By Catherine Adenle
Explore the 12 significant things to communicate before change in organizations. Knowing these 12 significant things to communicate before a change in your organization will help your organization to take employees along the sometimes treacherous path of change journey in order to implement successful change.
If there’s one thing that’s certain and constant in business nowadays, it is the introduction and implementation of change. Now, let’s explore the 12 key things to communicate before change and the reasons why they are critical.
I have been writing and speaking about change for several years now and I am still always amazed at how often some organizations embark on change without any proper plan for communicating the change. The empirical picture that has emerged over the years indicates that the communication process and organizational change implementation are inextricably linked processes.
Agreed, in organizations, any period of change can prove challenging for all and so, it takes an element of careful planning, people skills, emotional intelligence, intuition, effective communication, and excellent listening skills to deliver the change in an effective and efficient way. However, managing change effectively will help to reduce the emotional and psychological impact it has on employees and the organization. Hence, understanding how to accurately introduce change in an organization is vital.
According to Gartner HR Change Readiness Survey, 79% of employees have experienced at least one significant organizational change in the past two years. Unfortunately, and often, the majority of these change initiatives weren’t managed well. From the 1970s to the present, studies have shown that organizational change projects fail at a rate of 60-70%.
Truthfully, there’s no way to eliminate distress or anxiety for employees during times of change, but the right change and communication management strategy can alleviate things and help people get through it. A strong change management strategy supported by effective communication before, during and after a change will ensure that organizational change is smoothly implemented and that the beneficial goals to an organization of the change are achieved. An effective change communication includes knowing the right channels to funnel change communication through. A messaging strategy that considers the information, channel and resources employees need during the change to be confident and capable of taking action is what organizations need.
12 significant things to communicate before the change
In Prosci’s 2005 Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report, the top reason cited by participants for resistance by employees was that employees were not aware of the business need for change. So, it’s vital that employees are included and are taken through these 12 significant things to communicate before a change from the onset of change implementation.
If the communication plan before a change is introduced and followed effectively this way, momentum builds, more employees feel able to act, so they will join in and find the best way to fulfil the change vision. It will be ‘Ok, we know why we’re doing this and we know what we stand to gain from it. So, let’s work together and let’s get this done!’
Communication before the change will impact employees’ reactions and because of this, it can determine the outcome of the change. Without the right communications, employees will become uncertain and negative because they won’t see the benefits of the change, or even understand the purpose of it all for the organization.
Communication is key before, during and after the change. So, these are the 12 significant things to communicate before change:
1. What is changing?
When developing an organization’s change communication message, it’s important to include all that employees need in terms of the key information that they really want to hear. Change management and its communication must be a well-thought-out process and one that must be executed perfectly with little or no negative impact on the workforce.
Before the idea of change is introduced, employees will already be nervous about the change and so the first thing to communicate clearly from this list of 12 significant things to communicate before change is exactly what is going to change. For this, don’t use any fluffy or flowery language. Clearly, state what is going to change. If you need to go through what the current state is to get to the future state desired by the organization, then let them know what is going to change to get to the future state. From what to what is the change journey? Tell them the specifics of what will be different in how they must think, work, act, and perform. Whilst doing this, remember to communicate congruently by aligning the spoken words with your body language that supports the intended message.
2. Why is the change necessary?
Naturally, the next thing is that employees will want to know why the change is necessary. This is the next thing on this list of 12 significant things to communicate before change in organizations. Part of understanding how to execute any successful change is having the ability to clearly explain why the change is needed or necessary.
Is there something that is not working well within the organization? Explain the risk of not changing. Are there cost implications connected to the current state? Do you need to improve further processes or policies for optimum efficiency? Is a change going to catapult the business? Is there a good business reason for implementing the change? How will it help the business, units or teams? It is also okay if the change is purely for compliance reasons. Just tell them.
Truthfully explain the reasons behind the change in a clear manner. And don’t forget to continue and reinforce the ‘why’ throughout the entire change process, especially if the time elapses between your first communication and the start of implementation.
3. Who is the change going to affect?
Next of the 12 significant things to communicate before change is who the change will affect. Is it going to affect everyone, few departments or several business units? Have the information ready to communicate with employees.
Any change could completely alter the way in which the workplace operates and that can have a knock-on effect for employees. Staff will be worried about their roles and positions and whether they will have a job once the change is announced. This is where most of the concerns will stem from as employees are going to worry about their income.
