Change management communications: 6-step guide
Your change management communication sets the tone for your entire organization. Follow these steps for greater success.
Published April 29, 2020
Last updated December 30, 2020
As businesses respond and adapt to life after the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever that organizations get their internal communications right. To do that, senior leaders should focus on the audience of their change management communication: their employees.
Read on to find out how a focus on effective communication and employee engagement can help you carry out an organizational change for your business.
Why change management communication is so important
People are naturally resistant to change, but clear and specific communication can help your team feel included, aware, and prepared.
In a survey of senior managers, 65 percent said communication was the most important part when leading a team through change.
Meanwhile, poor change communication affects employee wellbeing and performance.
- 73% of change-affected employees report experiencing moderate to high stress levels.
- In a survey of 500,000+ U.S. employees, nearly a third said they don't understand why organizational changes are happening.
- 70% of change programs fail to achieve their goals, largely due to employee resistance.
If done well, your change management communication can result in a smoother change and happier employees.
Read on to see how it's done.
6-step guide to change management communications
Clear communication is one of the key principles of change management, but it's also one of the most difficult for companies to execute.
Read on for a step-by-step guide to change management communications.
Help employees understand the why
People will be more agreeable to change if they understand that there’s a specific reason why it’s happening. When communicating the change, focus on articulating your strategic vision and desired results.
In his 2018 book, Next Is Now: 5 Steps for Embracing Change, change management consultant Lior Arussy advises connecting to your core cause—the reason you got into the work you are doing—to help motivate employees to get on board with a change, even if it’s a little uncomfortable for them.
Your employees will be your change agents, so getting their buy-in is an important step in the process.
Prepare them with specific instructions and resources
Each stakeholder or stakeholder group will experience change differently, so each group should have a specific communication plan tailored to their roles and responsibilities.
Your communication should outline the specific details of the change management initiative, such as what’s changing, why, when, and how.
Consider how different functional roles may react to the change. For example, your sales representative might have different questions than your support agents, and you want to provide the appropriate resources to each group.
Sequence your communication deliberately
While it might seem diplomatic for your leadership team to send everyone the same message at the same time, this is not a good change management strategy.
There should be a deliberate sequencing of communication, says Dana Otto, Senior Manager of Change Management at Zendesk, and it often makes sense for information to be delivered to directors and managers first before being distributed widely.
Talking to managers first allows them to digest the information and prepare. This results in a better change experience because managers are fully informed and ready to help their employees process the change.
Internal communicators should be direct when communicating change, even if the news is hard to hear.
It's hard to give bad news, so leaders have a tendency to sugarcoat it, according to Otto. Instead, she says, “I think we need to be much more brave and be very direct with our communications.”
Additionally, when communicating a difficult change, it’s important to discuss the issue in person (or via a video call if necessary). Communicating face to face shows respect to those impacted and gives the issue the importance it deserves.
Repeat the message
The work doesn’t stop once a change has been announced. To ensure employees are both aware and prepared for the change, you should check in regularly via multiple communication channels.
Beyond your initial communication, you could also update your internal knowledge base with important information and updates. You may also consider activating an internal help desk, so your employees can escalate questions or issues as they arise.
Take advantage of your company’s messaging channels, like Slack or Microsoft Teams, as well. Providing a clear, consistent message across multiple channels can give your employees peace of mind during times of change.
Ask for feedback
When measuring the success of your change communication, consider two key indicators of success: awareness and preparedness.
Ideally, employees should understand what the change is and why it's happening, and they should also feel prepared to execute their role in making the change happen.
Talk to your employees and consider conducting internal surveys. In addition to surveys, make leadership available for Q&A sessions, and encourage open dialogue about the change management process. Change is inevitable, and each change is an opportunity to learn and improve.
Change is constant
It was the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who said, “The only constant in life is change.” Individuals and organizations alike are coming face to face with this reality in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In these times of uncertainty, it’s especially important that we understand how to communicate effectively and with empathy. By investing in your communication tools, your team can be better prepared for the changes yet to come.