Effective communication in times of change: Tools for success

“The only constant is change.”

This statement is true in many aspects of life, but especially so in the workplace. Large-scale changes are the norm at companies and organizations these days, with the workplace being continually transformed by progress and technology. For employees working at companies where change is coming, or even rumored to be coming, it can be a stressful experience.

It doesn’t need to be. While employers can never alleviate every employee’s fear of change, well-executed communications go a long way to building trust and making sure it’s business as usual at work.

Communicating in times of change

The key takeaway for any organization facing change is to communicate with employees and stakeholders at every opportunity. In fact, it’s almost impossible to overdo it. While managers may feel like a broken record, people impacted by change will need to hear from leadership several times in several different ways. In this case, more is better.

It doesn’t need to be perfect

It can be tempting to make perfect the enemy of good, but that’s a mistake in change management communications. Often, people frustrated by the prospect of an uncertain situation cite a lack of communication, or not enough of it, as their reason for dissatisfaction. While it’s important to get the facts right, it is also imperative to tell your story before rumors spread or someone starts telling it for you.

Make a plan

Get started by getting organized. A formal change management communications plan should be developed with broad input from those who will carry it out. Make sure the goals and objectives make sense, and the strategies and tactics are realistic and measureable. Above all, set deadlines and assign them to specific team members. Nothing keeps things moving like accountability.

Make it personal

For some organizations, big meetings and town halls will be unavoidable. Often, these meetings are useful communications tools. But the key to successful change management is providing for two-way communication, meaning those who stand to be impacted by change need to be able to ask questions and talk to real people. It’s one thing to sit through a long PowerPoint presentation, it’s another to have the freedom to ask questions in public, or meet with a manager in private to ask more personal questions. Providing personal opportunities is likely to help establish trust.

Reach out in a variety of ways

Don’t rely on one communication tool to do the heavy lifting. Effective change management requires many tools being deployed at the same time. Some of the most used methods of communicating change include using a company’s internal website, newsletters and emails, workshops, bulletin boards, prerecorded videos or live videos of speaking events, speeches, town halls, and more. “Communicate early and often” is the rule.

Don’t delay

It should go without saying that communicating with impacted parties early is important to setting the conversation’s tone. It also helps to let employees or other stakeholders know you will communicate new information as soon as possible, but that you value accuracy and reserve the right to update them as you learn more. Delay can be disastrous to change management communications, and nothing leads to suspicion more than leaders who appear to be stonewalling. The other sure way to get off on the wrong foot is to let your news hit the media before stakeholders hear directly from you.

Ask for input (and act on it)

If people don’t feel like their input is valued or taken seriously, change integration is likely to fail. I’ve heard managers say, “why don’t they understand what we’re telling them?” Often it is because impacted parties feel like they are just being told, not consulted. They may understand it, but not accept it− big difference. Oftentimes the people involved in the day-to-day operations of a company or organization possess insights that can smooth a transition. An effective change management project does not just go through the motions of asking for input, it seriously considers and acts on suggestions that make sense. Imagine an employee who points out to leadership something to think about, has it followed up on and considered, then either implemented or had it explained why their suggestion isn’t workable for a specific reason. Think of the goodwill this creates compared with an employee who does the same and is either never acknowledged, or dismissively told just that “it just won’t work.”

Lay out your vision and explain the need for change

You must have a strong, compelling reason for the change in order to gain buy-in. If stakeholders don’t see the point, or question whether the change is even necessary, seamless integration is doomed. All communications tools should clearly articulate the whys: Why is this action necessary? Why must it happen now? What is the context for the change? Most importantly, stakeholders understandably want to know: What does it mean to me?

Celebrate success!

Successful change management relies on acknowledging and celebrating wins along the way. When the team achieves milestones, meets goals, or otherwise makes progress, publicize it. Stakeholders who are congratulated and thanked in public are more likely to take an active role in being part of the change.

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