Our world has just gone through enormous change, wrought by the consequences of the pandemic. Business is not immune to these external forces. Many companies and organisations are updating policies, rethinking management styles, and reassessing how they might move from the new normal to a new future. So it’s more important than ever to understand how to implement change effectively and get it to stick.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that communicating change is about ensuring that everyone hears your messages once. But that’s just the beginning. It’s never ‘once and you’re done’. Effective and successful change communication is a drip-feed approach that takes time to embed. That’s why an always-on drum-beat of messaging is important. Moreover, it has to be consistent.
In the short term, ineffective communication in a period of change can lead to confusion and disengagement from your employees. In the long term, this could easily turn into demotivation, leading to inefficiencies and a drop in productivity. Employees could start to look around for new opportunities, breeding disloyalty.
In the most extreme cases, whole businesses can grind to a halt, with employees refusing to use new systems or processes. That’s why getting your communication strategy right is as important as implementing the new processes themselves. Whether it’s bringing in a new pay structure, introducing new technologies, or driving a culture shift, people need to not just accept that change will happen but to feel positive about it. You may get off to a good start with a campaign blitz, but you need to follow this up with additional touch points.
Excellent internal communications drip feed messages of positivity, understanding, honesty and practical instructions around change. It also needs to be a dialogue; encourage your employees to get involved and have their voice heard. This will help you go from simply ‘coping with change’ to being ‘change ready’.
Effective and consistent internal change communication can make positive change culture part of your business DNA. This is change that is embedded and lasts.
Understand the employee experience
It’s tempting to implement a new process or restructure as quickly as possible. Big changes are made for the good of the company – to introduce better and more efficient ways of doing things. One of your objectives is likely to be improved performance that you feel will benefit everyone.
But there is no shortcut here. Change is unsettling for many and stressful. Some might feel resistant to upending their routines and abandoning work patterns. You need to understand the employee experience to inspire lasting, owned change.
Speak to your employees’ emotional needs first: identify, understand, and address how they feel. It will be easier to get buy-in from people who feel they have been listened to, consulted and empowered.
Encouraging employees to ‘own’ change is a two-stage process
Stage One: recognise and address the emotional needs of your employees
When employees understand the reason for a business transformation they are more likely to trust their leadership team and feel loyalty towards them. Trust is tied to our emotions and it’s important to acknowledge the emotional side of change.
These core principles communicate disruptive change in a way that speaks to people’s emotions:
- Be honest – there’s no point in trying to hide the fact that things are going to be different and this may take some getting used to. You won’t get people to trust you if you downplay the truth.
- Be positive and reassuring – be clear that this change is not just about the greater good of the business, but also about making employees’ lives better too. Explain the ‘why’ behind the change and talk about the benefits it will bring, both in the short and long term.
- Be inspiring – ensure all leaders within the business are open, confident and visionary when they speak about what and how changes are going to be delivered. If leaders don’t openly embrace change and come across as being excited about it, you can’t expect your employees to do so.
Stage Two: define and deliver your strategy
Getting change to stick is not a one-time deal as we’ve said before. You need to work at it over time. While everyone’s comms strategy may be different, the successful ones include these elements:
- Be consistent – don’t confuse your employees by describing new systems and processes differently.
- Be repetitive – people are unlikely to adapt or change their behaviour after only hearing, seeing or reading something once. Our experience tells us that it can take between five to seven times. Make sure that you are communicating regular messages that are engaging, positive and inspiring.
- Get creative – some people will respond to videos; others might prefer reading a blog. The key thing here is to mix up your media and try different approaches. Don’t be afraid to experiment with ideas and be bold.
- Be detailed – be as granular as you possibly can about how things are going to change, by when, and exactly how you are going to support employees to work within the new operational framework.
- Make it a conversation – empower your employees to feel involved and motivated to grasp the changes happening. Identify the people who are change ambassadors and encourage them to talk to others. Reward your employees when they own these developments and are accountable for them.
- Measure your impact – get feedback on your efforts. Find out what people think and ask their opinions. Tweak your approach based on what you have learned. The best communicators don’t get stuck in thinking their way is best. They listen.
Change doesn’t end with acceptance
Change communication doesn’t end when people accept that things are going to be different. This is often where organisations fail to deliver change programmes that last, because they give up too soon. They make the mistake of thinking that accepting change is the same as embracing change. In fact, it’s a constant flow of communication over time that gives you the best chance of embedding change that sticks around for the long haul.
Put the experience of your employees first – understand what they are feeling to give yourself the best chance of developing an effective strategy they will respond to. If employees know you care about how they will be affected by these changes, they will be far more inclined to embrace and own changes as they are made. Involve and empower them.
Develop a consistent strategy that is creative, experiential, conversational and exciting. You can start off with a campaign but make sure that you back this up with regular messages. Talk to people – find out what they think and bring the leadership team on board from the beginning. If you want change that lasts, don’t think of it as a sprint to the finish line.
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