Things in the office are starting to change and you know what that means. Even the idea of change in the workplace can bring worry, anxiety, a reduction in employee performance and, if not managed properly, potential chaos. St. Louis Children’s Hospital provides a great template for a successful change management communication plan.
Organizational change is never easy and most managers get it wrong by focusing on trying to adapt and bring their employees on board after the event instead of concentrating on helping their people during the change or restructuring process.
To minimize downsides it is essential at the outset to develop a strategic change management communication model which will allow you to help your employees reduce their fears, increase their productivity and above all, allow for a smooth and easy transition to the desired new phase.
So let’s take a look at the Change Management Process Steps necessary for communicating the change to staff.Successful Change Management Case studyWatch the webinar
Step 1: Communicating the change management plan
Any arbitrary attempt to introduce a significant change in the workplace will meet resistance and lead to failure, usually very quickly. Employees are not the same as managers or owners, and they do not always share the same perspective.
While the owner is charged with guiding the direction of the company and a manager is charged with getting results, an employee doesn’t necessarily know what’s going on in the late night management meetings or backroom discussions that take place without their input or involvement.
This creates a problem when it comes to announcing changes to staff, as the focus too often can be on how change is to be implemented rather than first spelling out why the changes are necessary in the first place.
If you don’t focus on the why, your employees might quickly grow resentful. After all, it’s always essential to remember that the majority of people are, initially at least, suspicious and wary of change. We are creatures of habit and need to be convinced that not only is change necessary but also of the benefits that flow from it.
Communicating change to staff is less about telling them what to do and more about informing them why the changes that are being put forward are necessary, and explaining in detail why that is the case. People need to be convinced, and they need to believe that what they are being told is the truth. So, for example, it’s not enough to say that we need to do this to save X, it has to be explained that if we don’t save X, these are the consequences
- Vision will always trump instructions because it brings a sense of purpose to the change
- When employees find themselves in agreement with a clear vision, they become interested and energized
- An energized employee will participate more willingly in the process
Step Two: Lay out a clear blueprint for the future
The unknown can be one of the greatest causes of anxiety for any individual. Not knowing what the future of a company looks like usually turns a workforce into a nervous and worried group.
After you have communicated the WHY behind the change, you must be able to provide your team with a well put together blueprint of the future. Remember, you are their leader, they are looking to you for direction and confidence, and certainty in uncertain times. One of the best practices for this is a clear blueprint of where you are going. If you don’t have a clearly written and easily accessible blueprint for the desired organizational change, then you cannot expect your employees to have certainty or confidence in what is trying to be achieved.
- A blueprint must be detailed as possible about what kinds of organizational changes are taking place.
- When a blueprint shows clear thinking and vision, an employee is less likely to be resistant to change.
- The blueprint must be laid out in conjunction with the change announcement and not afterward. The plan has to be set out very clearly at the outset, with a defined destination and milestones on the road to achieving it.
- It is imperative that changes are not sugar-coated, honesty is essential as trust will be the difference between success and failure. Employees will be able to sense a less-than-honest approach from a great distance and if that’s the feeling they get, then the whole process is doomed.
- In most change projects there will be those who are negatively affected and this must be addressed up front, with close interaction with those who are going to be affected so that their dignity is respected and they are treated properly. There are two essential reasons for this: a) it’s the right thing to do and b) it will influence how other employees feel; it has the potential to turn them into evangelists for the project or influential opponents.
Step Three: Create Evangelists
One of the best pieces of advice anybody involved in change management can get is to make every effort at the earliest stage to create evangelists out of regular employees. This, quite simply put, is someone who buys into the change plan for the right reasons and is consequently an advocate, an evangelist with the potential to convince many others that this is the right course of action.
They will spread positive vibes about the changes that are coming down the line. This will require some initial set up because you have to select good people who will help communicate positive things about this organizational change. They must be people who understand the vision, believe that the organizational changes are good and are willing to sing its praises to anyone who listens.
- A change evangelist will reduce anxiety because they will be perceived as regular, people (‘one of us’) as opposed to the manager who can be perceived as having to say that the change is for the greater good, simply because that is what managers are expected to do. Don’t pick people who will do it out of obligation, find people who are likely to be energized or even excited about the changes
- Evangelists and influencers are more important in this respect than ever before as research shows that the erosion of public trust in institutions, including business, is at an all-time low and people are more likely to trust one of their peers rather than an authority figure such as a CEO or a manager.
Step Four: Repeat…Repeat…Repeat
One fatal mistake often made during vision casting for organizational changes is that the owner or manager might assume that it’s sufficient to communicate the need for change on one, or at most two occasions, that a grand communiqué is all that’s needed; get people together to say this is what we need to do, these are the reasons why, so now let’s do it.
This approach is destined to fail. The message has to be repeated, repeated and repeated again. History shows that a great majority of change projects fail, and the main reason is under-communication.
The best solution for keeping people strong and emotionally healthy during organizational change is to constantly repeat information and the vision to them. Repetition helps solidify things. The more communication that you deliver to the employees, the better.
Keep them up to date with each change, talk about the successes that are happening, show examples of positive growth. When planning for change, go for easy wins first so that you can demonstrate that this is what can be achieved – when people see a win, a success, they are more likely to embrace the more difficult challenges that lie ahead.
Don’t neglect them just because they have all agreed to go climb the mountain with you. There is a vast length between base camp and the top of the mountain. They are going to be looking to you each step of the way.
- You should communicate vision, progress and practical changes on a weekly basis
- The less you communicate to your team during the change the more anxiety you will create
- It’s easy for enthusiasm and energy for change can run out faster than you realize – keep ahead of it by continual and consistent communication.
- One thing that you should always bear in mind throughout the change process, which could be quite lengthy, is to try to put yourself in the shoes of the people you are communicating with, the people who are going to be affected. What do you think are their fears, their concerns, what could be said to try to address these concerns? What would you want to hear from management if you were in their shoes, even if the news wasn’t good? Stick a big post-it note somewhere you will see it all the time: What would I feel like if it was me?
At the end of the day, change management communications strategy can be a difficult thing to lock down, but you just need to remember that your employees are human, just like you.
They want to feel safe, secure and protected no matter what. With you as their tribal leader, they are going to want to hear confidence coming from you. More than anything, you must be proactive in communicating your vision, your goals and your dreams to them. Then and only then will they feel safe enough to participate in the process.
Remember, unclear direction creates uncertainty. Communicate the purpose as often as possible and you will have a far easier time with your change management process and, more importantly, a far greater chance of success.