Tips to help you communicate change

In today’s business world where transition of some kind takes place every day, effective communication is essential. Why? Employees want and need to know how the change will affect them.

When key stakeholders are only vaguely aware that changes are taking place, or they are met with ambiguity surrounding these changes – it can provide fertile ground for rumours, anxiety and ultimately resistance.

Change programs should therefore be supported by three key components:

1. Relaying the importance of the underlying business strategy;

2. Fostering dialogue and debate on the key issues of concern; and

3. Sensitively disseminating relevant information across the right mediums.

Employees at all levels will be more willing to make the change work if they know they have a vital role to play. Here’s some tips to help you communicate your next organisational initiative:

Communicate early and often using a variety of methods: Before you begin your change program it is useful to identify stakeholders, communicators (or “change agents”) and mediums for your message. Tailor your message appropriately: the most sensitive elements should be handled in a format that facilitates discussion and questions, and innocuous aspects involving bureaucratic details can be shared electronically. And don’t forget the rule of repetition…repeat key messages at least three times.

Share as much relevant information as feasible. No one wants to enter uncharted territory blindfolded. For instance, your team will become more committed to the change if they’re given some parameters regarding time and how they need to prepare. How soon will the change take place? How long will it take to implement? Are there definite phases to be expected?

Convey the rationale behind the change. If your organisation is abandoning an old process and adopting a new one, it helps to understand the reasoning behind the move. Some shifts involve sweeping transformation and can be complex. If you connect your messages to the business’ overall strategy, you are in a better position to circumvent problems before they arise and can even create champions from early resisters.

Use communication to create a shared need. To build momentum and buy-in for the change effort, express it in terms that will strike a chord with your team and mobilise them in the right direction. Depending on the nature of the change, the emphasis could be on greater individual and business opportunity, fewer competitive threats, more efficient processes, or better quality in the products and services you deliver.

Above all, be honest – don’t imply that a complete cultural transformation is going to be a piece of cake when it entails serious commitment and involves elements of uncertainty.

Keep your messages clear, concise and jargon-free. Don’t be too long-winded in your communication. Get to the point quickly and don’t let the significance of your message get lost in a sea of words.

Let it be a dialogue and not a monologue. Provide opportunities for all stakeholders to express doubt, air differences, and ultimately reach consensus and embrace the change. The most difficult uncertainties to deal with are those that are never openly expressed.

Of course, as important as communication is to the process, it’s just one of many factors contributing to success. Communicating the change must start at the top, and should revolve around a solid strategy. But it shouldn’t end there…discussion should be conducted on multiple levels and provide continuous channels for feedback.

Navigating successfully through change requires an adaptable approach and change agents who are equipped to deal with a range of issues. Many carefully forecasted and financially sound initiatives have been derailed by a failure to communicate!