4. When is the change happening?
When it comes to timings, manage expectations. Often a change can take time and that can mean that it can prove difficult to put a defined date on it, but an estimated time frame will suffice. If you don’t have all the dates for key change events, let employees know and tell them that the dates will be shared once you know.
You can give a range of dates. For instance, you can say, ‘Within May and June this year, we plan to roll out… However, we currently don’t have the exact date to share with you just yet. Immediately we know the exact date, we will let you know.’
This way, employees will feel assured.
5. How is the change going to affect them?
You cannot communicate who the change will affect without explaining how it is going to affect them. Communicating this is one of the most pivotal aspects of identifying how to effectively introduce change in any organization.
If jobs are at risk, then, the change communication must be handled with sympathy understanding and compassion yet stick to the firm reasons why the organization must implement the change and the urgency for it. This way, it will provide employees with some indication that the organization understands that this is not an easy situation for all involved.
6. What’s in the change for them?
To win the support of employees when change is announced, leaders must appeal to the psychological sphere of change for them. Change is a move away from the present within which employees are comfortable. The move toward a future that promises not just something different but, hopefully, something better for the organization.
It is normal and it’s simply a fact that personal context will always and usually be the first filter employees will use to evaluate the future environment for them. To be effective, change communication must get at what an employee cares about and values. To gain employees’ support, an organization must provide a compelling case for how employees will be better off or what they get out of engaging in the change.
The What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) case must be watertight or else there could be resentment if this is not carefully and correctly identified. To maximize buy-in, an organization must provide a clear WIIFM statement. Employees want to know what the change means for what they do and how they operate daily. What are the positive aspects of the change?
Create a vision they can easily understand and will be willing to embrace. Defining the future with absolute, irreversible certainty is rarely possible. However, you should try to paint a picture of it with as much clarity as practical. Are there going to be new teams created? Are jobs or roles going to change? Is there a merger that’s going to positively affect them? Are there changes with promotion, training, new skills, rewards, a step up to leadership roles or nothing? Let them know.
Answer WIIFM early and often in your communications.
Infographic: 12 Significant Things to Communicate Before Change in Organizations
7. How are employees going to be supported before, during and after the change?
Organizations that are clued up about change are aware of how to involve and support employees during the change. In such organizations, usually, they have a clear leader who engages employees and other stakeholders to develop a clear vision of desired change outcomes and ensure that an integrated communication, solid change management strategy, as well as strong employee involvement and motivation, have the most influence in the overall success of the organizations change. They ensure that they have a significant influence in the strategic plan of change in the organization. This kind of involvement reduces employees’ resistance, which is always a very important factor in the success of any organizational change. Such organizations as Merck, HP, Eaton, Eastman Chemical and Rohm and Haas have successfully used such an approach.
Following these 20 ways to involve and support employees during a change, craft and clearly communicate your plan of how employees are going to be supported before, during and after the change.
The principal reason for this support and inclusiveness before the onset of change is that people will support what they feel they’ve helped create. There will be no need to ‘oversell’ the change to them or to get their ‘buy-in’ if they are involved in building the change and if the organization makes them feel supported. Since they help to create the change, they already own it and will continue to support it.
8. Where can employees find more and regular information about the change and does it include a feedback loop?
Employees will be keen to know more about the change after the announcement. In their own time and at their convenience, they want to read up on the change and be able to share their feedback. A holistic communication plan uses numerous channels to reach employees. This could include meetings, one-on-one conversations, brainstorming workshops, newsletters, presentations, lunch and learns, Intranet Q&A forums, screen saver messages, etc. Be creative in how you communicate and gather feedback from employees. Provide an intranet URL address and opportunities for communication push and pull.
Provide communication segmentation through the change information portal. People in different roles have different information needs. Staying aware of those roles and their communication needs will help you with your messaging, coalition building, and every other aspect of your change communication work.
You need to craft and plan for two-way communication always. Give employees the opportunity to share their concerns, provide their feedback and ask questions. Two-way communications create buy-in and provide answers in real-time.
9. What does change success look like and how is it going to be monitored and measured?
What is not monitored cannot be measured and the ROI of what is not measured cannot be adequately captured. What’s in the scorecard to demonstrate change success? Before the onset of change, build a measurement strategy into your change management framework and communicate this to employees.
How will you demonstrate the value-add of applying the change? How is the overall outcome of applying change going to be measured?
