Wilco Bontenbal

Communication during reorganization

How do we tell them?

In our practice and the multitude of reorganisations we have been involved in, we see roughly two ways of communicating. The first is the least pleasant for employees, namely the so-called “put out with the box” method. We see that employees have to leave the organization quickly, almost hidden. Communication is minimal. And to avoid having to make agreements with the Works Council or unions, individual settlement agreements are sometimes concluded between employees and employers. Often such a way of acting leaves a black hole for those who stay behind and on the other hand leaves an undesirable and skeptical feeling for those who leave.

The second focuses more on transparency and employee involvement (both stayers and those who need to look further). In this approach you try to pay attention to informing and involving all stakeholders. So in addition to employees, works councils and unions are also in scope. And as much as possible from the start. Explain, ensure a clear, fair trial and clarify what considerations are and what the ultimate direction is. Employees who leave the organization with a positive feeling, no matter how annoying the outcome, are more likely to act as ambassadors, which in turn benefits the reputation of the organization. It almost goes without saying that we see that the second way of communicating leads to better results. But how do you do that? We outline the main points for attention.

Take responsibility

Ben Tiggelaar recently stated in an article that in a conversation he had with Henry Mintzberg that Mitzberg has long disliked the premise that leadership is separate from (and superior to) management (NRC 23 May): “Management and leadership cannot actually be separated. If you have a leader who doesn’t manage, he has no feeling for the company. People like that are so busy at the top that they don’t know what’s going on at the bottom of the organization. ” This also applies to reorganisations. It cannot be the case that a middle manager (or the HR advisor) delivers the message and the director gets away with it.

It is important that leadership takes responsibility and is approachable or approachable for all employees. That means telling the story yourself and making a connection between the need for the reorganization and its significance for employees.

Making a connection is not the same as crying. Make sure you know what emotions are going on and make your employees’ way of thinking your own. Emotions are now mainly the property of the employees and much less that of the leadership.

Give room for emotions, without putting your own emotions first.

Dutch Prime Minister Rutte shows a good example in the recent period. It is important to get the message clear, to give space to the emotions of your audience (especially drop silences), but avoid talking about your own worries. Nobody needs to hear how difficult it is for you personally. Above all, provide a suitable tone, which shows that you understand the situation and appreciate it. Also pay attention, but above all be clear. Repeat your message without exaggeration and show confidence in the process and the chosen way. Stay behind your own approach.

Transparency prevents annoyance

Sketching a future without a step-by-step plan is unthinkable at the time of a reorganization. If you plan to only show the final picture, employees will only see bears on the road. Or even worse, they will guess at the steps to take. Nobody will have the same idea about how you can create your future picture. You are guaranteed to organize gossip and backbiting. So tell what steps you will take when. And also let us know when you inform your people about the state of affairs. Then stick to that, otherwise you will have shown yourself unreliable.


  • Keep the long-term story clear for the people who stay, involve them. Don’t make them an outsider.
  • Drop silences to let the message sink in. Avoid discussions and keep the goal in mind: getting the message across. “Don’t comfort, don’t raise expectations and keep the conversation short.”
  • The non-verbal is just as important as the verbal; take your words seriously.
  • Also pay attention to whether your message has been received and always put it in writing to be sure, because usually a bad message comes across badly. Even if you tell the story neatly, people tend to deny, downplay and annoy annoying statements.
  • Tell your story from the perception of your audience: how do they feel, what are they looking for? Think of the stayers and the goers.
  • Be clear about what you now know how you intend to get there.
  • Be honest about what you don’t know yet.
  • Make it clear when new information is being told again and stick to it. Be consistent.
  • After plenary communication, make sure that there is room for giving meaning to the message in teams or departments. Prepare your managers or supervisors to do this well in advance.


    Continuity is central to the content of your story. You want to indicate that reorganization is necessary for the continuity of the organization. But you also want employees to experience continuity in their work. Business continues during the renovation. Customers still need to be well served. To ensure that it is necessary to make the connection between the future model and how this is the only way that contributes to the continuity of the organization. Make it clear that it is really necessary. Unions will also be interested in this.

    (After) care

    Take care of your employees. Actually as always, but now with even more attention and pro-activity. A good example is organizing so-called breakout sessions after plenary meetings. Ensure that employees are well received and can express their emotions in smaller groups. Provide space there for asking questions. At the same time, ensure that leaders are well equipped for this role.

    From work to work effort! PS. the government helps.

    Perhaps more difficult to realize and not directly in the interest of the company, but try to help your employees find new work. Various measures (in addition to the government’s message to play a role in this) show that employers are expected to help and support the transition from work to work. Incidentally, from July the dutch cabinet will make € 50 million euro’s available under the heading “NL learns by” for online training of employees of companies affected by the Corona crisis.