The Complete Guide to Change Communication in Organisations

Chris Andrew
By Chris Andrew
Strategy Director

Organisations with effective change and communication programmes are 3.5 times more likely to outperform their competitors. Put this statistic against the backdrop of 2020’s destabilising effect on individuals and the global economy and it has never been more important to maintain employee morale, engagement and performance.

In this complete guide to communicating change in organisations, we’ll explore how you can future proof your business against dipping performance when managing change in difficult times. We’ll discuss how to communicate different types of change effectively, how to ensure employees stay motivated in the face of destabilising news and even how to establish a positive ‘change ready’ company culture.

Ensuring Successful Harmonisation During Times Of Change

Harmonisation is the act of fusing company systems and procedures during a merger or acquisition process. A complex and sensitive aspect of change management, harmonisation is vital to ensure smooth transition across every element of both businesses involved.

M&As have a significant impact on the working lives of their teams. Everything is changing for both sets of employees, people might feel threatened or anxious about outcomes and stress levels can rise. 

We often find the emotional impact of an M&A is a secondary consideration when implementing new HR and organisational processes. But it is easy for a workforce to become disenfranchised in the absence of an effective internal communications strategy. 

That’s why it is best practice for companies to continuously communicate prior, during and post any merger to establish context, manage expectations and gently and sensitively blend the two businesses:

1. Communicate the positive, bigger picture

The vast majority of M&As take place to ensure a positive outcome for both businesses.  This is often lost on employees who are at the coalface of role titles changing, benefit systems evolving and team structures shifting.

Putting the M&A in context and communicating an inspiring and positive vision for the future is vital. Accept and be honest about the scale of change occurring, but focus on the bigger picture perspective and reasons for the changes.   

2. Personalise your communications

Different employee groups will have concerns about different aspects of the organisational changes.

Take time to segment your audience and target relevant communications to the right audiences, in the right way.  Personalisation answers every employee's question- what's in it for me? what will I be expected to do? This needs to be as personal and relevant as possible, not generic. 

3. Consider your communication format

The format of your communication is engaging and inspiring too. Different people will respond to different types of content: video content, downloadable PDFs, notice board posters, personal emails from line managers, group presentations, packs to take home information, worksheets on the trays in a canteen, etc.

In the same way that the message is relevant to each audience, the way messages are delivered is to be considered too.

4. Listen 

Feedback channels for employees to be open and transparent.

In a 2019 blog by Jana Mercereau of REBA (The Rewards & Benefits Association), on top of a tailored approach to communication there should also be a channel for feedback and dialogue, allowing and encouraging employees to have conversations, ask questions and feel involved in the process. Enabling employees to be an intrinsic part of transformational change will empower and motivate them.

5. Measure, evaluate and evolve

Take time to evaluate employees’ feedback, gauge what the dominant reaction has been, evolve your internal communications strategy accordingly, follow up and continue.

M&As can fail without effective harmonisation, and internal communication plays a vital role in the process. 

Read more: How To Ensure Successful Harmonisation During Times Of Change

 

Communicating Organisational Transformation Effectively 

As businesses have scrambled to roll out solutions to answer the demands of 2020’s global pandemic, organisational transformation is happening quicker and under more challenging circumstances than ever before.

True business transformation doesn’t happen in silos. It alters the very DNA of a business or organisation, cascading through every system and process, including:

  • Changes to pay and incentivisation
  • Implementation of new technologies
  • Cultural shifts

Effectively communicating ongoing changes to business operations, priorities, and policies requires sensitivity, honesty, clarity and positivity to be demonstrated from the top down.

Understand the mindset of your employees

Any change to a status quo can be scary, daunting and uncomfortable. When the workplace changes it can be stressful and lead to disengagement.

The starting point of any effective transformation comms plan is to be mindful of the target audience: your employees. Focus on how you can excite, inspire and motivate them to embrace transformation.

