5 tips for managing communication to lead successful change

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8 August 2019
Written by Speak First Linked-in icon

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“The riskiest thing we can do is just maintain the status quo.” – Bob Iger, Disney CEO.

This is absolutely true. Whether it’s adopting new technologies or expanding into bigger premises, some changes are essential for organisations to progress and grow. Think about how many shops have closed because they stuck to the status quo and failed to adapt to the changing online landscape?

Some changes are major organisational shifts, such as relocating an office across the country, and some are as minor as a slight rebrand, requiring people to remember to use new headed paper. Nevertheless, every change is motivated by the desire to drive the organisation forward and requires strong communication from the leadership team to ensure its success.

Unfortunately, not everyone views change positively, and some may see it as a threat or an unnecessary nuisance. You might think about the way new technologies will help your organisation modernise, but your staff may dread retraining and abandoning their tried-and-tested routines. Success in implementing change often relies on the support of those most affected, and by following our tips, you can go through the process with everyone feeling as positive as possible.

1. Explain the benefits
The most important part of making changes in an organisation is ensuring your staff understand and support them. You, or whoever’s leading and initiating the changes, should conduct meetings with those who are going to be affected and clearly articulate what’s happening and how it’s going to happen. You might have been asked by a more senior member of management to run these meetings, even though you weren’t the one who decided to make the change, but you still need to be articulate and positive in order to get your team on board.

It can be tempting to start explaining exactly why this decision was made, but at this stage it’s best to just stick to the basic information. There will be opportunities to explain and justify everything, but for now people just want the basic information – especially if the change is likely to be unpopular.

You can discuss the overall benefits that the change will have on the wider organisation, but make sure you also talk about how it will help them as individuals too. It might be difficult to persuade staff to adopt a new system purely so the company can boost efficiency and increase profits, but if you can demonstrate that it has a better interface which is easier and simpler to use, then they’ll be more willing to put up with the temporary disruption.

2. Be honest about the risks
Be straightforward and upfront when describing the risks and any possible downsides to the change. If the change means additional work for some staff, or downsizing a particular group, be honest. One of the main reasons people resist change is because they fear the effort and risks involved won’t be worth the results, so laying out everything at the beginning will help to control and limit these doubts.

You should also let them know about any potential risks or issues that may occur during the change process itself – such as teething problems with new technologies. The more honest you can be, the better. It might be tempting to try glossing over the risks in order to make the change sound better, but this could actually result in looking like you’re trying to cover up, or oblivious to, the reality of the situation.

Don’t forget to describe what support the organisation will provide during the transition period. If there will be things like increased workloads or the need for staff to relocate, let those affected know how you’ll help them and who to talk to about any issues.

3. Encourage questions
When announcing changes, you should expect and encourage people to ask questions. If the news comes as a surprise to people in your organisation, then you’ll experience everyone’s first reactions – positive, negative, enthusiastic or fearful – and if the news was already known before the formal announcement, then you can probably expect more considered questions. Either way, give people a chance to ask their questions and voice their concerns, and use active listening to answer what you can, demonstrate empathy and an understanding of their concerns.

The key to the entire change process is communication between management and the rest of the organisation. Answering questions shows those affected that you are listening to them and clarifying anything they are unsure about can help alleviate some of their worries. It also lets you get a sense of everyone’s feelings about the change – do their questions tend to be more focused on the details of process and implementation, or are they worried about the risks? Do they raise concerns about aspects of the change you haven’t thought about?

4. Share the vision
When planning a change it’s important to have a clear, compelling vision of the improvements you’re seeking to achieve. Whenever possible – when making your initial announcement, when answering questions and when you discuss it with people afterwards – communicate that vision to others.

Additionally, if possible, get people who will be affected by the change to help develop the implementation plan. For example, if you’re switching processes from one computer system to another, you should allow that team to decide whether they’re going to switch over everything on one day, or if they want a transition period where they gradually shift jobs over. This will help to give them a sense of ownership over the change and allay some of the feeling of helplessness that may come from suddenly being told to alter what they’re used to doing.

People are more likely to support the vision when they feel it will result in some personal gain (for instance, making their job more enjoyable or receiving a financial incentive). If they share your vision, feel they have a personal stake in its success and were giving a chance to provide input, they’ll be more willing to back the change.

5. Be available
After announcing the upcoming change, and during the transition period, make yourself available and show you can be approached to answer any other questions people may have. Although you may already have held a question and answer session, some people might want to discuss their issues in a more private setting and some thoughts can arise later on.

Be visible and available, such as by walking around the office. This will show leadership and that you’re not hiding away from potential criticism. It can also give you the opportunity to gauge reactions and monitor how the change is going. If there are any issues during the transition and immediately afterwards, spending time with the affected teams means you’re able to quickly get feedback and work to fix it.

 

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