Since the outbreak of COVID-19, organizations across the globe have experienced significant change. As the pandemic rages on, businesses continue to navigate these uncharted waters to the best of their ability. Employees in all industries wonder if – or when – organizational changes will impact them.
With economic uncertainty at an all-time high, it’s more important than ever to harness communication as part of your change management strategy. Business leaders can use strategic communication to ensure the success of organizational changes.
In this article, we’re discussing how leaders can communicate effectively during organizational change. Here’s our top 6 recommendations for communicating during times of change:
- Be transparent
- Communicate the “why”
- Provide frequent and proactive updates
- Create room for employee feedback
- Adjust communication based on feedback
- Strengthen and use all communication channels
WHY COMMUNICATION MATTERS IN CHANGE MANAGEMENT
At RTG Solutions Group, we often say that change is the only constant in the business world. Companies must maneuver through change for a variety of reasons, and not all of them are bad!
- Businesses might face change due to:
- Corporate mergers and acquisitions
- Structural or departmental changes
- Leadership changes
- Budget changes
- New workplace technology
- Industry innovations
- Corporate culture changes
- Major political events
- Market fluctuations
- Industry disruptions
- Trade regulations
- and more!
No matter the reason behind a business change, communication is key. This is because communication directly impacts your ability to execute any change.
Poor communication, even during the most exciting of changes, can result in widespread frustration – or worse, confusion. Likewise, ineffective communication during a “bad” change can make things even harder.
Whether you’re announcing a business unit restructure, a change in leadership, a merger, or lay-offs, you need a strong communication campaign. Here’s why internal communication is so important during times of change.
- Communication can manage employee expectations and improve morale
- Effective communication prevents the spread of rumors
- Communication helps maintain and protect corporate culture in the face of change
- Employees have a role in executing your change, so communication is key for execution
- A steady flow of communication can quell workplace anxiety, thereby ensuring that employees stay engaged in day-to-day work while change is underway
- Communication ensures employees’ understanding of changes, which helps reinforce change
- Communication makes employees feel included and valued
All of these examples boil down to one fundamental reason why communication is so critical during organizational change: effective communication will guarantee the success of your change initiative.
Now, let’s jump into our list of 6 ways leaders can communicate effectively through change!
1. Be transparent
Transparency is always beneficial in business operations. But during times of change, the need for transparency increases exponentially. Lack of transparency can lead to confusion, chaos, frustration, and a slew of challenges that can hamper your change initiative.
But what does it mean to be transparent in your communications? Above all, it means leaders should be open and honest in messaging. As well, they should consistently and clearly communicate during all stages of change.
Employees should have access to all information that could affect them. And they should have access to that information as soon as it’s available.
When change occurs due to challenging circumstances, leaders can lose sight of the importance of transparency. They might think their time is better spent trying to manage the situation behind closed doors, rather than communicating information to others.
However, business leaders should remember communicating is part of managing the situation. And it’s always better to err on the side of transparency. If information is subject to change, communicate that to staff. To read more on transparency and other change management strategies, check out our article How to Thrive in Constant Change With These Change Management Principles!
2. Communicate the “why”
When you communicate a change, it’s important to explain why that change is taking place. Of course, some details behind changes may be sensitive, proprietary, or confidential from competitors. Unfortunately, many companies fail to communicate, at least to some extent, the reasoning behind significant business changes.
In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, almost one-third of American workers do not understand why changes are happening in their workplaces.
If employees’ lives are changing, they will want to know why. Communicating the reasoning behind a change helps to contextualize that change. It will allow employees to understand not only why the change is happening, but why the change is needed.
By providing this information, you also prevent speculation, rumors, and confusion. It ensures that leadership guides the narrative surrounding the change.
3. Provide frequent and proactive updates
Effective change communication is not just transparent. It must also be frequent and proactive.
This means that you should provide updates consistently. Even if there are no new developments, communicate the lack of developments to your employees.
Providing regular updates allows employees to feel involved in the change process. When employees feel involved, they will be more motivated to help execute the change.
Additionally, during times of change, you want to share information proactively. Don’t sit on an important nugget of information because you have other things to sort out!
If you wait too long to share developments with staff, you might increase tensions or delay progress in your change initiative.
4. Create room for employee feedback
This is one of the most important points on this list. Leaders must not forget that communication is a two-way street.
During organizational change, leaders should create spaces for employee feedback. Employees should be able to ask questions, raise concerns, clarify information, and make recommendations at every junction.
Because communication involves a transfer of information from one mind to another, it’s inherently imperfect.
Think of every communication as a smoke signal – it has the potential to fade, become distorted, or resemble something else by the time it’s received by your audience.
That’s why enabling feedback is so important. It helps employees clarify information, and it allows leaders to gauge employees’ understanding.
Here are some ideas for promoting employee feedback:
- Encourage questions after briefings
- Create an online forum where employees can post and answer each other’s questions
- Develop interactive training for your change initiative
- Have supervisors check in with staff periodically to discuss the change
- Instead of holding meetings, try hosting interactive workshops
5. Adjust communication based on feedback
Communication is not just about speaking. It’s also about listening. So when we talk about the role of communication in change management, it’s important to discuss how leaders can be effective listeners.
If you’ve provided opportunities for feedback, make use of that insight. Of course, not everyone is going to agree with or fully embrace the change. However, people want to know, and be reassured, that they are listened to.
This doesn’t mean that leaders should amend the change. Yet, it may be critical to amend how and what you’re communicating. Reevaluate if the messaging is clear and consistent. Are all department heads communicating the same messages through their teams? If even one department is hearing a different message, this will upend the consistency across the entire organization.
This is a good time to have leaders evaluate the messages and channels communicating the message. Amend messages where needed to enhance clarity.
6. Strengthen and use all communication channels
Last but not least, during times of change, leaders should diversify their communication channels. This means making use of all communication tools at your disposal.
Email, company intranet, instant messaging, in-person presentations or town-hall meetings by leadership, virtual calls, webinars, company internal social channels, message boards, etc. Any and all communication channels in your organization should be leveraged for your change communication campaign.
Most importantly, leaders should carefully select the best medium for conveying their message. For example, a “no-reply” email to the entire office would not be the appropriate channel for announcing company-wide layoffs.
Additionally, every change initiative should begin with an assessment of your company’s communication channels. You should take stock of internal communication networks and tools, and open up lines of communication where needed.
Change and innovation drive our economy. For this reason, business changes are inevitable.
Whether your organization is undergoing a beneficial “everyone wins” change, or a difficult change brought on by uncontrollable circumstances, strategic communication is key.
Harnessing these 6 communication strategies will help ensure that your change initiative is a success. Need help navigating through a business change? RTG Solutions Group is here to help! Contact us today to speak with our change management consultants.