Communicate the ‘Why, How, When and What’ to mitigate resistance to change

Addressing employees directly with contextual, accurate, detailed, positive and inspiring communication around the changes will reduce the likelihood of resistance before it blocks progress.

Encouraging people to talk to their line manager or leadership team about any concerns also fosters a culture of openness and support. Invite employees to put forward ideas to make changes easier and reward and acknowledge those who proactively support and help make change happen. 

Proactive, positive, hands-on involvement from all leaders

As well as appointed leaders such as Board Members, Line Managers, or Heads of Department, it’s also important to enrol your company’s natural leaders at every level.

Cultural leaders within a business are not necessarily those in hierarchical positions of power. And for change to be communicated effectively, support is needed from within every area of the business, from your most influential people. 

The four cornerstones of effective communication during transformation are:

1. Clarity: Clarity of communication is key

Clearly identify and articulate what changes are happening, when and what their impact on individuals will be.

2. Positivity: The positivity of this transformation to be made obvious. 

If it isn’t, the necessity of the transformation cannot be communicated effectively and you risk employee resistance. Inspiring your team to work together through the change and exciting them about the opportunities at the other side is vital to keep teams motivated, performing, and moving forward. 

3. Relevance: Making your transformation comms relevant to all employees

Don’t take broad brushstrokes – each area, department, team and sub-group in the organisation will be impacted differently. Ensure they get tailored information and messaging, which also focuses on the bigger picture.

4. Trust: Embody trust. 

Be open, honest and approachable throughout the transformation process. Lead from the front, with an aligned leadership team speaking with a common voice. Lack of cohesion in messages leads to mistrust, so ensure everyone is sharing the same message, 

Read more: How To Implement An Effective Transformation Comms Strategy In Your Company

 

The Importance of Effective Communication in Change Management

Success isn’t assured by communicating transactional, operational or technical detail. The bigger picture needs to be communicated effectively in a way that’s accessible and relatable: 

  1. Why – focus first on the reason change is being implemented, and the bigger picture impact on everyone
  2. What – be very clear on what is going to change, and the timeline for the changes
  3. How – finally, explain in relevant detail to each employee group, and then on an individual level, ‘how’ this is going to affect them and what is expected of them

Developing an effective communication strategy

To put together and roll out an effective communication plan, you must first interrogate the business objective behind the change. The ‘why’ behind the change needs to be fully understood by the team leading the comms strategy.

Next, conduct a gap analysis of your existing internal communications and relationship with your employees, comparing this with where you want to be at the end of the change process. 

After this is complete, explore your data and analytics to understand the mood of the business. This should focus on employee behaviour, retention and performance to support your understanding of what needs to be done to communicate the coming changes effectively.

Effective communication drives business performance

An effective communication strategy delivers the wholehearted participation of employees before, during and after, change. This ultimately drives business performance.

Improved business performance, in turn, generates wealth. But not just financial wealth. Turnover and profit are, of course, the priority for any business. However, a healthy bottom line supports employees being able to live the lives they want to – in this way, the improved performance of the business translates into mental and emotional wealth for everyone.

Read more about The Importance Of Effective Communication In Change Management

 

What Is The Best Way To Communicate Change?

There are five key areas of organisational change. Each of which require tailored and targeted internal communication strategies for change to be communicated effectively:

  1. Cultural Change
  2. Behavioural Change
  3. Transformational and Strategic Change
  4. Operational Change
  5. Technological Change

How To Communicate Cultural Change

Ways to ensure cultural change is communicated effectively include:

  • Lead from the front and inspire – address the emotional impact of the change and the reason behind the evolution from the get-go
  • Create a positive energy– share why this is a natural evolution for the business and how it is going to affect all employees positively
  • Create shared experiences and encourage accountability
  • Make it relevant to all employees – how will it affect them specifically, what is in it for them and what are your expectations of them when it comes to living and breathing the developing culture?
  • Make it easy to understand and implement – address specifics and use tangible examples of how the business is now going to behave when it comes to dealing with employees, customers and situations
  • Be consistent – a business culture needs to be understood and embodied by everyone, which means your messaging and language must be consistent across the organisation

Although the pace of cultural change may be slow, the dynamic shouldn’t be. Your communication objective here is to inspire, excite and reassure employees that they belong.

