6 strategies to effectively communicate change and make it stick

Change management teams know that effective internal communication is key to helping employees embrace change.

But with every internal change initiative, there are roadblocks and unexpected turns. In fact, more than 70% of change initiatives fail to meet expectations, according to Nitin Nohria and Michael Beer, Harvard Business Review. This is especially true for big changes — such as mergers and reorganizations — that have a significant impact on employees.

The good news is an effective change communication plan can help you conquer the challenges and make an impact — from getting senior leader support to avoiding employee change fatigue.

Here are six ways to overcome the obstacles of communicating the change to employees.

1. Explore the change

What do employees know about the change? How do they currently behave? What questions will they have when the change launches?

Depending on whether you can share the details of the change in advance, you can conduct employee focus groups to determine answers to these questions. One-on-one interviews are another option if the topic is complex or challenging.

Besides getting valuable feedback, employees will feel they have a voice when it comes to communicating the change.

2. Articulate your change story

Now that you know what questions employees have about the change, you can create your organization’s change story: a set of key messages that helps employees internalize change.

To create your story arc (or narrative), you should think about the following questions:

· How did we decide to make this change? Why is it important? (context)

· How will we know when the change is done? How is this different from what we’re doing now? (vision)

· How will we make this change? (plan)

Once you answer these burning questions, you’re ready to fill in the details. This step can take many forms, such as creating a two- or three-paragraph story. Or create a one-sentence elevator speech supported by three key messages that get into the details.

3. Select the right tactics

Your story is in place, so you’re ready to identify communication tactics that will help employees learn about the change and understand what to do.

Consider using a mix of traditional tactics (such as posters and emails) and interactive experiences designed to encourage dialogue, answer questions and identify solutions. Here are a few examples:

· Workshops to tackle a problem or plan on how to implement a specific part of the change

· Engagement sessions to brainstorm barriers to change and solutions

· Coffee chats or small meetings devoted to answering questions (No presentations!)

Another effective change communication tactic is to enlist the support of change advocates or champions. These are employees that know the change inside and out and can influence their peers to get on board.

4. Enlist leader support

If you want employees to know a change is important, you need to get leaders out there and talk about it. Here are a few things leaders can do to position change as a priority and engage employees:

· Share questions and answers. Every time a leader answers an employee’s question, great content is created. But what happens at a town hall doesn’t have to stay at the town hall. Instead, record the questions and answers and edit them to post on your intranet.

· Post photos on internal social media. Got a camera or smartphone? Of course, you do! Take candid photos of leaders interacting with employees, whether he/she is visiting a site, holding a small group meeting or simply walking around. Include a short caption and you’ve got fresh material for any channel.

· Create podcasts. Your senior leader recently gave a great speech, and you want to share it with others. Use the audio to create a podcast to post on your intranet. Employees can listen to shorter segments on their computers or download longer versions to play later.

5. Measure frequently

If you ask internal change communication leads about measuring the impact of their work, you often hear anecdotes such as: “Employees were excited!” Or, “Leaders are very happy with our efforts.” But this feedback won’t tell you how effective your change communications are or if they made a difference for employees.

You need to gather data to determine if your communication efforts are helping you meet your objectives. Here are a few ways to include feedback opportunities in your change communication plan:

· Spot surveys (three to five questions). Sending a survey after a big announcement or event can help you find out if you’re reaching employees.

· Participation data. Are employees using the tools you created? For example, if you created a new microsite to keep employees up to date on a new program, do employees go to the site? Which pages are most popular?

· Focus groups. Host an employee focus group to test key parts of your communication plan. Then hold another session after you’ve launched the change to understand what employees are missing.

6. Recognize successes

To sustain change, you need to show employees how the change is making an impact and the important role employees play. Here are a few ways to celebrate successes and keep up the momentum:

· Include a milestone tracker in your weekly newsletter

· Create an article series focused on employee success stories

· Give a shout-out to peers during town halls

· Encourage leaders or managers to send congratulatory messages

· Launch an awards program to recognize employees for outstanding contributions

Communicating change to employees doesn’t need to be a formidable task. If you include these strategies in your change communication plan, you will avoid roadblocks and make your change initiative a success.

If you want to learn more about change communication, take a look at our latest e-book, Change Communication Made Easy.



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Alison Davis

Alison Davis

In Dec 2021, we lost Alison to a five-year battle with cancer. Alison Davis led Davis & Company for over 35 years setting strategic direction for the firm.