Change is most often not a pleasant process to go through. In a corporate context, it’s even less likely that people involved have positive feelings about it. Add in a general climate of economic and health insecurity, and you have the ingredients for a tough ride down the transformation path.
Let’s face it, transformation is just a fancier word for change. It became so widespread precisely because leaders did not want to use the c-word, as it has a negative connotation.
However unpopular, change isn't optional. Organizations are faced with difficult decisions to make, communicate and implement. In this article, I will focus on the most effective ways for leaders to communicate during times of change.
Information needs to be transmitted from the top down
Sometimes when HR or team leaders send an e-mail marked “very important,” not all employees open it. Those who do mostly skim through it. However, most employees will find out and form an opinion if a worrying rumor starts (unfounded or not).
Conspiracy theories thrive in our current global circumstances, so it’s important that leaders take action and straightforwardly communicate the changes themselves. The information can be further disseminated through department and team leaders. The initial announcement has to come from the highest-ranking officer and be owned by them.
Reasons have to be real and clearly explained
There are always numbers, predictions, or information that can’t be communicated yet (as in the case of a merger that is still being negotiated). However, it’s a must to explain why change is necessary. Company members will get very suspicious if the reasons why change is required don't make much sense.
I suppose there is a concern that if people know what's going on, they will become disengaged. Consequently, there's a fear that it'll affect the bottom line. Let me tell you that keeping them in the dark has the same result, so it’s much better to be transparent and trust people to make the right decisions regarding their work. It’s also a good idea to encourage them to ask questions about the impending changes.
A clear process and timeline help bring down anxiety levels
Business leaders are also good strategists. Whenever a decision is made regarding organizational transformation, they draw a plan. Again, some aspects of this blueprint can’t be shared, but a step-by-step map of the upcoming changes will be beneficial when it comes to employee engagement.
Unless the major change is to shut down all operations, the company will need people to pull through with positive results. If leaders can communicate this deployment plan and its milestones, employees are far more likely to participate or at least not push back because they're unsure of what's going on.
Information is power and people will feel a lot safer if they have it.
Employees need to know about personal impact
There’s no doubt that any organizational change affects all employees. If people are told right off the bat how and when their professional lives will be affected, they’ll have more time to prepare.
Whether it's a change of role, a new manager joining the team, or a different way of measuring and rewarding their performance, people should find out as soon as possible.
Apart from simply providing this information, leaders must acknowledge their efforts and appreciate their contribution to the transformational process. Telling it how it is will show employees that they are seen and cared for.
People require specific directions about what is expected of them
“We hope you're with us on this journey” sounds good on paper but means little in real life. At this point, the decision is already made, so employees have no say in it. For change to run smoother and people to feel more positively about it, they need to know what is expected of them in terms of workplace behavior.
There may be teams that need to significantly adjust the way they work and should be given proper guidance. Communicating about change needs to have detailed “here’s what we need you to do” parts to ensure direction and clarity.
Conversations about change are always challenging, even more so in the current context. People are perceptive enough to realize when it's necessary, but that doesn't make it any easier. What does help are influential leaders who don’t shy away from difficult discussions. Instead, they make it their business to get everyone on board.