It’s not uncommon for organisations to go through changes that impact their employees. Company rebrands to mergers and acquisitions and from office openings to product launches are just some of the many circumstances that influence change in a business. Although company change opens opportunity, it can also be unsettling for many and, in some cases, cause different emotional responses in employees from anxiety to fear and disillusionment. Every business needs to be able to deliver a positive communications approach that keeps employees clearly informed as the process of change rolls out. To make change programmes succeed, communications should be effective, purposeful and consistent.
Change communication needs to be all about inclusion and making your workforce feel engaged and part of the change process. It’s also about ensuring the program is aligned to your company culture and values, so that everyone feels connected and isn’t left in the dark, as many companies struggle with motivating and engaging employees within the change process. So how can businesses achieve a positive change communications process that effectively involves, and engages with employees? Here we outline some key points of advice.
- Communicate clearly and openly – With change comes some uncertainty. People can become anxious when changes are not explained to them effectively. Even if there are some grey areas, these need to be communicated as employees are likely to feel reluctant to fully buy into an approach unless they have had a complete overview and can see the bigger picture. As Priya Bates, president of Inner Strength Communication puts it: “A lack of communication in general is uncomfortable in any relationship. A lack of communication when going through change is disastrous. It creates fear and distrust and can cripple an organisation that depends on employees to keep the lights on to signal stability to customers and investors during disruption. I always tell leaders that the story employees make up without proactive communication is 10x worse that the real story you have to tell.”
- Focus on being inclusive –When you roll-out any change communication programme, it is crucial you avoid making people feel disenfranchised and excluded. If they believe lots of change is happening to them and yet do not have a sense of control over it they are likely to feel overwhelmed and helpless. An approach founded on inclusivity is key to overcoming this. According to Liz Clover, strategist at Home Bristol: “At the heart of our approach [to change comms] is always the people we are communicating with. What do they currently think, feel and do – and how do we want this to be different? What journey do we need to take them on and how can we get the messages across authentically and in a way that resonates. Being clear on who you are communicating with and the outcomes you want is really key. Other key thing is to make sure that the people involved have a chance to shape the future if possible. Involving them in shaping change always gets highest levels of buy-in.”
- Stop the sense of suddenness– Changes can feel sudden. This can have the effect of making employees feel anxious and alarmed. Delivering effective timely communications and clearly announcing and explaining these changes are key to diminishing anxiety. It is important to explain the rationale, the timetable and what is or is not changing.
- Be responsive– A lack of inclusion and employee participation in change can make it seem you don’t care about your workforce. Actively listen, acknowledge and respond to concerns.
- Keep true to your word – Don’t make false promises. Managers need to all be onboard and on the same page and there needs to be a consistent understanding. Likewise, leaders must set a clear vision on this and encourage employees. It is important to set aside time for face-to-face discussions and company meetings as the human element of all this is vital. You should also make these meetings two-way dialogues using digital anonymous and moderated Q&A tools, so that employees can give voice to their thoughts and ask questions.
This openness and willingness to engage in an inclusive manner is ultimately what differentiates good change communication from bad. Giving people false expectations, spinning the truth or plain lying and not sharing all the information can spread resistance and toxic feelings amongst your organisation. Getting change communication wrong can also damage the overall credibility of communications, so it’s vital to make the best choices. Organisations that follow the tips we have outlined above should give themselves the best possible opportunity to get it right.”