In Zeiten des immer schnelleren Wandels werden notwendige Restrukturierungsprozesse im Großteil der Unternehmen durch „Change Communication“, zu Deutsch „Veränderungskommunikation“, begleitet. Diese Kommunikation ist ein entscheidender Faktor für den Erfolg der Maßnahmen. Wie Sie dabei helfen, Veränderungen auch nach außen zu kommunizieren, lesen Sie in diesem Beitrag.
Change Communication nach innen
Der Kienbaum-Studie „Change Communication 2010 – die Wirtschaftskrise und ihre Herausforderungen“ zufolge richten 90 Prozent der befragten Unternehmen die Kommunikation auf die Belegschaft aus (s. auch English@work 1-2012: Erfolgreiche Change Communication).
Das ist verständlich, weil im Unternehmen selbst die größten Widerstände gegenüber Veränderungen zu erwarten sind. Und nur wenn die Mitarbeiter mitziehen, haben Neuerungen Erfolg.
Change Communication nach außen
Doch Veränderungen können auch nach außen wirken: auf Kunden oder Lieferanten, die sich auf neue Standorte oder Vertragsbedingungen einstellen müssen. Das kann zu Verunsicherungen führen, zu einem erheblichen Imageschaden des Unternehmens oder schlimmstenfalls zum Abwandern zu „verlässlicheren Partnern“.
Der Schaden, der hier entstehen kann, ist sicher nicht weniger erheblich als der auf innerbetrieblicher Ebene. Dieser Tatsache tragen über 50 Prozent der Unternehmen Rechnung.
Unless they have initiated them, changes generally tend to cause negative feelings in the individuals who are affected by them. This is because human beings are creatures of habit.
We want to change things ourselves or else have them stay the same. If we have to deal with changes from an outside source we will have to change our habits whether we want to or not. In many cases this causes discomfort or even fear. This is true for the company team and for customers and providers as well.
Veränderungen, die kommuniziert werden müssen
There are many kinds of changes which need to be communicated to business partners. A closer look shows that they are of very different quality from an outside point of view, that changes could appear to have a different meaning to an outsider.
Here are some of those bigger and smaller changes:
- shut-down (BE)/ close-down (AE),
- telephone number,
- banking details.
Changing telephone numbers or banking details seem to be small changes in comparison to a shut-down or a merger. But in fact they could signal just a small part of the real change, which in many cases might go much farther and might be a result of an economic crisis.
If the clients don’t get information in time or from the wrong source, they might begin to speculate that there is more to the change than meets the eye.
Changing a light bulb
- How many journalists does it take to change a light bulb? “We just report the facts, we don’t change them.”
- How many cops does it take to screw in a light bulb? None. It turned itself in.
- How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb? One, but he’ll bill you for five!
- How many consultants does it take to change a light bulb? We don’t know. They never get past the feasibility study.
- How many members of the government does it take to change a light bulb?
Members of the government never change light bulbs; they prefer to keep the public in the dark.
To avoid negative connotations for the whole company it is crucial to find the positive aspects of the changes and communicate them to your customer base and suppliers.
Stellen Sie Veränderungen positiv dar
There are two possible ways of announcing changes to your customers, partners or suppliers. Choose one according to the situation:
1. the matter-of-fact way, or
2. the explanatory way.
1. The matter-of-fact way
This is fine for big changes with little effect on the customers, e.g. a change of address, as long as the type of company will not change (as this might have consequences e.g. for the contracts with suppliers). But if the change is more farreaching an explanation is absolutely necessary.
To just state the facts, sending out a change-of-address or phone number card is a good option.
Musterbrief: Karte Umzug (faktisch, unpersönlich)
Dear Ms Klimt
We want to inform you that on Monday 1 May 2012 our company will be moving to new offices at Fürstenstraße 33, 54003 Entenhafen.
Your contact person will remain the same, as will telephone and fax numbers.
This card is very matter of fact. You can add some background information as a door opener and to make clear that there is nothing sinister behind this move:
- Our current location has become too small for our growing staff and range of products.
