How to Manage Change and Keep Communication Strong as Your Company Scales

Janey Zitomer
January 30, 2020

Whether they’re experiencing leadership changes, mergers and acquisitions or restructuring, organizations undergoing major shifts can’t overlook their employees.

According to Harvard Business Review, a survey of more than a half-million U.S. employees showed that nearly one-third did not understand why these types of changes were happening at their companies. This is bad. Because when employees feel like they’re in the dark, they’re more likely to resist change and fear the worst — and fear is not a productive emotion. 

The following five Chicago-based companies are on a mission to manage change by keeping communication strong. Though each business has gone through a significant shift within the last few months, including a brand refresh and strategic new partnerships, these transformations have allowed their leadership teams to thoughtfully adjust their management practices and communication strategies as each department contributes to ongoing company scale. 

“Successful change requires preparation and education,” said SurePayroll’s Amber Aggarwal, vice president of software development. “We prepared teams with change-management workshops and targeted training (learning Angular) to ensure everyone was equipped to handle the rollout.” 

To first educate and then motivate team members, the following tech leaders created employee experience groups, crafted dedicated employee outreach and even held a “wedding” ceremony to celebrate a merger. 


 

TripActions
TripActions

Earlier this month, TripActions announced its expansion into the European market combined with a strategic partnership within the travel space. Considering the organization made its first employee hire just five years ago, the news is that much more significant.

Both large and small shifts in company infrastructure require getting employee buy-in. Director of Sales Floyd Tucker explained how his team accounts for potential blind spots along the way. 

 

Change is inevitable in any growing business, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Tell us about a time when your company went through a significant change. What steps did you take to help your team navigate this change?

In six months, we’ve gone from two people working out of a coffee shop to 30 people working out of our third office. It was imperative that we started early by making sure that the team had a say in decisions and was able to help us look for blind spots. We created a group called CEET (Chicago Employee Experience Team), made up of one representative from every department. The group meets bi-weekly to discuss topics and make decisions as an office. Giving each team a voice has been a cornerstone of our ability to grow as fast as we have. 

Giving each team a voice has been a cornerstone of our ability to grow as fast as we have.’’ 

How do you keep communication strong as your company scales — both from the top down and the bottom up?

Change is our one true constant, which means we’ve had to be diligent in communicating at an office, team and individual level with messaging that people can rely on. Everyone takes in and retains information a little differently so it’s important we utilize a few channels and keep our messaging consistent. The follow-through across all-hands, weekly team meetings, Slack channels and one-on-ones means that no matter the messenger, the message is reliable. 

 

Flexport
Flexport

Flexport recently shifted cargo routes in response to current global market trends. While outward business decisions affect those invested in the industry, Midwest General Manager Scott Holloway worked to tighten feedback loops across the team.

 

Tell us about a time when your company went through a significant change. 

Flexport is growing fast, which inevitably means there are a lot of changes happening. The best way to keep people focused during perpetual change is by establishing and communicating clear priorities and OKRs that teams can work toward. You then want to get out of the way, giving your teams enough flexibility to experiment and solve problems as they see fit in the service of those objectives. This is a huge focus at Flexport right now, where a company-wide initiative to define our 2020 roadmaps and ensure they track to our OKRs is in full swing. 

Tight feedback loops are critical during periods of scaling.’’

How do you keep communication strong as your company scales — both from the top down and the bottom up?

Tight feedback loops are critical during periods of scaling. To drive these feedback loops, ensure that the people closest to your customers are empowered to solve problems and share learnings upward. Similarly, all levels of the organization need to be receiving clear, consistent communication from leadership (it can take five or six times for key messages to sink in). For example, at Flexport, our CEO begins every all-hands with a reminder of our mission. 

 

Milyli
Milyli

When Senior Marketing Manager Barrett Newell was first hired at Milyli, he was tasked with refreshing the company’s brand and product messaging. In doing so, his team overcommunicated the changes they planned on implementing to make sure no one felt caught off guard. He explains their strategy below, including the introduction of Slack channels dedicated to certain topics in order to prevent email fatigue.

 

Tell us about a time when your company went through a significant change.

