To Engage Employees in Change, Don’t Emphasize the Facts — Do This Instead
Put down the statistics and develop a message that’s focused on employees’ needs.
One of the key elements needed to engage employees in any important issue — the organization’s strategy, a change initiative or even HR benefits — is clear, compelling messaging. Developing a key message platform helps capture what you want to convey in a simple way and ensures everyone is on the same page.
But far too often, the emphasis in creating messages is on packaging the facts. Indeed, most change messages are 99% fact-driven. The approach is typically like this: “We’re X% behind our competition,” or “We’ll save $X if we change this process.”
While employees don’t disagree with data, facts alone are not enough to persuade employees or motivate them to change.
Why, then, does so much of organizational communication messaging concentrate on facts? Part of the problem is the long-standing model for the function: internal communication as a particular kind of journalism.
For example, the home pages of most intranets are essentially news sites. Many companies produce newsletters that are sent (mostly electronically) to employees on a regular basis. Even internal social media platforms are often designed to share news and information.
But the mission of employee communication is not to provide news — it’s to help employees understand key issues so they see how their jobs contribute to the organization’s success. That means communicators are in a service role: Employees are our customers and we need to figure out how to meet our customers’ needs.
What, then, should you do differently when crafting change messages? Follow a formula that creates the right balance among four essential elements: logic, emotion, destination and action. (And, to help you remember, it’s a handy acronym: LEAD.)
The great thing about this messaging model is that facts are not forgotten (so you can reassure the CFO) but it’s designed to appeal to employees:
A good change message should always appeal to employees’ logical side: Here’s the data that proves we need to change. But don’t rely solely on the facts because they can’t create change on their own. If facts could persuade, no one would smoke, eat foods with trans-fat or text while driving.
Often overlooked is the premise that a good change message must appeal to employees’ emotions. In fact, studies have proven that an emotional appeal is a more effective way to change behavior than a logical appeal. The best emotional messages take into account your organization’s culture and appeal to employees’ sense of identity. For example, if being the best is part of your DNA, a change message might say, “This change will help you be more innovative so we can succeed.”
The first question employees ask when they hear about change is this: “What do you need me to do?” That’s why the more specific you can be about how an employee can take action, the better.
We all know change is hard. So it’s important to reinforce an attractive destination that employees can aim for. The best destination is both logical — “This is where we’re headed and why it makes sense” — and emotional: “When we get there, we’ll be stronger and more successful.” Change is hard work, but the destination gives employees hope that the difficult journey will be worthwhile.
By creating a balanced message that focuses on what employees need to know, you’ll build a strong foundation for engaging your people in change.
Originally published at https://www.inc.com.