Change management: understanding the communicator’s critical role

7 years, 6 months ago


For Sanofi Canada, a head office move during a period of significant cultural change provided a golden opportunity to build greater collaboration and boost employee engagement. By Joanne Kennedy.

Early in 2012, I was enlisted to lead a communications campaign in support of our company’s head office move.  I did not appreciate at that time how my role and that of my communications team would support a significant change in our organization – that of a transition to a much more collaborative, transparent and innovative culture. 
Upon reflection, I’ve begun to see that any major change I’ve been involved in as a communicator, be it an IT system, a new process or a change in corporate direction, has been intimately linked to cultural change.  It has caused me to question, when taking on other internal communications activities, the degree to which they will provoke, or need to be supported by some level of cultural adjustment.  
It has also led me to believe that to be effective in implementing true change, there has to be a true partnership between communications, leadership and the department or function leading the change initiative.   
The move story
In 2011, the sale of one of Sanofi Canada’s business divisions prompted the relocation of our pharmaceuticals head office, based in Laval, just north of Montreal, Canada. Global corporate real estate directives required the new building to have a smaller square-meter allowance, thus calling for an open-office design.  
At the same time, the company, like most of the pharmaceutical industry, was living through extraordinary environmental transitions. Due to patent losses and the end of the blockbuster era, many companies were downsizing year over year. Sanofi Canada was no exception.  
By 2012, we had been through several reorganizations and employee engagement was low. Moreover, the offices where we had been situated for 42 years were "closed" and more conducive to keeping people apart than working together.    
The catalyst
As we began to prepare for our move, our corporate leadership changed. Jon Fairest became the new President and CEO of Sanofi Canada in April 2014. Supported by a new strategy for growth and corporate renewal at the Sanofi global level (based out of Paris, France), Jon set out to lead the Canadian affiliate through the transition of its culture as much as its move to a new office.  
For me in Communications, this leadership was crucial. Having worked for CEOs in different companies over my career, I can say that without leadership commitment to cultural change, it is very difficult to run a communications campaign of this magnitude and truly see results. Jon empowered Communications, Human Resources and a move team leader, Franca Mancino, our VP Medical and Regulatory Affairs, to put together a strategy to ensure a successful move and cultural transformation.
Our objectives were clear: Ensure a seamless move to open offices, keep employees engaged and transform our culture to one that was much more collaborative, transparent and innovative.
We achieved this through three tactics central to our communications plan:
1-Change Ambassadors: We knew that a top-down, "one-way" communications approach from senior management wouldn’t be successful in engaging employees in the way we needed. To ensure our transition to a new way of working that would be truly embraced by employees; we adopted a peer-to-peer approach, creating three teams of "Change Ambassadors" from across the company. 
The Change Ambassadors were divided into three groups of 10 employees. Each group focused on a different task: cultural change, technology change and ways of working (archival and going paperless). The goal of each group was to share information about the move with their peers, develop activities that would motivate and inspire employees towards change, and provide feedback from employees to the Executive Team.
The Change Ambassadors identified unique activities which were supported by communications. There was an "Open Door" challenge, where employees with closed offices had to commit to keeping their doors open for a full month. To track their own work habits, employees developed weekly progress reports allowing their reactions to be addressed and discussed openly. Empty offices were converted into "alcoves" to simulate the small spaces that the new open-plan office would provide for ad hoc conference calls or private conversations.  
To include employees in the change of their office space, the Move Team regularly sought their input.  Sample work stations were set up for employees to see and votes were cast on preferred choices of work station module, chair, carpet, lighting, etc. 
Technology Ambassadors helped select the technology to support our new open offices.  New workstations were equipped with wireless telephony, laptops with video capabilities and new software.  Smart boards and smart printers were installed.  Training sessions were offered prior to the move to ensure employees could work with the new technology upon arrival.
Finally, to mitigate the culture shock of the move to an open plan, particularly for those who had been working in closed offices for many years, the Change Ambassadors, Communications and HR produced etiquette guidelines for working in an open-plan environment addressing noise, distracting behavior, clutter, food and odors, along with the proper use of community areas. These guidelines clearly described the best behaviors for working in close proximity, paving the way for greater comfort and a more productive and harmonious environment. 
