While many communication scenarios present challenges, one particularly complex situation is communicating change. Whether a new employee policy on the appropriate use of company resources or an impending downsizing, effectively communicating change requires a thorough approach. These five essentials lay the foundation for a communication strategy that gets the job done.
Five Essential for Communicating Change
Timing. There are several elements to proper timing for communications. First and foremost, executives already need to be in agreement and have a full understanding of the forthcoming change. What is the purpose, what is the outcome, and how will it impact an employee’s day-to-day way of working (if at all). In other words, employees want to understand the end game first and foremost. They get there is one step at a time. Secondly, present new information in a timely matter. The longer you sit on new information, the higher the probability of it leaking out or employees making up their own scenarios, which get communicated as fact. Finally, to maximize impact, make certain that the initial rollout does not fall on a religious holiday or during peak vacation time.
Transparency. As Peter Drucker has stated ‘the knowledge worker is the single greatest asset’ in business and thus, it is vital that employees are ‘kept in the know.’ Informing employees about developments within the organization will enable them to better align themselves with the corporate vision. Good news is good. Bad news is bad. Don’t sugar coat it in an effort to make it easier to digest. You employee adults; treat them as such.
Multiple Channels. Communicate consistently, frequently, and through multiple channels, including speaking, writing, video, training, focus groups, bulletin boards, and Intranets. Include top leadership whenever possible to reiterate the vision and answer questions. It’s also good to include an online question and answer forum so long as you have a dedicated communication staff to monitor and respond.
Regular Updates. Not only will regular updates help managers focus on getting the work done, it will reduce the overall time spent on crisis management. Regular updates help employees feel a part of the process. Moreover, regular updates reduce rumors and second-guessing that often derail change initiatives. The most common reason why change initiatives fail, according to a 1991 study of change within 43 organizations conducted by Larry Semeltzer, is on account of inaccurate or negative rumors that circulated because management was focused on communicating with the public and with stakeholders more than with their employees.
A Team of One. Creating a shared need and shaping a compelling vision are more effective when employees are encouraged to become the ambassadors of change. In addition to having a positive impact on implementation, the inclusive engagement also enhances productivity. True to form high performing employees will tend to be early adopters and become ambassadors of the mandated course of action.
Shifting the Change Paradigm
While communicating change may create apprehension amongst management and communication teams, Chris Musselwhite and Tammie Plouffe recommend a new approach. In their Harvard Business Review article Communicating Change as Business as Usual, they suggest referring to change management as change readiness. Not only does it feel less like work, but it also establishes a mindset of organizational agility, ease, and flow.
So how about we change the way we frame change communications. No pun intended, of course.
Sheila Callaham is an author, motivational coach, and longtime communications and change management professional.