The Point: In business transformation initiatives, everyone scrutinize every detail – Stakeholders, Investors, etc. So how can you effectively communicate so as to manage the discussion? At Tip of the Spear Ventures’ Business Transformation Consultancy — The Zeroing Agency — We’ve seen business transformations achieve less than full-potential results because of communication. So, in this post we’ll explore how to effectively communicate your business transformation initiative along with five tips… Enjoy!
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Business Transformation Communication
As a leader, you know that there are always a few challenges present in your business. Communicating with stakeholders (Your superiors, subordinates, and peers) during a business transformation initiative is perhaps the most difficult aspect. Leaders must be prepared for increased scrutiny of disclosures and reporting. Leaders are subject to rigorous performance discussions about their managerial-abilities. Leaders in business transformation situations must convey humility and confidence about any mistakes made, as well as a belief that they can correct them.
Leaders, Team Members, etc. will scrutinize every financial statement, report and public appearance for signs of weakness or strength, regardless of whether the business transformation is a formal restructuring or strategic redirection. Competitors will use any hesitation or ambiguity to win customers, suppliers and key employees. All these challenges are present simultaneously, when core business management is most challenging.
Communication during business transformation is not an easy task. Our research suggests that there are some guidelines for communicating with stakeholders. Leaders can improve their focus and support their teams by focusing on the team’s perspective, monitoring changes in support base, identifying future milestones and building trust/credibility.
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Five Tips to Effectively Communicate Your Business Transformation Initiative
Tip #5 – Communicate from the Team’s Point of View
To achieve a successful business transformation, there must be input from many stakeholders such as investors, board members, owners, employees, customers, suppliers, government agencies, communities, and unions. It is important to communicate early and often in order to establish a consistent narrative for stakeholders and convince them that the business transformation is a win-win proposition.
Investors hold the purse strings. Employees may be motivated to work harder if they acknowledge a company’s achievements and reward it by increasing their share price. If investors remain negative about a company for too long, it can lead to low morale and defections that ultimately affect the viability of any business transformation. A decline in share prices can lead to activists launching attacks or to a takeover bid for a company with a lower intrinsic value. In such a situation, news that is not good news is often considered to be bad news. This process can be accelerated and accompanied by increased risks from a lack of communication.
Communication with investors and team members is important to set the tone for all discussions. It is tempting to adapt messaging for different stakeholders. We have found that this can lead to confusion, conflicting narratives and increased risks. Some cases ended badly because the company misrepresented what it said to whom. We have also seen messages from internal management leak to investors and other stakeholders (such unions) or messages meant for employees confuse employees about company priorities.
Tip #4 – Watch for Shifts among Core Supporters
Even in times of great fortune, smart leaders invest their energy understanding the views and values of their most important supporters. These “intrinsic supporters” base their decisions on a thorough understanding of the company’s strategy, performance and potential for long-term value. They are more likely than short-term supporters to support leadership during a business transformation and to help the company’s stock prices move as it develops. However, we have found that supporters can shift more in times of business transformation than in times of crisis. This can indicate the difficulty of the transformation ahead.
Leaders can benefit from a thorough analysis of these supporters to help them assess the potential impact of any improvements. External agents such as public-relations or communications firms can help to identify pain points. Leadership must address these issues head-on and not hide behind pleasant statements and platitudes. For example, one company’s supporters praised management’s efforts in addressing hot-button issues raised during meetings between top supporters and the board of directors.
Tip #3 – Share a Specific Vision for the Future
A company going through a business transformation should have a clear and compelling strategic vision about its plans to fix the root causes of underperformance or distress. This meant that one client had to recognize its shortcomings in capital discipline and commit to improving return on investment and short-term results. It meant that another client had to integrate ten previous acquisitions that had tripled its size, reduce fragmentation and build a more efficient central support system.
A vision should include financial goals and an outline of how they will achieve them. The organization should be open about the tradeoffs it is making between saving money to improve the bottom line and investing in the business to sustain its performance after the business transformation efforts are complete. We have found that investors are open to reinvestment as a key part of long-term value generation. They are willing to support if they know what investments are being made and when they expect returns.
Although being too precise about timing can lead to problems, investors often value and sometimes demand a guidepost. One client company, for example, set a midterm goal to grow earnings margin by 18 percent to 20 percent. It regularly reported on progress towards that goal during earnings calls and in reports. A company that was part of a cyclical industrial industry business had been earning lower returns for five years. It set bold goals to return capital invested at or above cost. This goal included estimates of margin and cost improvements from its largest divisions.