How To Communicate Behavioural Change

Like cultural change, behavioural change often happens slowly, and full employee engagement and buy-in can take several months. When communicating behavioural change, some top tips are;

  • Being positive and inspiring – no business wants behavioural change to make things worse! Communicate a motivating picture of why you are requesting these changes. As with cultural changes, address the emotional impact first.
  • Recognising that a shift in behaviour requires effort – show you understand that emotional investment is required from your employees, and don’t downplay that it might be difficult. Reassure them you’re here to support them, you know mistakes might happen, and that’s OK.
  • Being consistent – consistency of messaging is key to avoid any confusion
  • Being clear – be explicit about what these changes mean for individuals. What impact will they have in the long term, what does it mean for their future at the company, what opportunities does it open up for them?
  • Making people feel valued, appreciated and part of the changes – create dedicated, two-way channels of communication so employees can feedback with any questions or struggles and get a response
  • Taking your time – ensure employees have enough time to get to grips with the changes, understand them and assimilate them
  • Rewarding changing behaviours – this encourages employees to embody your evolved behaviours and sends positive signals to the rest of their team
  • Being accountable – if you want your employees to embrace behavioural change, your leadership team will need to demonstrate these behaviours too

How To Communicate Transformational and Strategic Change

Transformational and strategic changes happen when a business has renewed ‘purpose’. Dynamic, exciting, time-bound and full of actions for all involved, effective communication around this type of change transmit a similar energy.

  • Purpose – communicate the objective behind this type of change. When employees understand the reason why and the objective behind a business-wide transformation, they are more likely to support and engage positively with the change.
  • Inspire – Ensure all cultural leaders within the business are open, confident, and visionary in how they deliver communication around the change.
  • Honesty – be clear about what is happening, when and how changes are going to be implemented and how they might be felt by employees. Manage expectations down to the level of individual employees.

How to Communicate Operational Change

Operational change is generally concerned with the ‘how’. These changes are more granular than our first three, pertaining to functional changes, a sales process, implementation of new departments, etc.

Therefore, when approaching an operational change communication strategy, the channels and tools by which these changes are being communicated are often as important to get right as the messages.

We have some best practice tips you can follow to ensure the most successful outcome…

  • Be detailed – be as granular as you possibly can when communicating how things are going to change, by when and how you are going to support your employees to work within the new operational framework
  • Be mindful of employees’ comfort zones – these changes affect employees’ day-to-day work and effective comms strategies need to be mindful of the destabilising impact this might have
  • Be consistent – don’t confuse employees by describing new systems and processes differently
  • Give line managers the tools to communicate effectively – those delivering the change may need just as much support to get comfortable with delivering change, as those employees who will be working with the changes
  • Open up two way channels for feedback – empower employees to feel involved and motivated to grip the changes happening. Those using the new systems and operations are also best placed to make recommendations should there be ways of making new processes even better – encourage and reward employees to own these developments and be accountable for them

How to Communicate Technological Change 

The final type of business change we are exploring here, technological change, is somewhat different from the others. 

Technological change rarely happens in a vacuum, as these changes happen to support the other business evolutions.

Realistic, positive and motivating, overriding messages around new technological implementations are that they are going to make things better, easier, faster or more efficient.  Here are some best practice guidelines:

  • Be creative – technological change can be a dry subject, so bring lightness to your communications strategy. Infuse your internal comms and training sessions with positive, upbeat energy.
  • Emphasise the benefits – communicate how this technological change is going to make the day-to-day better and easier for employees
  • Be patient – employees are learning a whole new ‘way of doing’ – tailor training and your comms strategy to their pace, not yours

Any form of change is hugely affecting for employees across a business. By tailoring your approach, with consideration for the emotional and practical impact on your employees, you’ll set yourself up for success in driving change that sticks.