Insider tip from your British editor Maureen Brown
Coordinate the card layout (maybe a photo of the new building or a sketch and a caption suitable for the occasion), and the number of cards to be printed with your boss and order new stationery in time.
2. The explanatory way
This alternative might be the better choice for large businesses or for occasions which might give your partners cause to be concerned.
And in such cases it is very important to point out the positive aspects – for the customer or the supplier.
Musterbrief: Gesellschaftsform geändert ( erläuternd, individuell)
Dear Mr Becker
Today we are writing to inform you that our company will change its legal status from XY to YY.
This will have no affect on our business dealings or in any way change the good business relationship we have established over the years. Our staff and management remain the same. We are in fact confident that we will be able to offer you a wider range of the services on which our company’s good reputation has been built over the last five years.
Thank you for being our valued customer for so many years now.
We look forward to welcoming you in our newly refurbished offices soon.
This letter states the fact of change. Without the explanation the customer might have sensed a problem and withdrawn his business. Now he knows that things will continue as usual.
„Verpacken“ Sie negative Umstände positiv
But what can be done if the changes go even deeper: i.e., if staff have to be reduced and the terms of business change too?
Insider tip from your American editor Jennifer Hohensteiner
Remember the dos and don’ts for negative messages: Avoid words with negative connotations like “unfortunately” and “sorry” and instead get the message out in a positive way!
E.g., don’t say: “I cannot do this for you”; say “Ms Dromer can help you!” instead.
Here comes a little training exercise for you to keep you in form. Try to find a positive way to avoid the negative message of the following sentences. These sentences can be used in face-to-face or written communication.
Exercise: Negatives positiv verpacken
|Your contact person had to leave the company.|
|We had to merge with XY due to poor sales figures.|
|The close-down of our Cologne office means you have to travel farther to see us.|
|We are sorry to tell you that we will have to change our business contracts.|
Der passende Zeitpunkt
You don’t want your business partner to hear about important changes on the grapevine. Therefore, they should be communicated in advance. This will avoid misinterpretations and rumours. Keeping customers informed in a timely manner will give your company a reputation for being trustworthy and reliable.
But what is the best point in time to announce, say, a move?
Your clients don’t think of your company day and night, so it is not necessary to notify them about the change earlier than two to three weeks before the event. You can then bring up the change again on the phone or in a face-to-face meeting closer to the date.
In case of a change in the banking details it is only necessary to put a remark on the outgoing invoices.
And who needs to learn of these details?
creature of habit – Gewohnheitstier
customer base – Kundschaft
discomfort – Unbequemlichkeit
extension – Erweiterung
hear on the grapevine – aus der Gerüchteküche erfahren
merger – Fusion
provider – Lieferant
shut-down (BE)/close-down (AE) – Schließung
stationery – Briefpapier
Zielgruppen außerhalb des Unternehmens
Everybody who is in contact with your company: clients, former and future employees, suppliers, tax advisers, lawyers …
According to the Kienbaum study:
- most companies communicate changes to their clients,
- half of all companies find it important to communicate changes to the media,
- and a smaller amount (37 percent) of companies think it important to inform the local community.
Taking care that the company’s reputation does not suffer any damage is especially important for international companies and global players, as changes within these companies will not be as obvious as they might be for smaller ones.
Corporate Identity ändern
Remember that if your company’s location, phone number or legal form changes, it will not only affect the company letterhead, but every aspect of corporate identity:
- entries in all sorts of online and print data bases such as telephone directories,
- company cars,
- brochures and handouts,
- company website,
- social media such as Facebook, Xing, Twitter,
- e-mail signatures.
Insider tip from your British editor Maureen Brown
Contact your telephone provider about leaving a voicemail on your old phone number for those customers who might not have read your notice.
Thank you for calling XY company. Our phone number has changed to ………
Please hang up and dial again.
If you write individual letters you can even use this occasion to do a bit of networking: Revive old contacts, build up new business relations! In this way communicating change can even be a part of your marketing strategy.