The wrong kind of splash

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‘UK sees more flooding as tides peak’ leads the BBC news website today – a familiar story for those in the UK over the Christmas period.

And a related headline on the front page reads, ‘Environment Agency to cut flood defence jobs’.

So it begs the question, why has the Environment Agency picked this moment to release news that it is to cut 1500 jobs in the near future?

Chief Executive Paul Leinster has explained, “…the cuts would have an impact on flood operations such as risk management, maintenance and modelling [with] a proportionate reduction in the number of people in flood risk management”

With 188 flood warnings in place across England and Wales, including 14 severe warnings (meaning there is a danger to life), the timing and links between the announcements are less than ideal. Whether this was a leak (excuse the pun), or a clerical error from an un-media trained employee, it highlights the importance of well-timed and coordinated communications during times of change.

This is especially true considering the public – consumers and various other stakeholders –  are never more than a click away from forming an opinion about any major announcement. And of course it’s important to remember that in the context of a major organisation restructure, employees are feeling uncertain and anxious. Heightened media coverage and questions around the change won’t help.

Change and communication

At Able and How, one of the things we specialise in is how to develop, manage and deliver communication to support change programmes. Once a strategic decision is made to change the way organisations do things, people need to be engaged with that journey. And communication, at the right time and through the right channels, is key to making that happen if you hope to realise the full benefits of the change.

Delivering value in programmes such as the operational efficiency measures announced by the Environment Agency is down to execution as much as it is to design. And a lack of sufficient planning and central coordination in terms of change and engagement can have a tangible impact on the success of any change programme.

Increased risk

Arguably, the Environment Agency have increased the risk of a public backlash against the changes that are underway. As people wring out their soaked household goods, they will naturally be wondering why the Agency has chosen this time to reduce flood defence workforce numbers – even if the Agency has good reason and appropriate plans for the future.

Change programmes are challenging at the best of times and so organisations need to ensure communications tell a compelling, believable story – and of course that they are delivered at the right time.

William Barkway

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