Don’t let when trump what

    I’ve recently been working with a client CEO on announcing a major change in senior leadership and with two others on the potential merger of their organizations.  In both cases I found myself explaining a dynamic that most experienced communication pros intuitively understand is fundamental to announcing a major change: it matters a lot how and when people are told. 
    The announcement of any big change has a particular sequence to it, dictated by the formal rules of disclosure (especially for public companies and highly regulated entities) and the informal rules of the culture.  The former are relatively clear and the latter are unique to the organization.  What’s true in every case, though, is that the people affected – no matter how slightly—will reach conclusions regarding their importance to the organization and its leadership according to three factors:
• Immediacy – Employees and others will notice how close to the initial announcement they were told, and by whom.
• Order – They will take into account who was told before and after them.
• Frequency – Different constituencies will have different expectations regarding how often they are updated or asked for their input.
    You can tell when an announcement has been sequenced wrong. The classic example is when senior managers learn something big in the newspaper – for example, that they have a new boss or are being combined with another business.  Instead of focusing on the change, they’re distracted by concerns about how they were told and what the implications of that might be.
    It’s a simple concept, but it gets very complicated when it’s ignored. 

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