5 success factors for communicating organizational change
Organizational change is messy. Whether a company seeks to transform its strategy, structure, technology or processes, you need to encourage employees to embrace the change in order to succeed.
But that’s complicated because employees have different needs:
· Some have been with the company for a long time and are rooted in their processes. Others just joined this month and are still learning new technology.
· Some sit in headquarters where rumors are flying around the water cooler. Others work in a manufacturing plant with no access to email and little understanding of what’s going on.
· Some will be highly impacted by the change and have a lot of questions. Others just want to be kept informed.
So how can change management teams motivate these diverse employees to adopt the transformation, even though they have different preferences and challenges? By planning and developing effective communication.
In fact, 65% of senior managers said communicating clearly and frequently is most important when leading their company or team through a major change, according to the study “Where Change Management Fails” by Robert Half Management Resources.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. That’s why you should follow these five success factors for effectively communicating organizational change:
1. Understand your employees — and what’s changing
First and foremost, it’s critical to understand what your employees want and need in order to make change stick. Don’t assume every employee will experience the change in the same way. On the contrary, different employees have different preferences, and change will affect each employee in a distinct way.
Start by gathering any demographic information you can find, such as the number of employees in each location or region, years of tenure and the percentage of employees who have access to computers. This will help you determine how best to communicate with each group and which types of information will be most important.
Next, conduct a stakeholder analysis of the change. Here’s how:
1. Map groups. Interview owners of the change to identifying which key groups will be impacted. Keep in mind that some groups may only be somewhat affected — needing only to understand what’s happening around them — while others may be required to change how they work.
2. Identify what each group is required to know and do. Now consider what needs to happen for the change to be successful. Be as specific as possible.
By dividing your target audience into groups, you’ll be able to move from communication that is high level (and ignored by most employees) to information that is specific and helpful.
2. Carefully coordinate timing
When it comes to communicating about change, it’s critical to get the timing right. If you share information too soon, you train employees to ignore your messages: “That’s not happening until the end of the year. I’ll worry about it later.” But if you share information too late, you may cause stress: “I don’t have enough time!”
What to do? Find the right balance. Give employees enough time to understand a change is coming, so they can get used to it. And be as “just in time” as possible, so employees have the information right before they need to take action.
Tip: If you’re not able to answer basic questions that employees will have immediately — such as “What do I need to do?” or “What does this mean to me?” — then it’s too soon to communicate. Wait until you have answers to these fundamental questions before sending out messages.
3. Prioritize authenticity
A major pitfall to avoid is sugarcoating issues or holding back information. This typically happens because leaders are afraid of sharing difficult news and making employees nervous. But employees are savvy: They can see right through the spin and will feel disrespected.
Get ahead of this issue by training leaders on their communication role and providing them with tools to share the right messages. Develop a leader toolkit that includes:
· Leaders’ role in communicating about the change
o Talk about the big picture
o Answer employees’ questions
o Share progress and accomplishments
· What leaders need to do
o Include specifics from the communication plan, such as leading town halls or staff meetings
· Tips for communicating well
o How to host large and/or small meetings
o How to answer difficult questions
· An overview of the change
o Key messages
o Frequently asked questions
o Core presentation
Once your toolkit is ready, present it to leaders in an interactive meeting. (In-person is best but web-based can also work.) Help them understand how to use resources to their advantage. This forum will also give you a chance to emphasize the importance of transparency during change. Once leaders are sharing essential information, employees will begin to understand the change.