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Communicating about Change
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Communicating about Change

Engage employees in change through a focus on communications.

By: Gina Abudi, MBA, President, Abudi Consulting Group, LLC

 

Without sufficient and effective communications, through a variety of channels, it is difficult to be successful in implementing organizational change initiatives. We all take in information differently. By providing a variety of forums, channels and methods for communicating on change initiatives, we are more likely to engage employees in that change. Engaging employees means your change initiatives are likely to be far more successful than if you do not engage employees. Engaging employees in change means you are making a concerted effort to communicate regularly and openly about the change.

 

In this article, Gina Abudi, author of Implementing Positive Organizational Change: A Strategic Project Management Approach (J Ross Publishing, 2017,) will provide best practices for effective communications to engage employees in change initiatives.

 

The Complexity of Change

Change today is more complex than in the past. It is impossible to maintain the status quo in an organization. Increased competition, global economic impacts, securing and engaging top talent, increasing customer demands, price sensitivity, increased regulations, and many other factors all require companies to stay alert and continuously adapt to keep moving forward. And guess what…more often than not dealing with the employees and their perceptions of a change falls on the shoulders of Human Resources. The more complex the change, such as a change initiative that…

 

  • Impacts most all functions
  • Requires employees to radically change how they work
  • Requires a change in the organization’s culture and impacts strategies, processes and tools

    

…the more time that must be spent prior to as well as during and after implementation in communication and engaging employees in the change.


 

Much Drives Change

Change initiatives are not simply launched because someone thinks it will be fun to change. Organizational change is driven by any number of internal and external factors. Some of these factors are:

 

Internal Factors

External Factors

· Mergers and acquisitions

· Senior leadership changes

· New Board of Directors

· Changes in organizational vision

· Employee dissatisfaction

· Organizational growth

· Business unit/department mergers

· Performance failures

 

· New competition

· Industry changes

· Changing customer demands

· Cost pressures

· Technology

· Regulatory changes

· Economic changes

· Vendor/supplier changes

 

We can’t understand the complexity of the change, and the impact on the organization and the individual employees until we understand what is driving the change in the organization. Understanding what is driving the change aids in communicating the right information to engage employees in the change and increase understanding of that change.

 

Communicating About Change and its Value

Certainly, we can’t argue that change is valuable within organizations. Change enables for the organization to grow, prosper, and remain viable over the long term. No organization can sustain without change. But what about the individual? We often talk about the value of change to the organization – reducing costs, increasing revenue, satisfying customers, getting products and services out the door quickly – but rarely talk about or try to understand the value of change to the individual employee.

 

The best leaders know that to be successful in implementing change, they must communicate the value of change for their teams. This requires ensuring that employees understand why the change is important. Leaders should talk to employees about the benefits of the change - not just for the organization but also, and maybe more importantly, for the individual employees.

 

The more leaders involve employees in change, and highlight the value of the change, the more likely employees will be engaged in the change and ready to help achieve that change.

 

The willingness and ability to communicate constantly, openly, and honestly about change is essential to success of the change initiative. The earlier on that you communicate about change, the more likely you can identify negative impacts of the change and address those negative impacts. The initial communication on an upcoming change initiative should answer the following questions:

  • Who will be impacted by the change?
  • What is the change?
  • Why does the change have to happen?
  • When will the change happen?
  • Where will the change specifically take place?

These are the 5 W’s – a great tool to use when sharing information about a change initiative. These five questions are often the most pressing that an employee will have about change. Address these questions early on in communicating about the change initiative and you will alleviate many employees’ concerns and fears around the change.

 

Communication Overview Plan

As a best practice, I develop a communication overview plan to ensure communications about the change initiative are well thought out and planned ahead of start of the initiative. That plan includes the following information:

  • The sender of the communication
  • The overall timing of the communication (e.g., prior to start, at start, etc.)
  • The audience who will receive the message
  • The primary focus of the communication (its purpose)
  • The message content (just 2 – 3 bullets of what should be included in the message)
  • The delivery method (how the message will be delivered to the audience)
  • The date for delivery of the communication to the audience

Below is a partially completed communication plan as an example:

 

Sender

Timing

Audience

Focus

Message

Delivery

Date

CEO

Defining change project (prior to start)

All employees

Announce upcoming change

Vision for change

 

Explanation of change

 

What to expect

Virtual all-hands meeting

 

Email follow up

Sep 11

Change leader (sponsor)

Defining change project (prior to start)

Identified change team members

Team responsibilities and team building

High level overview of change project

 

Roles & responsibilities

 

Estimated timeline

 

Team building activities

 

Determine how team members will work

Team meeting (face-to-face)

Sep 18

 

This high-level overview provides a big picture of communications, ensuring no gaps in communications on change project. I use this plan to ensure I am regularly communicating on the change initiative via a variety of methods.

 

Rational and Emotional Sides of Change

In communicating about change, strive for a balance between the rational side and the emotional side, with a bit more weight toward emotional.

 

Rational Side of Change

Emotional Side of Change

  • Focus is on data, statistics, logic and metrics
  •  A concern for the organization and what is good for it
  • Shared through formal presentations, charts and graphs
  • Focus is on sharing a vision, outlining individual benefits
  • A concern for the individuals and the benefit to them
  • Shared through information conversations, storytelling

 

We connect more with emotions than we do with logic. Sharing the emotional side of a change enables you to engage more individuals in the change. Consider this story of a change initiative I co-led, working alongside the Executive Director, for a non-profit organization.