Tip #2 – Build Trust & Credibility
Leaders of companies that are underperforming will not be able to regain trust and credibility with stakeholders until they have a discounted version of the improvements they claim. To regain trust, leaders must be transparent and open about their work and inspire confidence in their ability to do the right thing.
Tip #2A | Get Rid of All the Bad News. Leaders should be as honest as possible right from the beginning. This is a well-known principle in politics, but it also applies to businesses going through a business transformation. The opportunity for a new leadership team to admit all past failures and begin fresh is a wonderful one. One example: A company’s stock rose after it announced a write off of over $1 billion. Investors and stakeholders saw this as a sign that the new leadership team would take responsibility for past mistakes and make tough decisions about exiting investments that were still taking capital and management’s time. The task of a current leadership team is more difficult. Strong leadership is required to critique one’s actions and sometimes risk being replaced. Investors and stakeholders might be more patient when a business transformation is in progress, but they will wait for evidence to prove that it is working. If bad news keeps coming in, even the most dedicated stakeholder or intrinsic investor’s patience will be worn thin.
Tip #2B | Establish a Track Record of Delivering. Only communicate the goals that you are confident you can reach–using metrics and milestones that you review regularly. Then prove that you can accomplish them. Credibility is important in a turnaround. Nothing can undermine it more than making promises and then failing to deliver. Metrics don’t have to be strictly financial. One company, which had repeatedly missed its output and financial targets, focused its business transformation goals on operational metrics to show tangible improvement in performance. For instance, it tracked progress towards overall equipment effectiveness. Although these operational metrics weren’t directly related to top-line performance they provided stakeholders and investors with a way for them to monitor their leaders and hold them accountable for making improvements.
Tip #2C | Offer Incentives to Targets. Talk is cheap and sophisticated stakeholders and investors tend to gravitate towards leadership teams that are willing to put their money where it is needed. Structured compensation packages that directly tie them to business transformation targets and having board members and executives buy significant amounts of stock in a company are signs of confidence and commitment to keep their promises. One company presented a new incentive plan for business transformation that aligned incentives between leadership and frontline employees based on similar performance metrics. Stakeholders and investors responded positively to this plan, citing it as an example of the company’s focus and commitment towards turning a new chapter and a reason to keep their current position.
Tip #2D | Increase Transparency. Honesty can be helpful not only in the financial guidelines, but also for specific projects. Two made a habit of describing — during earnings calls or investor gatherings — 10-20 projects that would improve operational efficiency, cash generation, and worker behavior. The stakeholders and investors noted that they were more impressed by the clear picture of the transformations that these companies underwent and that they believed that the margin improvement was more sustainable than shortsighted cost reduction.
Tip #2E | Be Confident. Leaders need to project confidence in their ability to weather difficult times and compete with other companies, as well as a positive outlook on the company’s future. They must also show humility when faced with distress, regardless of whether it is due to past underperformances or external factors. Stakeholders and investors will be looking at word choice and tone to identify signs of arrogance or overconfidence that can result from denial of past mistakes.
Tip #1 – Brand the Business Transformation
Although branding a business transformation might seem like marketing to many executives, it can be a powerful way to create a focal point for the outside world and amplify the story to make the rebuilding effort more credible inside the business. For example, a client company gave a succinct name to its transformation efforts and included it in all of its external communications. Stakeholders, investors and media began to mention the project name in their communications. This was a shortcut for the company’s impressive transformation. It made internal and external communication more cohesive and gave employees some external recognition.
Brands can convey a feeling of new beginnings. A campaign name can be attached to write-offs, exits of failed ventures, or even boring PowerPoint templates for earnings call slides. This will reinforce a consistent, compelling story about change and help build critical momentum.
in this post, we explored how to effectively communicate your business transformation initiative along with five tips. In business transformation initiatives, everyone scrutinize every detail – Stakeholders, Investors, etc. So how can you effectively communicate so as to manage the discussion? At Tip of the Spear Ventures’ Business Transformation Consultancy — The Zeroing Agency — We’ve seen business transformations achieve less than full-potential results because of communication. Why?
Communication is not an alternative to performance. A stock price can only be driven by beating expectations and punishing short-sellers quarter after quarter. Leaders can build momentum by communicating with investors and other stakeholders in a thoughtful way to help them raise a company that is struggling to create new value through business transformation.