What Is The Best Way To Communicate Change?

By Katie Bannon
Account Director

Change in business is constant: from tiny tweaks to the structure of a holiday application form, to mergers and acquisitions, businesses are continually evolving and developing – and all of these changes need communicating.

But communicating to your employees and stakeholders in the right way, at the right time and via the right channels is not without risk. Employee disengagement, disenfranchisement and even dissent can be the effects of change being communicated poorly, or indeed, not communicated at all.

Internal comms is not about sending an email chain ‘to all’, it’s about applying scientific, proven methodologies to generate wholehearted employee participation in your change programmes, no matter how big or small.

Different types of organisational change

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

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

Cultural Change

A company culture is lived out through the shared experiences of its employees. It is the DNA of your business, your purpose and what your stand for. Ultimately, the culture of a business evolves as its people, the society or cultural landscape it sits within, also evolve. Indeed, in this respect, a company culture is never ‘complete’, it is an iterative and continuous process and although it shifts slowly, it is constantly moving.

How To Communicate Cultural Change

Managing expectations about how quickly cultural change can be, a) felt and b) communicated is important. Cultural change happens slowly, often taking many months between the need for change being identified, worked into the business’s internal processes, communicated effectively, and then fully adopted by employees. 

Our recommendations to ensure cultural change is communicated well include:

  • Lead from the front and inspire – address the emotional aspects of the change and the reason and meaning behind the evolution from the get-go
  • Create a positive energy around the change – 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 with regards to living and breathing the developing culture?
  • Make it easy to understand – address the specifics and use 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 is all encompassing and needs to be understood by everyone, so ensure your messaging and language around how it is evolving is consistent

 

Although the pace of cultural change may be slow, the dynamic of it shouldn’t be. Your communications objective here is to inspire, excite and reassure employees that they belong (Pfizer Case Study).

Cultural change is also the precursor to the next type of business change, behavioural change.

Behavioural Change

Often impacted, but not reliant on cultural change, behavioural change happens when businesses choose to address company-wide issues or behaviours that are having a detrimental impact on performance and ultimately the bottom line.  

These include areas such as improving efficiency, adopting Agile working methods, or applying revised company values.

How To Communicate Behavioural Change

Like cultural change, behavioural change will happen slowly, with full employee engagement and buy-in often taking months.

Effective communication methods for supporting behavioural change, include:

  • Be positive and inspiring – no business implements 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.
  • Recognise that a shift in behaviour requires effort from your employees – show you understand that emotional investment is required from them, and don’t downplay that this might be difficult. Reassure them that you are here to support them, that you know mistakes might happen, and that’s OK.
  • Be consistent – consistency is key to ensure delivery of the right messages
  • Be clear – be explicit about what these changes mean for individuals. What impact will it have on them in the long term, what does it mean for their personal futures at the company, what opportunities does it open up for them?
  • Make people feel valued, appreciated and a part of the changes – create dedicated, two-way channels of communication so employees can feedback with any questions or struggles
  • Take your time – ensure employees get all the time they need to get to grips with the changes, understand them and assimilate them
  • Reward changing behaviours – this encourages employees to embody your evolved behaviours and sends positive signals to their colleagues
  • Be accountable – if you want your employees to embrace behavioural change, your leadership team will need to exhibit these behaviours too

Your communications objective is of course to inspire and excite. But at this stage, you are also motivating employees with specifics, not just ensuring they understand what to expect, but also empowering them to accountability.

Transformational and Strategic Change

Transformational and strategic changes are all about the business’s renewed ‘purpose’.  It’s dynamic, exciting, time-bound and full of actions for all involved. Therefore, effective communication around transformational and strategic change need to follow suit in terms of energy.

How To Communicate Transformational and Strategic Change

There are three main elements to ensure communicating transformational or strategic change happens effectively:

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

Operational Change

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

They are often communicated by line management, rather than executive level. Often, line managers are experts in their field, rather than born managers and as such may need support to ensure clear message delivery and communication.  

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.

How to Communicate Operational Change

  • Be detailed – be as granular as you possibly can on how things are going to change, by when and how you are going to support 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 could 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 get-to-grips with the changes that are 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

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, it is a symptom or a tool via which cultural, behavioural, transformational, strategic or operational changes are implemented.  

Simply put, technological change should happen to support the other changes.

Because of this, the overriding message to deliver to employees is that this technological implementation is going to make things better, easier, faster or more efficient – effectively, it will drive performance.

How to Communicate Technological Change 

The biggest barrier to implementing technological change is employee resistance. You will be asking employees to learn how to operate a brand new system or platform and at best, that takes time and effort on their behalf. You don’t want your bigger picture cultural and behavioural changes to fall flat because of employees’ unwillingness to engage.

Using the operational change internal comms guidelines will also support technological change. In addition, consider the following: 

  • Be creative – technological change can be a dry subject, so bring lightness to the process. Infuse your internal comms and training sessions with a 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

In summary – 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. 

 

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Katie Bannon

ACCOUNT DIRECTOR