Change is complicated and obstacles seem to materialize out of nowhere. But with the right communication strategies, you can jump those hurdles and guide your employees through the dark
Organizational change can make employees feel like they’re wandering through the dark — they can’t see what’s ahead, don’t know where they’re going and are likely to stumble. To successfully guide an organization through large-scale change, it’s critical to give employees clear direction and show them the light.
Whether a company is introducing a new business strategy, restructuring, incorporating an acquisition, shifting culture or implementing a new process, the change won’t last unless employees feel informed and prepared.
Here are four common change communication challenges and how to solve them.
- Change Seems Overwhelming
- Challenge: The change feels too big and abstract, so employees don’t know how to contribute
- Solution: Use emotion to motivate; provide clear direction
To shift attitudes, find the emotional driver that will help employees understand the WIIFM (what’s in it for me). Craft a story that focuses on the benefits for employees and the company. Ginsu didn’t become popular by selling its knives — instead, it advertised perfectly sliced tomatoes.
Will your change offer a simpler performance management process? How about a clarified reporting structure? Or increased options for career paths?
Find that emotional driver — the one employees desire — and leverage it. Once you’ve developed your compelling message, weave that narrative through every communication deliverable you create.
Bonus tip: Use the power of visuals to illustrate complex ideas and processes. Create an infographic that clearly depicts change objectives and processes from start to finish that can be posted and distributed as a constant reminder of your winning strategies.
2. It’s about “you,” not “me”
- Challenge: Employees resist change because they feel it’s being forced upon them; they want to be teammates, not spectators
- Solution: Get employees involved in communication
To socialize change with employees, give them an opportunity for dialogue with participative town halls or virtual chats with leaders. Plan your sessions to clearly explain the change, including what employees need to know and do, and why it’s important to the company.
Have senior leaders present the news — this will bring credibility and let employees know management is taking responsibility.
Reserve the bulk of each session for interaction such as Q&As and small group discussions. Our research shows that participation is the most memorable part of any large meeting. So leverage this strength by designing your town halls or virtual jam sessions to respond to employee buzz and quell the rumor mill.
3. Senior Leaders aren’t Committed
- Challenge: Leaders aren’t advocating for the change, so employees aren’t paying attention
- Solution: Create visibility for leaders and connection points between employees and leaders
One of the most pivotal roles in change communication belongs to senior leaders. They articulate direction, set the context (explaining why change is important) and provide motivation, especially when the going gets tough.
Leaders will find it easier to lead change if they understand why their position is important. You can set them up for success by explaining their communication role and why their position is crucial to the success of the change. Here’s an example:
Once leaders understand their role, you can help increase their visibility by planning their participation in a regular cadence of communication. Ask your leaders to:
- Facilitate face-to-face meetings like town halls, lunch ‘n learns and road shows
- Contribute quotes for intranet articles
- Author blog posts
- Lead webcasts
- Participate in social media with posts, comments or by leading virtual chat sessions
4. Managers Avoid the Change
- Challenge: Managers aren’t prepared to discuss the change with their teams, so they don’t
- Solution: Equip managers with tools and training
Who do employees consult first when faced with change? Their managers. That’s why it’s critical to ensure managers understand their role in communicating change and are prepared to lead their teams. Here’s an example of a manager’s role:
Prepare managers to communicate change using the following tools:
A. Communication Training Sessions
Often managers know what’s changing in their own area, but don’t get the full extent of the organization-wide implications. Make sure they have an opportunity to learn what’s changing, where and when. The best way to do so? Schedule one or more face-to-face sessions hosted by senior management.
These workshops can also include role-playing exercises to help managers solve business challenges together. Or interactive brainstorming sessions where managers are asked to contribute ideas and potential solutions to questions, such as: “What can we do to increase our rate of completion from 80% to 100%?”
You can help managers kick start conversations with their teams by providing a toolkit that outlines “the facts” and ensures that everyone in your company will get the same story. The toolkit should contain easy-to-use communication tools like key messages, a PowerPoint® deck and answers to Frequently Asked Questions.
C. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Speaking of FAQs…managers spend most of their communication time responding: dealing with issues as they arise, providing guidance in real time and, most important, answering questions. That’s why FAQs are the most important communication tool you can provide to managers.
Managers find FAQs most valuable when they are comprehensive, candid (no sugarcoating!), can be quickly searched for a topic, and are instantly available any time, any place.