change communication best practices

Change is challenging.  Humans generally resist change in favor of doing what we always do.  A change often stirs up feelings of uncertainty, insecurity and sometimes hostility. Even if the end result of enduring a change offers promise and new opportunity, most people would rather stay the course and keep it business as usual.

Even if the general consensus is that change isn’t fun, where does that leave forward-thinking companies who constantly need to change in order to stay ahead?  A company going through change can arrive at its destination in one of two states: A) Broken down, beaten up, and fighting for its life; or B) Aligned, energized, engaged, and ready for a bright future.

Communication is Key to Successful Change

What can you do to ensure you arrive at Option B? Communicate, communicate, communicate. Then communicate some more. Providing the right information at the right time will help employees understand what’s coming, when, and their role in how it all shakes out.

A change initiative creates a huge opening for your brand to become misaligned.  An informed workforce is far less likely to do damage to your brand as you undergo change.  A disgruntled or fearful employee shares too much with a customer or tweets about the uncertainty and rumors floating around internally, and you have the beginnings of brand misalignment and the possible erosion of your customer promise.

In order to ensure that you communicate effectively with your teams and that your brand remains aligned during a transition, here are some best practices you can put into action as you prepare for a change initiative:

  1. Be out in front. Don’t wait until the rumor mill forces your hand. Be ready to communicate before the change initiative launches.
  2. Establish consistent messages. Decide what you want to say about the transition and then build a set of consistent messages. Creating a message architecture is an excellent way of establishing a hierarchy of consistent information that helps audiences understand how to relate to a change and breaks down complex ideas into simple sound bites. A message architecture can also provide guidance in modifying messages to suit a specific audience. For instance, you might want to frame a message for your senior managers differently than you’d frame it for front-line associates. Your message architecture can do that for you.
  3. Create multiple channels. Relying on a single channel for communication means someone is likely to overlook your message. Figure out several ways to reach audiences so your messages can’t be missed.
  4. Define a communication cadence. Let audiences know when they will hear updates and then follow-through according to schedule. Don’t feel like you have to barrage teams with a constant flow of communication, but establish a regular schedule so they’ll know when to expect the next information.
  5. Give employees a chance to be heard. Create a channel for feedback that could be as simple as face-to-face townhall meetings or more sophisticated like a moderated intranet bulletin board. Invite employees to share concerns, ask questions, and offer ideas. Then it’s your job to follow-up and respond with answers and further information so they don’t feel like they’re shouting into the black hole.
  6. Don’t sugar-coat. Change initiatives are often accompanied by job loss or reassignment. It’s better to be up-front and honest because employees can see right through any attempts to sugar-coat negative information. While it may be uncomfortable, if you are not up-front, you’ll quickly erode trust. If your company is offering assistance and guidance to those who will be laid-off or reassigned, be sure to make those resources known and easy to access.
  7. Report and acknowledge progress. Most change initiatives take time. Employees will feel reassured when they see progress being made, their efforts are appreciated and that the change will have an eventual conclusion.
  8. Be true to your brand and promise to customers. At the end of the day, you have to maintain your brand and promise to customers in the midst of the transition. Always remember why your company exists, and stay true to the promise you are making to customers. Find ways to continue to weave those brand messages into communication to employees.

The Kennedy Global team has worked with numerous global companies as they undergo transition initiatives. We are frequently called upon to create message architectures that become the framework for communicating change in an organization. In an upcoming post, we will examine what goes into an effective message architecture and offer some tips you can use in your organization.

How has your company communicated change to your workforce? What has been successful for you, and what challenges have you faced?

About Alice Wright

As Director of Content Strategy, Alice directs projects while also designing program strategy and instructional content. She has more than 22 years of experience managing integrated strategic marketing, communication and training programs for globally recognized brands. Some of her current and past clients include Nike, Sunglass Hut, Safeway, Banfield Pet Hospital, Office Depot, Unilever, LensCrafters, EMC, Intel, Microsoft, Dell, adidas, Joann Stores and others. Alice earned her bachelor’s degree from the School of Journalism and Communication at University of Oregon. She lives with her husband and teenage son in Portland, Oregon where she loves exploring the outdoors and being a soccer/band mom.