Straight Talk About Communicating Change
(Second in a 3-part series)
Last month we discussed the emotional aspect of organizational change and the primary reasons why managers don’t communicate change to their employees. This month we cover why managers should communicate change and practical ways to increase employee acceptance of change.
Reasons why managers should communicate: The business case
Communicating openly drives several business metrics. Informed employees are more productive and more loyal to the organization, and they represent your business more effectively to customers.
As a manager you can’t force people to be committed to company goals and you can’t control whether employees stay committed. You can, however, develop a reputation as the recognized source of clear, consistent and honest information.
Err on the side of more, not less, information. The more employees know about the cause of change the more they can help mitigate the effect. And the more your employees help, the more commitment they feel. Let your employees tell you when they have heard enough.
Respect employees enough to level with them about the downside as well as the upside of change. This way you can make communicating the instinctive, normal reaction of your team. Employees will reciprocate by sharing innovative ways to overcome obstacles.
If your employees only hear good news from you, they know that you’re not being candid. And this gives your team grounds for not trusting you.
As a leader you are a meaning-maker. You help structure a confusing and ambiguous environment toward a unifying purpose.
- Good communication is good business.
- Communicating openly and frequently keeps employees on the job.
- Sharing information makes possible improvements in cycle time, quality and customer satisfaction.
- Reporting difficult news makes good news more believable.
Increasing employee acceptance of change
With a steady flow of information your team’s norm, you are better equipped to communicate major change. Communicate a sense of purpose and confidence about the future. Tell employees what skills are essential to business in the future. Be up-front: Why is the change necessary, what is it intended to bring about, and why is it happening now?
Assume nothing about your employees’ awareness of strategic issues or financial drivers that created the need for change. Use existing communications channels—a reorganization or merger is not the time to introduce new technology or a new communications channel.
Make your messages redundant—before, during and after the change. If employees don’t get the information they need from you, they’ll develop theories and speculation based on fragments of information, rumor and gossip. Projects will drift and your credibility will suffer.
If there is going to a news story – negative or positive – give employees a heads-up before the story is picked up in the media. Try to explain both (or all) sides of the story.
Employees want to be respected as individuals and recognized for their contributions. Employees manage their careers and their households, just as you do, so treat them as adults.
Sharing information is the cornerstone of any change initiative. If you want customer and employee loyalty to climb, follow these recommendations. Your employees will be happier and coming to work will be more fun for you.
David Cheatham is the founder of Transform Communications, LLC, a communications consultancy specializing in aligning employees and implementing change across the enterprise. The company’s tagline sums up David’s approach to the workplace: Inform, Engage, Inspire. ® David also teaches in the School of Business at Rutgers University. Contact: David@Transform-Communications.com
© 2015 David Cheatham