2-Open and Consistent Communication to Employees: Although peer-to-peer communications were important, we also knew that clear, consistent communications from senior management would be an essential tool in demystifying the changes and preventing speculation. With no budget for internal communications, we leveraged our intranet.  A page was designated as an archive of all our communications on the new building, from a series of special "President’s Messages" – emails initiated and signed by Jon Fairest – to weekly photos that showed how construction was progressing. 
In addition to providing factual details about the move, the President’s Messages were really a rallying call around our new culture, celebrating the small successes of being more collaborative and transparent and highlighting how we were innovating as an organization. 
3-Information Sharing: With the help of the Change Ambassadors, a number of creative tactics were deployed to make sure employees had the fullest information for moving day and got quickly up to speed once they arrived.  We also wanted to build a sense of anticipation and excitement just prior to moving. 
Tactics included:
  • "Get to Know your Neighbor" sessions, where employees who would be seated together in the new office – but might not know each other yet – would interact via short discussions around light-hearted or thought-provoking topics. Here they had the opportunity to break the ice, encouraging the beginnings of collaborative relationships that would be necessary when working side-by-side in their new space.
  • A visual "tracker" featuring stickers like "ready to move" for empty cabinets and drawers. These provoked discussion among peers and also reinforced the message that moving day was coming and preparation was required.  
  • A special USB "Key to the Office." Distributed to all employees one week before the move, the key contained all the necessary information to navigate the new space on the first day, including an interactive map of the building and pop-ups that explained employee services, floor plans, security, etc. 
Move-in Day and Cultural Change
February 2, 2013, was the day of our big move. This was the first time that employees had actually seen the offices.  The offices were designed to reflect our culture – they were open, spacious, light-filled and colorful, complete with "innovation rooms" on every floor.
Sanofi Canada employees were welcomed at the front door by Jon Fairest, along with members of senior management.   All employees received a bag of special housewarming goodies which, amongst other things, included a coffee mug, mouse pad, messages of welcome from our global leaders and information to help them with their orientation.  
The physical move went well.  We received excellent feedback from employees.  We encouraged them to leave comments and questions on the whiteboards installed in common areas on each floor, and made sure that these issues were addressed promptly.  We also conducted satisfaction surveys.  Eighty-eight per cent of employees polled agreed or strongly agreed that they felt "satisfied with (their) new work environment" and 60% said it had a positive impact on engagement.
While every organization goes through change over the course of business, the Communications function plays a critical role in providing strategic guidance and helping implement change. To contribute to a successful change management campaign, Communications leaders must:   
  • Determine how fundamental the change is to the organization’s culture.
  • If fundamental to change, determine how to empower and engage employees to help adapt to the change.
  • Ensure communications are regular (even more than usual), open and transparent.
  • Work in close collaboration with their partners from other corporate departments (in our case Leadership and Human Resources) in order to achieve campaign objectives, facilitate the bond of trust between senior management and employees, and secure employee "buy-in." 
Today, Sanofi Canada employees work in a beautiful open-space environment that makes collaboration and transparency second-nature. We are working better and are showing unprecedented enthusiasm in our approach to our jobs. While keeping employees engaged needs to be a conscious goal of all leadership, I am extremely proud of the role that Communications played in building a new foundation for a "new" Sanofi in Canada.
Author’s Details
Joanne Kennedy is the Director of Communications at Sanofi Canada and a Member of the Canadian affiliate’s Executive Committee. Joanne’s responsibilities include internal, corporate and brand communications, as well as digital marketing-communications strategy and implementation. 
Sanofi, a global healthcare leader, discovers, develops and distributes therapeutic solutions focused on patients’ needs. Sanofi has core strengths in the field of healthcare with seven growth platforms: diabetes solutions, human vaccines, innovative drugs, consumer healthcare, emerging markets, animal health and the new Genzyme. Sanofi is listed in Paris (EURONEXT: SAN) and in New York (NYSE: SNY).
Sanofi entities in Canada include Sanofi Canada (pharmaceuticals), Sanofi Pasteur (vaccines), Sanofi Consumer Health (cosmeceuticals, over-the-counter products and specialty care), Genzyme (rare diseases) and Merial (animal health). Together they employ close to 1,700 people across the country. In 2013 Sanofi companies invested $125.1 million in R&D in Canada, creating jobs, business and opportunity throughout the country.

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The Author

Joanne Kennedy

Joanne Kennedy is the Director of Communications at Sanofi Canada and a Member of the Canadian affiliate’s Executive Committee. Joanne’s responsibilities include internal, corporate and brand communications, as well as digital marketing-communications strategy and implementation.

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