Easing the process of change through effective communications

Change comes in all shapes and sizes. Change can mean the introduction of a new compensation program, the transition to a new organizational structure, or the introduction of new products or services. These are all “events” of one sort or another, and employees at all levels of the organization need to understand what the changes are, and what it will mean to them. Change causes anxiety, and the objective of communicating change is to relieve anxiety as well as to inform. Every organization has a “communications philosophy,” whether they know it or not. Some organizations communicate everything, and probably too much. Other organizations communicate little or nothing. The ideal is obviously something in between. Ideal communications provide employees with information about why a change is being made, what the change is, and how it will affect them. The amount of information communicated will vary by the proximity of the employees to the change, their level in the organization, and their need to know information in order to effectively carry out the change. A typical change communication process involves:

  • Reaching consensus at the senior level on the reasons for the change, the decision making process and the expectations that will result from the change. Executives and senior managers, particularly those in affected areas, must know as much as possible about the logic and rationale, including the various points of view that were considered, in order to determine strategies for ensuring the change has the appropriate results.
  • Management should receive extensive training and communications, particularly if they will be expected to implement the change. While perhaps not as “in depth”, management should understand the reasons for the change – because they would likely not have been part of the decision making process, providing all of the points of view considered is probably “too much” simply because there will be no context for understanding all of the “whys.” Management should always be provided with materials to explain the change to their staff, and be prepped with “FAQs” (frequently asked questions) to help answer inquiries.
  • The focus for communications to staff is typically less on rationale, and more on how the change will impact them. It should be very clear from the initial communication what the impact will be on employees – what is realistic to expect, and what is not. The focus of this communication is primarily to reduce anxiety; explaining why a change is being made, with just enough information to make clear the rationale; the communication itself need not be as in depth. How it will impact employees on a daily basis, and long term, should be the primary concern. Printed materials or references to electronic media are key, because staff will often have to explain the impact of the change to others in their lives (e.g., spouses or family members).

Merces helps organizations establish a strategy for communicating significant change, and can assist in various ways to carry out the strategy, including preparing communications materials, handouts and presentations, and where appropriate, communicating directly to employees.