 

Prior to the launch of a major change initiative, the Executive Director and I held an all-staff meeting. We kicked off the meeting with the following statement: “It is 10 years in the future. Every individual and family who has needed our help has received it. We can claim that we have enabled individuals to receive education to get better jobs. Because they have been able to get better jobs, families have sufficient food and are in homes in safe neighborhoods. In our area of influence, no child is hungry and no family lives on the streets or in their car. Congratulations to all of you for your efforts in making the world a better place!”

 

Take a moment and consider this story shared. Imagine the power of this story. Imagine you are an employee. You are engaged, excited, thrilled about the future and possibilities ahead. You are ready to begin a change initiative. This is emotional, you connect with it.

The goals of change communications should be with a focus on the individuals and specifically to:

  • Keep those individuals who support the change (champions of the change) engaged in the change from early on through to implementation and evaluation of the success of the change.
  • Convert individuals who are not supportive of the change (resisters or indifferent) to become champions of the change.

Remember that individuals resist change for any number of reasons; rarely is it because they are difficult people though certainly it sometimes feels that way! Employees may resist change for reasons, such as:

  • A perception of no personal, professional or other opportunities as a result of the change
  • Unclear as to why the change is happening
  • A perception the change will impact the work and either increase the workload or make for a boring job
  • Status being lost in the organization due to the change; individual’s expertise being devalued and/or less autonomy in the role

We can address resistance by effective and sufficient communications to engage employees in change, as well as through ensuring:

  • Involvement of employees in the change through asking for feedback
  • Plans are in place to allow for training on new skills/acquiring new knowledge

I personally like resisters to change initiatives. Resisters ensure that the end product of the change is a good one! They push those managing the change to make the best decisions. There is often good information to be found behind resistance. Explore further areas of resistance and have conversations with resisters.

 

Communication Methods/Channels

It is essential to use a variety of methods and channels to communicate about change initiatives. Simply sending emails is insufficient and will not help you to turn employees into change champions. If we use a variety of channels, we are more likely to communicate with a broader group of employees. Consider any of the following methods and channels of value to communicate regularly about change:

  • All-staff meetings
  • Department or workgroup meetings
  • Virtual meetings
  • Webinars
  • Emails
  • Internal website
  •  One-on-one conversations
  • Breakfast events
  • Posters in hallways
  • Flyers/handouts
  • Lunch & learn sessions
  • After hours events
  • Tabletop in a cafeteria
  • eNewsletter
  • Informal conversations (“water cooler”)
  • Focus groups

 

For each communication piece, consider a variety of channels to distribute that message. For example, a message about the success of a particular component of a change may be delivered via an email from the CEO, then discussed by managers at department meetings, and then shared via an internal website or eNewsletter.

 

When we use a variety of communication channels to distribute a message, we are more likely to engage resisters in the change effort. This includes surfacing individuals who may be unknown resisters to reduce the impact they may have on the initiative.

 

Stakeholder Support Committees

Stakeholder Support Committees are another great communication and engagement channel for change initiatives. These committees are comprised of individuals from throughout the organization who are impacted by the change and may have to overcome their own personal obstacles to change. They carry significant weight with other employees because they have already built trust and have established relationships with their colleagues and co-workers. The benefits of stakeholder support committees include:

  • Enabling the change leader to stay closer to the employees impacted by the change
  • Supporting sharing of information from the change leader to all employees and back up the ladder – from employee to the change leader
  • Serving as a pilot group to test any changes before they are implemented more widely
  • Providing feedback throughout the change initiative
  • Having one-on-one conversations with employees to gauge support of the change initiative

 I utilize stakeholder support committees for all of the transformation change initiatives that I lead for my clients in order to engage employees from throughout the organization. These committee members are tasked with sharing information about the change initiative, answering questions, and bringing concerns back to leadership to be addressed.

 

In Summary…

To be effective in change initiatives, regular, honest, open and sufficient communication is necessary to engage employees in change and convert resisters to champions. Communication cannot happen solely at the start of a change initiative. It must begin before the change project is officially launched and continue through implementation and beyond – capturing data on the success of the rollout and the adoption of the change.

Thank you for reading.

 

As a bonus, please visit Abudi Consulting Group to download four editable documents to get started in communicating about change:

  • Communication Overview Plan Template
  • Checklist – Items to Include in Early Communications
  • Communication Strategy Template
  • Questions to consider in determining if individuals support or resist the change

Learn more about Gina’s book on Implementing Positive Organizational Change: A Strategic Project Management Approach.

 

 

Gina Abudi, President of Abudi Consulting Group, LLC, has 25+ years’ of experience in providing consulting and training services for mid- to large, global organizations with a focus on people, projects and processes.  Gina has led a number of projects including process improvement initiatives, change management initiatives, facilitation of team meetings and executive strategy sessions, facilitation of sessions with executives to solve business issues, and development, implementation and evaluation of Project Management Offices (PMOs) and Project Management Centers of Excellence. She trains in a wide variety of critical and leadership-focused skills necessary for success in the workplace. Visit Gina’s Blog for a variety of articles and case studies for leaders.

 

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