Best Practice

5 Communication Tips for Organizational Change Management

Few employees relish major change. A person’s identity and ego are tied up with their job competence, and when the role, the tasks of the job or the organization itself transform beyond all recognition, that’s profoundly unsettling.

It’s a time when communication is absolutely critical, and if this is not recognized or appreciated by the organization’s leaders their plans for change will fail. It’s a well-recognized fact that the majority of change programs fail, principally because of poor or inadequate communication.

Harvard professor and chief innovation officer at Kotter International, John Kotter said: “Most companies under-communicate their visions for change by at least a factor of 10. A single memo announcing a big new change is never enough, nor is even a series of speeches by the CEO and the executive team.”

“To understand how a change vision can easily get lost in the clutter, consider this:

    1. The total amount of communication going to an employee in three months: 2.3 million words or numbers.
    2. Typical communication about the change over a period of three months (the equivalent of one 30-minute speech, an hour-long meeting, one 600 word article in the company’s internal newsletter, and one 2,000 word memo) = 13,400 words or numbers.
    3. 13,400/2,300,000 = .0058, which means the change vision has captured only 0.58 percent of the communication market share.”

If your organization is facing significant changes, you as a communicator need to embrace change management from the beginning to increase your chances of success. Here are five change management tips that are important to keep in mind.

Get executive sponsorship

Which visible member of your executive team will champion this change and help explain to the troops why it’s necessary? This senior-level sponsor is best positioned to help staff members understand not just the what but the why of the change: is there a market opportunity that has to be seized now to stave off competitors? Kotter is categorical about the need for leaders to ‘walk the walk’ when it comes to change programs and supporting their communication. 

“Nothing undermines a communication program more quickly than inconsistent actions by leadership, and nothing speaks as powerfully as someone who is backing up their words with behavior,” he said..

Employees are more likely to get on board when they understand the vision, as well as any benefits to themselves. The executive sponsor also plays an important role in liaising with other top members of the organization, building executive commitment to the change and cementing the thinking about why it’s needed.  

Remember the value of face-to-face communication and act on feedback

Of all the advice in this excellent Forbes article on helping employees accept change, “acting on feedback” is one to remember: it’s easy to ask employees for their views on a plan to change, but even more important is acknowledging that feedback and reacting – this lets employees see when their ideas have been heard, valued and implemented. “The leadership team must reflect on the feedback, tell the team what they are ‘hearing’ from the feedback, and then some kind of action must be taken,” writes leadership guru Brian Gleeson.

This way, employees know that the organization is focusing on their needs, understanding the challenges change will present them, has internalized that feedback and is taking action; inaction is not an option.

Be ready to support, support and support some more

Put yourself in the position of an older employee who’s suddenly reporting to someone much younger, or who’s now required to do hands-on jobs that are totally new to them. Anticipate the emotional needs of staff in these positions and be ready to coach them through it, whether that’s just offering a sympathetic ear or providing practical help in the form of retraining.

An employee’s reaction may change over time and their support needs can, also: be ready to provide support at different stages of the cycle as employees slowly get their head around what the change means for them, personally.

Recognize the power of a unifying message

Change that happens because of acquisition or merger can leave an organization with a large number of standalone business units that feel no sense of commonality. A great example of overcoming this disparity was Qatar’s acquisitive state-owned telecom company, Qtel.

It chose to go deep into what it felt unified its entire business, as part of a branding exercise. It was then able to articulate and communicate across the company (which included 12 different businesses) this vision for the organization: to be seen as a company who would offer the Muslim world greater freedom of communication and choice, with an emphasis on rural communities and women.

Have a proactive plan for managing resistance

Resistance to change can take many faces, from direct opposition to passive aggression. Deloitte has outlined a comprehensive and pragmatic approach to addressing resistance. Have a look at the techniques described, including circumventing detractors by starting with a small program that requires minimal investment and delivers results quickly, while also actively searching for and aligning with people within the organization who are pro-change.

Above all keep focused on the overarching truth: the reason for the change program is to increase the strength of the organization, not to take away from it. Communicate that clearly an early, and you increase the chance of winning hearts and minds so that the entire organization is pulling in the same direction.

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