Five steps to communicating change

Mergers and acquisitions, a slowdown in growth, leadership changes, company-wide policy modifications – whatever reform is happening in a company, it’s definitely impacting the employees. Change is never easy, but keeping the team in the loop retains trust and motivation. According to a McKinsey study, 70% of change initiatives fail to achieve their goals, and most of this is due to employee resistance.

Below are some recommendations on communicating change in the workplace and managing the transition smoothly.

  1. Be open and honest about the reasons. Employees deserve respect. Don’t try to shield them from what’s going on behind the scenes. If you want them to stay engaged, ensure they understand why change is justified. A clear and direct approach will dispel any suspicion that there is a problem you are trying to hide. A lack of transparency encourages gossip and rumors. It becomes clear that the company is on the right track when employees understand why the changes are happening. Don’t talk down to your employees – it only makes them feel unappreciated. Some companies mistakenly believe that their employees “can’t handle the truth,” but people respond well to honest communication. 
  2. Communicate change top down. Significant transformation requires commitment, participation and consistent role modeling. The employees expect at first place leaders to inform them about the current situation, complications and expected developments. Initial messaging of any change – considering it is significant and impacts the entire organization – should be delivered by the CEO (ideally in person) to all employees simultaneously. After it, it should be cascaded throughout the organization by directors, managers and team leaders in open and two-way discussions. That is not the time to hide behind the screen and hope the team reads the email. Get everyone together to hear your reading of what happens. Don’t forget the team members who work remotely or the freelancers. If they can’t be there in person, include them via video link so you can better gauge their reactions.
  3. Show your employees what’s beneficial to them. Remember the age-old guiding question:: What’s in there for me? Explain the advantages of the change and what employees can expect. Yes, things will be different. Acknowledge that to them. Yes, not everyone will like what changes. Acknowledge that, too. But after all, there’s presumably a bright side, so emphasize it. If there’s still no benefit, be honest. Outline for the team the steps that will make the transition as smoothly as possible, and add what they themselves can contribute. Then thank employees for their patience, cooperation and adherence to company policies.
  4. Focus your change communication. Carefully consider whether specific audiences will be more affected by the transformation. For example, if the change is to the company’s health policy, the company may want to develop special communications for families or people with chronic conditions. If the change will impact a specific department or facility, communicate it broadly, but focus on showing employees affected by the transformation what you are doing to improve their work and experience. This way, the entire company won’t be inundated with information that only a select group of people need, but there will still be enough transparency for everyone.
  5. Ask the team for feedback. Seeking employees’ opinions, you help them process and understand the change. More crucially, you get a feeling of how well you’re understood, whether the change is being embraced by the company’s employees, and how quickly. Once you’ve announced the basic “what” and “why,” ask your team to evaluate the issues. Depending on employees’s experience with giving feedback, they may be hesitant to speak up. Be prepared for some confusion, emotions, or adverse reactions. Allow employees to ask questions and answer them clearly and honestly asap. 

For change communication to be effective, it must build on the culture already established within the company. In times of change, it’s important not to deviate from standard communication practices. The rule about appreciating and “reaping” what you have previously “sown”, applies in full force during challenging times. So don’t wait until the time is right for change to build open and trusting communication.

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