The brand refresh involved a lot of design and verbiage updates to materials the organization had grown accustomed and sentimentally attached to. In order to get buy-in for the changes we needed to make, my team communicated a lot. That’s really the key to managing any type of change from the Milyli point of view. 

For the refresh, we set meetings to demystify what we wanted to accomplish and explain how the changes would benefit Milyli. Making that time to talk and incorporate feedback from around the organization allowed us to then move forward with support and enthusiasm.

We empower our team to tackle change with Agile work methodologies.’’ 

How do you keep communication strong as your company scales — both from the top down and the bottom up?

We empower our team to tackle change with Agile work methodologies and versatile work stations. But we’ve really focused on quality, frequent, cross-company communication since I joined the team. Our three founders host a monthly all-company meeting where they review sales opportunities, marketing efforts, operational news and product updates. 

Before these meetings, we receive a newsletter from our head of finance breaking down our business numbers. I collaborate with our head of human resources to release a weekly printed newsletter of crucial (and fun) office updates. These efforts allow the full team to anticipate change when possible. They also unify the team when something unexpected challenges us.

We know employee-driven change is important for true innovation and crucial for maintaining high morale. We solicit a quick monthly survey and a quarterly satisfaction poll where our employees can anonymously report their ideas and feelings about Milyli. Our performance review process incorporates space to explicitly talk about ways to improve one’s work or replicate personal success.

 

SurePayroll
Surepayroll

The SurePayroll team recently rolled out a new e-commerce platform for small businesses. Vice President of Software Development Amber Aggarwal said that before doing so, business leaders shared their annual strategy map with each department so employees understood their individual role within the project’s scope. 

 

Tell us about a time when your company went through a significant change. 

SurePayroll’s new e-commerce platform has meant an internal transformation, touching every department. Supporting change starts with sharing the strategy map we create annually, so everyone can see how their role fits in, creating a sense of ownership. 

Successful change also requires preparation and education. We prepared teams with change-management workshops and targeted training (learning Angular) to ensure everyone was equipped to handle the rollout. To keep moving forward, our employees own the changes and are driving continuous improvement by identifying ideas and opportunities.  

Communication starts with clarity of mission.’’ 

How do you keep communication strong as your company scales — both from the top down and the bottom up?

Communication starts with clarity of mission. We publish and share the strategy map we develop each year and we use it to track and communicate our progress. The alignment creates the context for our communications throughout the year. By relating decisions and updates back to the strategy, employees are able to understand the “why” behind our strategic initiatives and see the impact of their work on the company’s success. 

The strategy map and initiatives are at the heart of our approach to communications, helping us build a high-level awareness of what we’re doing and why. 

 

Strata
Strata Decision Technology

When Strata merged two of their departments last year, Vice President of Client Services Jennifer Rauworth told us that they used an employee buy-in strategy people don’t often think about: making the transformation a source of (nuptial) fun. She emphasized the importance of quarterly engagement surveys to help leadership understand what’s working — and what's not.

 

Tell us about a time when your company went through a significant change. 

We are constantly striving to improve, for our clients and our team. Change is a part of the journey.  

Last year, we merged two of our teams to align how we work with our clients and to provide growth for our people. To enable that change, we explained the rationale to the team, so everyone understood the logic. We set goals and we planned specifics. By involving each team, we gained buy-in for the change and ensured we met their needs (like realistic processes and training). We celebrated the merge with a “wedding reception” to mark the occasion and acknowledge everyone’s hard work.

We encourage folks to share work updates, as well as personal wins.’’

How do you keep communication strong as your company scales — both from the top down and the bottom up?

Communication is crucial to directing everyone’s energy and passion to move Strata in the same direction. We use different styles and approaches to drive messaging and inform our team. 

We have a set cadence for communicating regular updates that everyone can depend on. That includes team meetings, office hours, newsletters and company-wide retreats. 

Informally, leaders spend a lot of time practicing MBWA (management by walking around). These interactions allow us to communicate and hear feedback in real time. Extensive use of Slack makes sharing quick and easy. We encourage folks to share work updates, as well as personal wins.

And while communicating is imperative, we spend time listening as well. Feedback is crucial to engagement and retention. Quarterly engagement surveys help us understand what’s working (or not). Leadership’s door is always open – and the team takes us up on it often! Individual conversations allow leaders to learn from those in the field. 
 

 

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