Why Communication Matters in a Turnaround

Michael Fingland

Executive Director and CEO

Business turnaround is a form of organisational change, with the only major difference being the sense of urgency with which the business must act. This urgency of action and swiftness of change means effective communication is vital.

In a turnaround situation, businesses are often losing money fast and in some cases may only be weeks away from closing their doors.

We’ve spoken about the various stages of turnaround before, so this blog will focus on what I believe to be one of the most important aspects of a successful turnaround – communication!

Many of you are probably nodding your head in agreement or thinking you’ve heard it all before. We’re all great communicators – right?

Unfortunately this isn’t always the case.

In our work dealing with troubled businesses we’re often presented with business owners who feel they’ve exhausted all avenues to save their business. As a result the company now lacks direction and the workforce has become disengaged. Often at the heart of their problem lies a breakdown in communication with key stakeholders; the major one being their employees.

When I talk about communication, I’m not referring to the meetings with senior managers or a one-off email to select staff with a “blanket” statement about what’s going on with the business. I’m talking about communication that opens channels for real company conversations, at all levels of the business. Remember – communication is a two-way street.

Often in a turnaround situation, the information that comes from employees, who are in direct face-to-face contact with your customers/clients, provides a wealth of insight into exactly what’s working with the business and what’s not.

So as a business owner or manager, how can you communicate effectively, and more importantly create an environment where real conversations can occur?—Conversations that may save your business.

  1. Focus on “conversation” rather than communication. All communication should be viewed as an opportunity to encourage conversation. When a company is in crisis, you need the support of your employees. Engaging them in the conversation and letting them become part of the solution will create greater engagement and in turn loyalty. Our podcast Business Transformation: The Elephant That Danced provides a great example of how O.P.Bhatt used “conversation” to fuel the turnaround of the State Bank of India.
  2. Tell it like it is! Nothing opens the channels of communication more than being inspired by an authentic leader. Celebrate the small wins but don’t be afraid to share the bad news too. Be honest and you’ll gain the respect and support you need to help turn your business around.
  3. Build a culture of open communication. Leverage your existing channels of communication and also open new channels. The digital age provides many platforms for communicating (e.g. Intranet, forums, LinkedIn discussion groups, video conferencing, etc). Deploy multiple channels of communication to ensure you reach all staff in a medium that best suits them. Don’t underestimate the power of face-to-face time with your employees too. Take the time to get to know them, in their role, and the challenges they and perhaps your customers are experiencing.
  4. Share the company Vision. There is a famous quote by Laurence J Peter “If you don’t know where you are going, you will end up somewhere else”. In a turnaround situation, once the business has been stabilised and a new strategy developed, it’s important that you communicate the new strategy in a clear and engaging way. Again, deploy multiple methods of communication to ensure that all your employees understand it. Write it down, express it visually and present it verbally, all the while maintaining a clear, constant and consistent message. When employees understand what the company is trying to achieve they won’t end up on the road “somewhere else”.
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