Straight Talk About Communicating Change
(Third in a 3-part series)

Last time we discussed why managers should communicate change and practical ways to increase employee acceptance of change. In this last article in our series we will address the operational questions of sharing important news—how, what and when.

How should you communicate major news?
As a manager you are responsible for understanding changes and positioning them with your employees in terms that speak directly to their concerns.

Describe the change in a clear, straightforward manner–no sugar-coating or jargon. Don’t downplay the significance of the change. Don’t make promises about the future that may not hold true. howExplain why the action was taken: What’s the logic? How does it support your mission? What was being done wrong? How will the action solve the problem?

Deliver the message promptly. Reactive communication is defensive and apologetic. If the decision was painful to make, admit it. Outline the alternatives that were considered, and why they weren’t implemented.

Describe the action required and what can be done to avoid the problem in the future–sales must increase, costs must be controlled, new performance expectations must be put in place, new quality standards must be adopted.

Deliver key messages yourself. Communicate often–and frequently in person. Display a willingness to address challenging questions. Listen carefully and then follow up with actions.

Balance your information flow. The most common misconception is that “we can’t communicate too much.” That’s like saying, “I can’t water my garden too much.” Information, like water, can nourish or flood.

what-shoudl-i-sayWhat should you say?
Companies often announce the solutions (“We’re going to have layoffs”) before they tell employees that they share common ground (“The market is changing”). A steady flow of information puts bad news in perspective and makes good news more credible.

As a manager, your communication objectives should be to:
• Explain and promote new programs and policies.
• Help employees understand the business direction and imperatives.
• Educate employees about the organization’s values and culture.
• Provide information about issues that affect the corporation’s performance.
• Tie that information into feedback to improve job performance.

To accomplish these objectives, use downward and upward communication. When your team has too few, or infrequently used, feedback mechanisms, you risk being blind-sided by employee dissatisfiers.

Speak frankly about changes. Regularly sample employee opinion. Measure communication effectiveness through informal meetings and focus groups.
Communicate what you’re not changing. This localizes the information and takes the wind out of rumors.

What should you communicate? Everything that you’d want to know.

When should you deliver the news?
Timeliness is vital. Communicate what you know, when you know it: “Here’s what we know as of today.” Don’t wait until every detail is resolved to tell employees what the current situation is, and if it changes, tell them why you made the adjustment.

Communicate continuously. In an information-rich environment employees are more forgiving of an occasional error.

Tell employees when the change has been fully implemented. Explain the observed benefits. Give credit to employees who helped make it work.   When possible, give employees enough time to react so they can change behaviors, acquire new skills, find new jobs, or make other decisions.


Cheatham headshot (2)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:

© 2015 David Cheatham

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