in the firm and the firm’s reputation.
3. In case of a collective dismissal, avoiding trade unions or staff members resorting to legal proceedings for failure to comply with Belgium’s Loi Renault, with the risk of financial and other penalties being imposed
Every word is important when there is an intention to close or restructure a firm, as it may be used against the organization. A professional approach to communication will ensure that the messages communicated both internally and externally comply scrupulously with the law. This must apply not only to documents but also in orally communicated messages from managers. Those in charge of communication must, for this purpose, have a good knowledge of what is implied by the Loi Renault and also have wide experience enabling them to brief senior and other managers. Bringing a professional approach to bear in communication should avoid legal appeals being made, based on shortcomings or communication errors at any stage.
4. Avoiding the dissemination of incorrect information that can produce conflicts
A basic rule for success in communication is being proactive. Being the first to disseminate a message is definitely an advantage over the trade unions. It is not enough, however. The announcement of a corporate restructuring must be framed according to certain communication principles if it is to be persuasive throughout the firm. Expressing the “business case” for a restructuring in terms that are clear and comprehensible to everyone is a job in itself.
It has been shown that clear and proactive communication avoids giving trade unions an opportunity to sow doubt, and makes it possible to avoid “emotional” types of industrial action.
5. Ensuring the plan’s credibility and that its effect is beneficial for the future, with no loss of the employees who hold the key to the firm’s successful relaunch
In any restructuring, two types of message have to be communicated: messages for those who may leave the firm and, even more importantly, messages for those who will remain and on whom the firm will depend for making the relaunch or plans for change a success.
This is a delicate exercise. Achieving the right balance depends on numerous factors. Control over these is important, so as to avoid losing key employees and prepare for a successful relaunch.
6. Avoiding or limiting industrial-relations conflicts, and managing crises, while keeping the firm as fully operational as possible
Avoiding and managing industrial-relations crises are a job in its own right within the communication field. Keeping the firm operational in particularly volatile or emotional circumstances is not something where you can ad lib. In either case, expertise in managing human behavior and change is essential, as is solid experience of managing industrial-relations crises. This experience has to be communicated to the managers (through general training and specific briefing) to assist in controlling difficult situations that can arise in everyday dealings with the staff.
7. Managing the situation when negotiations have reached a stalemate
Often, a stalemate can be overcome by a thoroughly convincing communication initiative to the staff, sometimes backed up by the media. Examples have occurred where staff representatives have refused to participate in the works-council meeting where an announcement was to be made. Other cases have been where there was a ballot to accept an industrial-relations plan, etc. There is no shortage of instruments, but what really matters is to develop a winning strategy, based on extensive experience of the field.
8. Training and supporting the supervisory staff in their communication activities aimed at changing opinions, accepting that the information and consultation phase is over, and ensuring the business continues
Middle management is a fundamental link in communication with the grass roots. People now stress that 80% of the messages communicated by a firm have to go through the supervisory staff, with only 20% being amenable to management from the center. This is especially true for middle managers, who often find themselves very much alone when dealing with a restructuring plan and staff reactions and questions. It has been noted that appropriate training in change-related communication and frequent back-up in the form of arguments or questions & answers are really helpful for these managers. The positive influence on grass roots’ opinions and on continuing business is widely recognized.
9. Managing the post-restructuring relaunch in order to achieve the plan’s aims
During a restructuring, a lot of energy is expended and resources deployed in the communication of the project and the management of the different steps of the process. This often creates a specific dynamic in terms of communication channels that should be kept open and alive after the restructuring. This contributes a lot to remobilizing the employees around the company project in order to provide the impetus needed to remotivate the staff and achieve the firm’s plan.