6 mins

Having a concrete, centralized repository for how you announce change to your organization will help streamline the org change process.

As a leader, you’ll be tasked to communicate confidential and complex changes to your team, leadership, and partner stakeholders whether they be reorgs, departures, team changes, or manager changes. 

The details of any reorg are highly complex, and it’s not easy to juggle business needs and people's needs throughout the process. Though some changes are painful no matter how you communicate them, you can avoid many mistakes and stress by using a communication plan. That plan, usually a spreadsheet, tracks the stages of your announcement, including owners and dependencies, and will help you tackle broadcasting sensitive announcements more easily. 

How can a communication plan help change management? 

A communication plan is a centralized place for organizing the when/who/what of a confidential and complex message broken down into multiple action items. For example, two organizations could merge into one: in this instance, a communication plan is necessary to address changing business needs. This scenario is common and accompanied by issues such as leadership team changes, reassigned engineers, and separate teams joining under a single manager. When and how do you tell somebody that they have a new manager or that their scope has changed? When do you tell a manager that they have a bigger/smaller team, or a different role altogether? When do you inform your stakeholders? How do you avoid rumors and awkward conversations where neither party knows if the other has heard about the org change or not? All these questions are answered in a communication plan. 

Tell the appropriate people before any org-wide updates

Before announcing the change to all of the organization, there are some preemptive steps you want to take to inform those most heavily affected by the change. 

For instance, if you have selected someone to stand in for a leaving engineering manager, inform them as soon as possible of this decision. Additionally, make sure that the engineering reports getting a new manager are also informed of this development via a personal 1:1 – not with the rest of the company through an org-wide email announcement. If the original manager is assigned a different role within the company, however, make sure that they are the first to know of this change, then notify the replacing manager, followed by the reports. 

It can be a complex task to ensure everyone is informed in the right order. Time zone differences or people being out on vacation also need to be accounted for. If there is an instance where an integral person to the change management process is on leave for the forecasted announcement date, there should be a plan on how to handle this. Is it possible to reach them and inform them while they’re on vacation? Should they be informed of the change before they go on leave? Or will you move the announcement date to accommodate? Knowing all the details of the moving parts means you can appropriately modify the plan to accommodate for those challenges that are otherwise easily missed. 

During this period, it’s important to decide when and how to share the news with sibling teams, stakeholders, and customers. Large org changes affect both the company itself, and anybody they partner with. Deciding when to inform relevant partners is crucial. Most will be informed after the changes have been concluded, but consider informing some earlier so they can provide input and prevent false rumors. List all the partners in the announcement plan to ensure your timeline works for them, avoiding cases of customers knowing about a large company change before an engineer on their account. 

A communication plan outline

A good communication plan informs the right people, at the right time, with detailed and useful information about how the company will move forward with change. It also gives confidence to each leader who is iteratively brought into the plan that the announcements will go smoothly.

The plan should be shared with the people as they are being informed – typically only those who own an action in the plan. All those who are brought into the fold as the plan progresses should double-check that the right stakeholders for the right tasks are listed further down. This helps everyone better understand who knows what and the next steps to be taken.

The plan outline for each action item should look something like the below:

Fig.1. An example of a communication plan

  • Column 1 and 2: Date/time – With all the moving parts and dependencies, the timing of each action item is crucial for sensitive communications.
  • Column 3: Activity – The task for that action item such as holding a town hall, configuring changes in the HR system, or reviewing a communications draft. 
  • Column 4: Audience – The people informed at that step of the plan.
  • Column 5: Communication platform – Specify how the item is announced, this includes 1:1 meetings, team meetings, all-hands meetings, or email announcements.
  • Column 6: Owner – The leader(s) responsible for executing that action item. 
  • Column 7: Key message – For communications, briefly note the key message for each item in the plan.
  • Column 8: Dependencies – Many items are dependent on other items. Remember, you can only tell somebody that they have a new manager after you’ve told the new manager about these changes. Action items can depend on other communications being concluded or external inputs such as getting HR approval, finalizing a budget, or getting a customer contract signed. Clearly listing dependencies for action items helps leaders avoid executing actions prematurely.  
  • Column 9: Status – Shows if an action item has been started, completed, is in progress, or is blocked.
  • Column 10: Notes – Any additional notes for that action item that don’t fit the other columns. 

Take extra care of all the details

You want to name the file of the communication plan as something discreet. This way, if the file name does pop up in any file history or email notification while screen sharing, we’re not causing a panic. Don’t name your change strategy file “Major re-org.xls.” 

Make the communication plan your org’s source of truth and get buy-in from the action item owners to work off the plan and keep it up to date. If the plan isn’t up to date, it loses a lot of its value. Make sure everyone feels responsible and empowered to add items and share the plan with those already informed. 

Please use this template to create your own org change plan.

Final thoughts

Org changes are complex and, if communicated poorly, can substantially demoralize your team and cause major distress. By using a communication plan that’s shared with all action item owners, you juggle fewer details in your head and can more clearly spot where your chronological order might not be optimal. Ultimately, this reduces the complexity that comes with org restructuring and allows all affected parties to move ahead with minimal confusion.