Employee Communications Empowers Global Crossing Turnaround
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Holmes Report

Employee Communications Empowers Global Crossing Turnaround

On January 28, 2002, Global Crossing filed for Chapter 11 protection in the federal courts, which at that time was the fourth largest bankruptcy in the history of the United States.

Paul Holmes

On January 28, 2002, Global Crossing filed for Chapter 11 protection in the federal courts, which at that time was the fourth largest bankruptcy in the history of the United States. To complicate matters, Global Crossing’s financial woes occurred at the height of the Enron crisis, and soon its own fiscal practices came under investigation by federal authorities and several Congressional committees. In the ensuing months, Global Crossing would seek to finalize an agreement with outside investors only weeks after WorldCom had filed for bankruptcy protection.
 Unhappy creditors, shocked former employees, pending threats of legal action, bad publicity, expected layoffs, and a general uncertainty about the company’s future were conspiring to sap the energy from a workforce whose performance and productivity would determine Global Crossing’s ultimate survival. Global Crossing also needed to educate a global workforce about an American legal phenomenon—the Chapter 11 process and the Byzantine activities surrounding the search for a new investor. To meet the challenge, Global Crossing’s corporate communications department had limited resources – in terms of both programming dollars and staff – to mobilize in support of a full-fledged employee communications campaign. In fact, the entire communications team would soon be reduced by a third.
The employee and executive communications team pursued four specific objectives to guide its activities:
· Keep employees informed and motivated during a time of rapid, continuous change.
· Provide information that helps employees do their jobs.
· Achieve acceptance by global employees of the importance of cost cutting and restructuring, which meant force reductions, fewer resources and office consolidations.
· Convince employees that Global Crossing would ultimately triumph due to their efforts.
 During its growth phase, Global Crossing absorbed employees from different companies and cultures, most notably through its acquisitions of Frontier Communications, Racal Telecommunications, IXNet and Global Marine Services. At the time of the bankruptcy filing, Global Crossing employed roughly 9,000 people worldwide. Through extensive restructuring, the company reduced this workforce to approximately 5,000 people by the end of spring. A sizeable component of these remaining employees faced a different uncertainty. Global Crossing publicly indicated it would consider bidders for three separate business units to raise operating capital. In the background lurked the potential for complete liquidation.
In retrospect, the employees of Global Crossing refused to yield to what critics, analysts, and the media continuously described as a hopeless situation. CEO John Legere called his employees “street fighters” who chose to accept the challenges of the situation rather than quit. During the dark, early days of bankruptcy, these people valued a clear, credible channel of information about the company’s actions, its strategies, and its successes.
The Corporate Communications team spent the entire month of January plotting appropriate strategies for media, employees, customers, vendors and other audiences. A special internal Web site (code named “Brando” after a team member’s dog) provided a centralized source for drafting, editing, and finalizing the documents and strategies that would support the bankruptcy announcement. During this planning period, the team established the internal structures and responsibilities necessary to weather the coming storm, including employee and executive communications across four continents.
Global Crossing possessed two critical assets that drove the strategy and execution of its internal communications initiatives. First, in the weeks prior to the bankruptcy announcement, the interactive arm of the communications team finalized two powerful Web-based tools—an HTML based e-mail newsletter (The FLASH) and a newly designed Intranet site (The Crossing). These capabilities allowed Global Crossing to quickly and cheaply disseminate information along a global platform, which in turn supported an aggressive commitment to supply daily doses of news, features, corporate announcements, FAQ documents, and multimedia.
The FLASH and The Crossing became symbiotic vehicles. The newsletter provided daily reminders for employees to visit the Crossing as a source for credible, official information; the Crossing promised an editorial schedule of new material worth promoting through The FLASH. The Crossing and The FLASH worked so well in concert that employees commonly referred to them interchangeably. Equally important, the interactive nature of the medium allowed them to quickly collect feedback and queries from employees and react accordingly.
Second, Global Crossing could deploy its dynamic, charismatic and passionate chief executive, John Legere, whose ease at public speaking made him a powerful instrument for rallying internal support around his vision. Global Crossing built a communications apparatus that would support regular employee conference calls, “town hall” meetings at company locations, extensive correspondence with the Board of Directors, and employee letters through The Crossing and The FLASH.
Global Crossing crafted a strategy to provide John with the right opportunities to maximize his leadership without wasting his time or energies. A corollary program of “brown bag” lunches between senior leadership and small groups of employees offered an additional opportunity to promote open communications between managers and their teams.
 Global Crossing quickly went to work. A skeleton staff of four people wrote or edited hundreds of daily stories and features that were broadcast to an international audience, including 10 executive profiles of key company leaders. During the year, we published 30 employee letters from John and posted video and audio links to 11 interviews he conducted in the news media. Nineteen scripts were produced for worldwide all-employee calls hosted by John (which were presented both through audio conferencing and streamed webcasting), and provided complete logistical support for 17 face-to-face employee meetings throughout North America and Europe.
Specialized sub-sections of The Crossing offered specific information about the Chapter 11 proceedings, human resources and product marketing initiatives. Letters to the Board of Directors at a rate of close to two a month were generated on John’s behalf.
The highpoint of these efforts occurred in late July and early August, when negotiations for a prospective investor reached its zenith. The team developed multiple scenarios to account for different suitors, and remained on 24-hour watch for the week leading to the official announcement. Immediately after the federal judge’s acceptance of a bid by Hutchison Telecommunications and Singapore Technologies Telemedia to secure a majority stake in the company, Dan Coulter, VP of executive and employee communications, beamed a confirmation e-mail from the courtroom through his Blackberry.
Within minutes, the FLASH posted an employee letter from John welcoming the investment; similar regional letters were instantly sent to European and Latin American employees. The Crossing also posted a special FAQ page to provide specific answers for workers. In less than two hours, John was on the telephone describing the agreement to employees through a worldwide conference call, and confirming that the company would remain an intact entity.
Employee Communications regularly polled employees for feedback following John’s office visits and conference calls, and workers were encouraged to submit questions and comments through e-mail. Many of these questions became part of a monthly Q & A series called The LOOP. A follow-up random survey with employees in January 2003 was conducted to determine the timeliness, value, and credibility of the information distributed internally by the company. Ninety six percent of the participants indicated their overall satisfaction with employee communications.
History has long demonstrated the power of faith. The extensive and open communications initiatives gave the workers of Global Crossing something tangible to believe. Against incredible odds, workers drove down operating costs, exceeded all financial goals, improved customer service (as identified by an independent survey), increased network performance, and signed new and renewed contracts with more than 2,000 customers. Due to these achievements, employees met their operational bonus targets for all four quarters of the year.
In sum, their activities saved the company. In July, a contest was held to ask employees why they believe in Global Crossing, and many of the submissions repeated the inspirational value of knowing what was happening from the mouths of their leaders. Gert Nieveld, a manager in the Netherlands, wrote, “Rather than hiding, leadership has been visible under the financial stress of the past months and openly shared information with employees and customers. That’s why Global Crossing is the best place to work in the telecommunication industry.”
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