The outcomes of those activities at both the individual and organizational levels need monitoring and employees will need to know how they are going to be measured.
The first category of measurement is organizational performance. These measures must be associated with the change project achieving the desired outcomes for the organization. Organizational performance metrics should answer the question, “Did the change initiative deliver what was expected?”
There is no guarantee that a change is going to produce the desired result. Therefore, one aspect of how leaders should introduce change is by providing clarification regarding how the change will be monitored and measured. Perhaps the results will be analyzed in one month or maybe six months’ time, but providing a time frame will enable all to have a clear understanding of what the success should look like and when it should become apparent.
10. Who is the leadership team sponsor of the change?
According to Prosci, Benchmarking research shows that employees prefer to hear messages from two people in the organization:
The sponsor of the change (person at the top of the change) about the business issues and reasons for the change.
Their immediate supervisors about the personal impact of the change
Executives and senior leaders play an essential role in times of change. An organization looks to its leaders to be visible sponsors of change and to demonstrate why change is necessary. Senior leaders provide the authority and credibility necessary for successful change. So, communicate the name of the sponsor of the change.
11. Who is the change agent?
So, who is going to be taking control of the change and leading it? Let employees know. This will provide employees with a level of confidence that they know who is taking charge, but it will also provide them with someone they can communicate with should they have any concerns.
By putting someone in charge of leading the change, it will help to create a personal element to the entire process. At this point, it is also worth making employees aware that should they have any concerns or queries then they can put them to the individual in charge because questions will arise.
12. What is the next step?
So, once all employees have been provided with these 12 significant things to communicate before change, next, they should be informed about what is going to happen and by when. Knowing the next step in the change process is important. This might relate to another communication meeting with a progress update or it could mean that they simply wait to be informed once the change starts. Regardless of what the next step might be, they should be provided with information so that they have a clear indication of what to expect next as part of the change process.
Implementing successful change includes crafting an effective change communication
There is an art to managing change and communication underpins its success. Employees must be kept informed about the entire process and that involves taking them through the steps while providing them with all the relevant information regarding these 12 significant things to communicate before the change. It is better for employees to be informed about change before it occurs and that begins with the right level of change communication and prior planning.
It is important to repeat key messages several times. The first time you announce a change to employees, they are often wondering how it will impact them and not focusing on the details of what you are communicating about. Repeating key messages ensures that what you want to get across and be heard by all employees. Share change messages and updates more often than you think you need to.
A change can come in many forms. Some can go relatively unnoticed but large changes can have a significant impact on an organization. Where there is a change there are worries and concerns, but it is important that you understand how to communicate change and what it entails.
Beneficial for employees to be informed at the beginning of a change process
Giving a clear explanation about what will change and what will happen because of the change will provide employees with the information that they need. It is more beneficial for them to be informed at the beginning of the process as opposed to finding out once the change has been implemented as that can have a negative impact on staff morale.
It is also important to consider when planning organizational changes: people react differently. Some people think more logically and rationally about situations, whereas others make decisions based on feelings and the effect they may have on other people; both should be supported throughout the process by ensuring the logical thinkers are presented with the facts and the feelers – supported on a more emotional level through kindness, dignity, and respect.
Put your ABCDE (Audience, Behavioural Objectives, Content, Design, Evaluation) techniques of communication into good use. The four SHED (Stabilizer, Hedger, Energizer, Driver) Styles are in every organization. Each employee with their own SHED style has a correlating need regarding change and how it is implemented and communicated. Undoubtedly though, there are some ‘Best Practices’ which are advisable to incorporate, see Communication Checklist: Best Practices in Managing Change.
Whatever you do, be clear and concise, don’t attempt to conceal bad news and keep in mind that most employees fear uncertainty – more than they fear a statement of facts.
Be prepared for and welcome disapproval, in the right surroundings; people need to vent their frustrations and feel listened to before they’re able to move on and positively implement changes.
According to a survey from Statista, the most effective practice in organizational change management is effective communication plans. In second and third places, respectively, are effective execution of the communication plans and effective identification, measurement and communication of the intended benefits of the change. So, Communication impacts employees’ reactions – and because of this, it can determine the outcome of the change.
Employees who succeed know how to cope and embrace change if supported and included in change initiatives.
Now that you know the 12 significant things to communicate before the change, what can you add? Let’s hear from you. Leave your comment below.