Magazine article Communication World

Looking from the outside In: Your Job Is Communicating Change. So How Do You Handle It When Change Has Put You out of a Job?

Magazine article Communication World

Looking from the outside In: Your Job Is Communicating Change. So How Do You Handle It When Change Has Put You out of a Job?

Article excerpt

The buzzword in business today is change. Organizations are merging, shifting direction, restructuring, splitting, moving and shutting down.

As a result, staff are being laid off and positions are being eliminated. It's a critical time for any organization, one that demands a communication plan to allay the fears of employees, investors, customers, vendors and communities.

Dave Orman, retired manager of employee communications for ARCO, recalls that his boss--an avid boater--understood the value of solid communication in rough times: "When your ship is in trouble, the last thing you want to get rid of is your radio," the CEO used to say.

Yet many organizations let go of the one staff member most valuable during times of change: the communicator.

This was the situation facing U.S. West Coast-based Bob Dixon, who served as director of marketing communication for a Fortune 200 company division when it devolved into a dot-com startup via a merger with another firm.

"I was involved in planning and preparing all of the communication for the merger, from drafting the press materials to executive letters explaining the deal to employees and customers, along with internal and external web content, revamped sales collateral and a trade show presence where we introduced the deal," he says. "'This is a win-win situation for all parties,' the CEO said in a press release I wrote. 'No jobs will be eliminated as a result of this merger, in fact, we're hiring.'"

Four months later, Dixon was informed that he, his boss--the senior vice president of marketing--the COO and about half of the sales staff were being let go. "Our office was to be closed in one week," he says. "On Sunday, I flew from L.A. to New York to set up a booth at an industry trade show as part of an event I orchestrated for a new product launch. I worked the three-day show with my soon-to-be former coworkers, hosted press briefings between reporters and the CEO who had just eliminated my job, and even made sure all the elements of his presentation (which I had created) were set up and running smoothly. Through it all, he didn't say one word to me about the firings. On Thursday, I flew back to L.A. and cleaned out my office. On Friday, I papered my home office wall with worthless stock options and updated my resume."

Although some communicators are left jobless by a company they've served for years, others are brought on board to help communicate organizational changes, only to be downsized out of a job soon thereafter.

In the early 1990s, Connie Eckard, ABC, was hired by LTV Corp. to help communicate the new corporate culture to employees as the Dallas-based organization emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. "The problem was that we kept losing appeals all the way to the Supreme Court," he says. "The Fort Worth IABC chapter invited me to speak on 'Surviving in Tough Economic Times.' That luncheon presentation was April 1. The next day, one-third of LTV's corporate staff received walking papers, including the manager of employee communication. That's right, yesterday's speaker was today's former employee."

SURVIVAL SKILLS

Because of their skills, communicators who suddenly find themselves on the outside looking in are able to develop a strategy for finding a new job quickly.

Eckard took immediate action to make his availability known. The day he was laid off was the same day as the annual Dallas IABC chapter workshop. "You had better believe that I was there, even though I was in a state of shock. I made full and complete use of my IABC network. I looked first in the Dallas area and then broadened my search throughout the state, the Southwest, the nation and beyond."

PR practitioner Rica Guarnieri advises taking some time off before jumping back into the labor pool. "Take a week off. Purge your system. Being laid off is an opportunity to change your life," she says. …

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