Read more about The Best Way To Communicate Change

 

How Do I Introduce A Controversial Pay Structure & Maintain Motivation?

Nothing has the potential power to unsettle and demotivate employees more than changes in their pay structures. Clear, sensitive, brave and honest communication around this type of operational change is crucial.

As always, when it comes to any type of internal communication, the key to effectively and successfully communicating a controversial or new pay structure is to consider and address the needs of each individual. We have five key points we recommend using as a guide:

  1. Be human and avoid corporate messaging. Don’t talk about the business first! Employees need to hear that you care about what’s happening to them. Speak to your teams in a human, down to earth and understanding way by explaining how this change is going to affect them first.
  2. Explain the reasons why, second. The bigger picture is still important. After addressing the personal impact, your employees will want context around why pay structures are being changed – but they need to hear that you care about them personally and the impact on them, first.
  3. Use simple, jargon-free and down to earth language. Connecting with your employees by talking to them simply, in real-life terms, using everyday language will help keep those corporate barriers down and build trust. Don’t hide behind jargon, as this can feel like you’re distancing yourself from the impact.
  4. Establish two-way communication using the most appropriate channels for your employees. It may be email, written letter, or face-to-face – but choose communication channels that you know your employees will respond to and engage with the best. Empower your employees to feedback and ask questions, so you can address concerns quickly and honestly.
  5. Inspire. This is a challenge when you’re sharing complicated or difficult information. However, being honest, creating a space to share concerns, finding the positives in the situation, being clear about the way forward and addressing individual needs all inspires confidence and trust in your leadership team.

Maintaining team morale and engagement is tantamount to success.

Read more: How Do I Introduce A Controversial Pay Structure & Maintain Motivation?

 

Effective Communication Drives Change That Sticks

Introducing new organisational processes – and ensuring these changes stick –depends on how well you manage and speak to the experience of your employees during these changes.

Driving successful change in your organisation isn’t just about getting the comms strategy around a new pay structure or the introduction of new technologies right.

Excellent internal communications that disseminates honest, relevant messages of positivity and understanding around change can move a business from ‘coping with change well’ to being ‘change ready’. 

Communicating changes in a way that inspires and encourages employees to ‘own’ change is a two-stage process.

Stage 1 - recognise and address employees’ emotional needs

Start by being honest about the fact that things are going to be different. Following this up with positivity and reassurance about why changes are happening and being open, visionary and confident will inspire your teams. If your leaders don’t trust, believe and understand why change is happening, how can you expect your employees to?

Stage 2 - communicate clearly and consistently

Be detailed, as granular as you can, and open up two-way channels for feedback to empower employees to feel involved. Encourage and reward employees to ‘own’ changes and be accountable for them. 

If employees know you care about their role in the context of company-wide changes, and can see you are addressing their emotional needs as well as operational instruction, they will be far more inclined to embrace and own any changes as they come into operation..

Inspiring trust, accountability, positivity and loyalty embeds a ‘change ready’ culture in your business.

Empowering employees to welcome and own changes through effective internal comms leads to positive and performance-enhancing experiences, as well as embedding being ‘change ready’ into your business DNA. 

Read more: How Do I Drive Change That Sticks In My Organisation?

 

It’s never been more important to empower employees to embrace change. Treating your people with understanding, respect and honesty is the first step to ensuring a future proofed, ‘change ready’ business. If 2020 and 2021 taught us anything, it’s how vital that is. 

How well you can guide employees through change with effective, positive, motivating and inspiring communications is the difference between a surviving business and a thriving one.

 

Looking for support with change communication? That’s what we’re here for.

Get in touch with us and let’s have a conversation.