Paul Holmes 26 Feb 2003 // 12:00AM GMT
The ServiceMaster Company (ServiceMaster) charged Dome Communications (Dome) with developing a strategic communications program to educate internal audiences about the most significant change in the history of the 54-year-old company. A restructuring was eminent – the result of ServiceMaster’s extensive portfolio review that included an evaluation of the company’s businesses, the markets served and areas in which each business could flourish in the future.
The review revealed several key findings:
· ServiceMaster had two very strong but extremely different business units—one focused on institutional customers and the other on residential customers
· To do justice to both markets, the best opportunities for ServiceMaster lay in the residential arena, while its Management Services businesses would be best served by joining with Aramark, a world leader in providing managed services for institutional customers to ServiceMaster’s unique culture, the Management Services sale would require precise coordination and messaging targeted to its many stakeholders
ServiceMaster had no uniform company-wide employee communications methods, and communicated at each business unit level.
Many employees had selected ServiceMaster as a workplace because of a shared value system. So, emphasizing the synergies between Aramark and Management Services was imperative.
Because some would remain as ServiceMaster, Dome had to position the company as doing the right thing for all of its employees.
Management Services had six separate business units, each with its own unique history, culture and communications paths.
Upon receiving the project, Dome audited company-wide communications vehicles to determine how best to correspond with employees. Dome learned that email and voicemail were the most widely used employee communication methods. Pulling from previous experiences, Dome anticipated employee reaction to different tones/wording in communications, as well as determined how employees would respond to certain spokespeople, the timing of announcements, etc. Due to the confidentiality of the announcement, Dome met with ServiceMaster’s human resources department to assess the most efficient way to address the needs all employee audiences that would be affected by the Management Services sale and company refocus. Dome also needed to evaluate the communications methods used by each business unit. Dome met with individual Management Services leadership team members to determine the most effective way to communicate as well as identify change management ambassadors within each business unit. Dome felt that the spokespeople need not be the highest-ranking officer within the unit, rather someone approachable and credible. Dome also made sure that these spokespeople were armed with the information necessary to respond at their respective level.
Dome next conducted a series of meetings with the Aramark management to discuss opportunities for employee growth within the new company as well as gather information regarding Aramark’s corporate citizenship program that would ultimately help the divested employees feel comfortable and positive about integration into the new corporate structure.
· Help ServiceMaster leadership and employee audiences understand the rationale behind the company’s transformation and how it would directly affect them
· Help divested employees feel comfortable that the values and culture of acquirer Aramark would be compatible with their own principles and philosophy
Dome knew that carefully timed and tailored message delivery would be a key factor in the success of the announcement. By developing an extensive plan/timeline Dome was able to ensure that the appropriate elements of the announcement would be successfully delivered to all of its audiences at the appropriate time. Dome also developed communication tools that would convey ServiceMaster’s forward-looking vision, strategy, philosophy and cultural values. Dome acknowledged and planned for the far-reaching effects that the transformation would have on ServiceMaster employees. Dome knew that another crucial element was to communicate steps taken as necessary in order to deliver on the company’s commitment to a residential new vision. In addition, Dome developed key messages, ensuring that consistent messaging flowed throughout all documents, online and oral communications materials. Dome’s approach included the following:
· Develop and draft all of the employee communications materials:
· A joint letter from the CEO and Board Chairman
· Email notifications
· Voice mail scripts
· Employee Q&A
· Leadership Q&A
· Key messages
· Leadership meeting presentations
Dome created a list of key employees and a communications flowchart that would be used to contact and gauge employee reactions on the day of the announcement and in the days and weeks to follow.
Prior to the Announcement:
One day prior to the announcement, with Dome’s strategic counsel, ServiceMaster held a key leadership meeting with the change management team, where leaders were notified of the changes to be announced and given a communication toolbox which included
· Key messages
· Guides for local employee meetings
On the day of the announcement, ServiceMaster held an all-employee meeting from headquarters where both the CEO and Chairman spoke; off-site employees in Memphis – a major corporate hub for the “new” ServiceMaster—listened via conference call.
Dome staff members were on-site at the company’s multiple locations to deliver additional communications materials, ensure a smooth process and answer any questions.
Dome offered real-time leadership contact list reports to effectively monitor employee perception as announcements were made by which to bridge any gaps in the communications if key messages were not delivered. Dome surveyed leaders in the following areas:
· Overall reaction to the announcement
· The level of employee understanding of the announcement
· The effectiveness of the communications vehicles
· Major outstanding issues or misperceptions of the announcement
Dome recommended that the information gathered be presented to the Board of Directors and senior management to ensure that they understood the effects of the announcement.
One week after the divestiture announcement, Dome coordinated the CEO’s trip to the company’s Memphis location where he was able to emphasize key communications messages in-person and answer any remaining questions.
To sustain momentum, Dome merchandised the positive news placements regarding the announcement with employees through company-wide emails and memos.
In a two-week time period, Dome was able to coordinate and execute an internal and external communications plan as part of a multi-tiered communications strategy. The program established the change, communicated its need and helped launch a new culture of two-way communication that fostered ongoing dialogues about the company’s new vision and business transformation.
Dome successfully turned a message that, if improperly developed and delivered, could have been negative to an overall positive story. Employees expressed high levels of satisfaction with the level and flow of communication from key leaders and they were encouraged by the ability to provide personal feedback that would be addressed and sought out moving forward.
Similar to the day-of leadership polling, three weeks following the announcement, Dome conducted a follow-up survey of the remaining employees on the same topics and found overall, long-time employees felt the announcement was handled with a level of skill and compassion superior to of previous announcements and that:
· 85 percent had a positive reaction to the announcement
· 95 percent were satisfied with the level of communication
· 75 percent felt their issues were addressed by senior management